Cyclists made S#%* for Salary

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The title to this post is very accurate.  We, cyclists, make shit for salary.  Compared to nearly any other professional sport, cycling is on the low end of the pay scale.

There is really not fairness in sports in general.  There is a huge disparity in what different athletes get paid for what they do.  American sports, ie,. baseball, basketball, and football, plus football (soccer) in Europe, make much more money than all other sports.

There is a guy in baseball, Giancarlo Stanton, that just signed a contract for $325 million dollars.  Yeah, that isn’t for one year, it is for 13, but the number is staggering.  But, you don’t have to go the top to get to a staggering number.  The average baseball player makes over $3,000,000 a year.  That is average.

I remember talking to Thomas Frischknecht at the MTB World Championships in France, about 15 years ago.  He was here in the US on day one when mountain biking started getting traction.  He was so amazed how much more money was in the sport and how well we were all doing.  He was sponsored by Ritchey, Oakley, maybe even Google too(I’ve been corrected, it was Yahoo Sports).  He was making good money compared to other cyclist, road too.

I told Thomas that if you added up the salaries of all the 200 guys on the start  line, it wouldn’t equal the salary of one, just one major league baseball player.  And it has only gotten worse.

But, then compare our sport to nordic skiing.  There are a few skiers that make a living, but not many.  A couple Olympic’s ago, I could have sponsored, personally, myself, a woman that was skiing in the Olympics, for $5000.  She would have skied around with my name on her.  That is about the same as what I got paid for sunglasses when I was riding MTB bikes.  Crazy.

The baseball player, Stanton, that is making $325,000,000.  His contract is most likely bigger than the total budgets for all professional cycling for a year.  That is all cycling teams- Sky, BMC, Astana, Garmin-Sharp, etc.  That isn’t just the salaries of all the professional cyclists.   It is the salaries for the riders, the support, all the plane tickets, team buses, cars, everything.

I think this is a big reason that the professional teams started Velon, a joint venture to drive the development of the sport.  Personally, I don’t think they are going to have too much success.  I think that cycling attracts a lot of quirky characters and that it is going to be very hard to get all these guys thinking global and not selfishly.  I hope they are successful though.  Cycling is a very difficult sport and the riders deserve to make a decent wage.

The UCI does have a miminum salary.  I think it is 27.500 EUR for a Pro Conti Team and
30.000 EUR for a Pro Tour Team.

But those minimums don’t apply to most of the riders here in the US.  Most the domestic pros, here in the US, are not making anywhere near mimimun wage.  The majority of guys aren’t getting paid $1000 a month. Some just a couple hundred a month, or nothing at all.  Some profession.

Cycling has historically been a blue collar sport.  It pretty much still is.  There are a few guys, very few, that can save enough, during their careers that they can retire with enough money to really retire.   The rest of the riders are doing it for the love of the sport.  That says a lot.

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43 thoughts on “Cyclists made S#%* for Salary

  1. Tim

    Merchandise, TV contracts and revenue sharing within all the major sports is what is allowing the absurd salaries in MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, etc. Juxtapose that to pro cycling where none of the event or TV revenue is shared, which is one reason among many why there is instability in the sport.

  2. Bernd

    Ccylist Peter Sagan makes $ 4 Mille a year for the next 3 with Tinkoff, Alberto prob. $5 Mille/year not bad for cyclist…etc.. Skiers get $ 50000.00 for win + commercials, Lindsey Vonn is a Million Dollar baby. Crosscountry skiers and Biathlon girls/ guys on the top make good money..etc.. ping pong players in China are national heroes..etc…
    Ain’t to bad for anybody anymore !

  3. Dog

    Traditional pro sports have a revenue stream (tickets, merch, food, parking, tv and radio, licensing, etc). Cycling is a relative “hustle” among a bunch of enterprising individuals who’ve figured out how to organize all that cycling “has” and turn it into something they can make a few bucks from. And right now, they are looking at the current structure’s limits.

  4. Ken

    In road cycling, you can’t really wall off the venue and sell tickets. So that significantly limits the revenue, for sure.
    The other thing is that cycling isn’t a true TV sport, so it will never do what football or basketball do. As either a spectator sport or a TV sport, you can’t see the whole “game” going on in a single visual.
    Sad to say, two sports I love – cycling and lacrosse – are not telegenic. But the pros in either of these sports, I hope, are happy to make a living at it.

  5. Seano

    Supply & demand is also at work here: people are willing to ride a bike for what the teams offer. Look at the history of any of money sports and in most cases, the majority of athletes held off-season jobs to support their habits, too.

    It’s an interesting sport in that someone can train away, race as an amateur and get picked up on a team – impossible to do in other team sports.

    And think about the fact that Football – with an avg of 21 minutes of actual play – stretches that to a pre-game/game/post-game entertainment package that fans eat up every week.

  6. channel_zero

    Meanwhile, stagiares and first-year WT riders get next to nothing. Some are even financing their own ride on the WT. Women are getting “hired” to ride the WT and getting paid nothing. Zero.

    Steve, the sport IS making money. It is going to the federation. This was one of the changes Hein and Pat made and it has worked out well for them, not the athlete. Not to mention the simple fact the grinding poverty encourages doping.

    The structure of the sport discourages investment from every angle. The UCI and national federations are okay with that because they have a worldwide monopoly on the sport. At least in the U.S. the federation has a government granted monopoly on bike racing.

  7. channel_zero

    It’s an interesting sport in that someone can train away, race as an amateur and get picked up on a team – impossible to do in other team sports.

    Cycling has a very carefully laid out feeder system into the WT. It’s just not well understood. There’s a good blog that covers the Espoirs, but I don’t have the link handy.

  8. David

    Your analogy about G. Stanton salary being more than the whole pro WT field is flawed. His salary is over 13 years, therefore GS takes home 25,000,000 in a year, so this is closer to the budget of approximately 3 WT teams annually.
    I hope Velon makes some headway into improving the economics of the teams/riders, yet the elephant in the room is the ASO. The ASO looks for their own profit despite what the cycling world wants or needs. Frankly I don’t see the UCI forcing the ASO into being a better proactive cycling citizen of the future.

  9. Mij

    As someone who is around, and working with, domestic pros all through the race season, I can state with 100% certainty that most of the pros in this country are making next to nothing. They have their expenses covered (in most cases) and of course the equipment is provided but that is about it.
    Heck, I make far more off the interest on my IRA’s and investments than they make for working their butts off.
    The problem is that, at least domestically, I don’t see a way to make it better in the future.

  10. Jim

    And now we read that (surprise, surprise), Chris Horner is joining Airgas/Safeway so they “might” have a better chance to get into California. A safe bet might be that his salary is more that everyone else on the team combined. They will have no cash to provide the support that he would need so he will do it on his own (assuming they get entry) by being juiced to the max.
    This is beyond stupid!
    This sport just keeps shooting it’s own foot.

  11. Levi

    Ha! The sport blew it’s feet off years ago. That’s why it doesn’t have a leg to stand on in comparison to real sports.

    Lots of the public doesn’t look at cycling, marathoning, triathlon, cc skiing, speed skating etc. as real sports, but rather people trying to be the best at exercising.

  12. Jim

    So what you’re saying is that none (or very few) of the pros can actually afford to buy the $10-$15K bikes they’re riding. Yet the industry (manufacturers and magazines) works hard to convince us that it’s something the average joe should aspire to.

  13. Ken Webb

    The public likes/supports/spends $ on team sports, because athletes come and go, while their favorite team remains in place over time (for the most part). While cycling is a team sport, the US public doesn’t really understand that, and in general, people don’t want to root for a sponsor (i.e. Sky, Trek, etc) or an individual over the long term. I think its been proven that they are much more likely to follow and support a team that is aligned with their city, country, or university.

    The idea of that I saw from Vaughters, where would be long term franchises/WT licenses established, is probably going in the right direction, but until you get some sort of emotional tie to the product, it will never be a top tier sport.

  14. Chris

    Take a look at formula one for how it might be done. Until one person purchased all the rights to F1 it was a bunch of “teams” fighting each other over sponsorship dollars. Like him or not, Bernie brought everyone into an agreement as to how the revenue from the sport would be divided. F1 drivers been the highest paid athletes ever since.

  15. Teresa

    For better or for worse, our society does not value bike racing, skiing, etc. like it does some other sports. I’m really good at fly tying, but I could never make a living at it. Just because you’re good (or even great) at something doesn’t mean you deserve to be able to make a living at it.

  16. bidon

    Rule of thumb – in an profession where you don’t produce a tangible product with shelf life, expect all the money earned to concentrated at the top. Pro cycling is an entertainment industry, as are all sports. At least you didn’t argue cyclists should be paid more because it’s so hard…

    Professionalism of sports at the level we see now is also a fairly recent development. It wasn’t too long ago that top PGA tour golfers had winter jobs. Now old guys have a tour and second division pros make a decent living. They got there with a whole lot more organized effort to promote the pro golf specifically, now distinctly separate from promoting the game of golf.

  17. Levi

    That’s exactly right Teresa. But the readers here don’t wanna admit that. They’re all thinking that if there was more bike racing on TV that they’d watch it, so it would be a great idea. But it’s like fishing in a puddle as far as big TV is concerned. They can sell more ad space for a show that makes fun of internet videos with a snarky host.

    Steve said it best himself. “Cycling attracts lots of quirky characters”. That’s putting it nicely as far as what the general public in the USA would actually call them. It’s just never gonna sell well. I think the fact that the TOC and the Pro challenge in CO are on TV each year is pretty damn amazing. I’m happy with that. I just wish they’d start commentating to us like we know the sport, since we do. It sounds just like the Tour DuPont or the Tour of Georgia. Thank You Paul Sherwin for telling us how drafting works, and Phil for…..well just pick a blunder and insert it here.

    Basicly anyone can buy a pro license, that doesn’t make you a pro. Especially when you make less than minimum wage, risking life and limb. You gotta admire the passion, desire, dedication and work ethic, but its pretty bad career planning 99.99% of the time.

    It paid off for a few like Lance, George, Tyler, Levi, Floyd, Christian, Tommy, Bobby, Kevin, but we all know what they have in common. Now it’s Sagan, Cancellara, Contador, Nibali, Boonen, and 1000 others.

    The song remains the same.

  18. channel_zero


    There’s no doubt there’s more money in F1, but it suffers with the same problems of cycling with bigger numbers. Teams going broke before the season is over, a lack of a competitive grid, lack of sponsors.

    Ecclestone knows how to sell the dream to heads of State and handle the corruption though.. You don’t get an F1 circuit in Sochi any other way.

  19. Mike Rodose

    I’ve always wondered about the money for the US Pros. Top 15 guys…first, second start lines.

    My thinking is that a single MTB/Cross Pro could have the following budget in the USA. The tier beneath Jeremy Powers, I imagine. Maybe I’m wrong, but I bet it’s not far off?

    Travel to domestic races for 10 month season of MTB and Cross is $10 thousand. 1000/month allocation for air and car/fuel/lodging.

    Equipment is about $15 thousand per year. 5? Bikes, tires, kits,

    Pit support/mechanic is perhaps $5000 per year

    So. Possibly $30,000 before paying the Pro or Pros on that hypothetical team.

    Rider pay is on top of that. Like Raleigh, Cannondale, Redline, Felt, Giant, Focus, Clif Bar, Optum, Mock Orange, AmericanClassic, etc. All the teams on the front two lines. I assume it ranges from 500 per month to 3 thousand per month for rider compensation on those teams.

    Am I off base in the calculations?

    Let just go to the “J” names for example…what do you think these guys make as total compensation and salary?

    Jeremy Powers

    Johnson, Tim.

    Jeremy Driscoll

    Justine Lindine

    Jonathan Page

    Jeremy Durrin

  20. Mike Rodose

    Also…do they keep their prize money? I assume so, unless there are team splits for the multi-rider teams. How much does prize money amount to annually.?

    My guess on Jeremy Powers is $22,000. 10 wins in C1 races.

    Endorsements? Probably less than $10,000 for Powers?

  21. Jan

    I have to admit, salaries for professional sports seem so out of line. I know it’s the way capitalism works, and that’s the way it is, but is someone who can play a sport really well contributing to society, really? Compared to a kindergarten teacher? To me, it says a lot about our values.

    And all those big sports dollars continue to go to male athletes, mostly.

    (College athletes may get all expenses paid, but they’re often not well covered if they get badly injured, and don’t, in the case of, say, Div I football, get paid much compared to the coaches and athletic directors.)

  22. Bolas Azules

    I do have to laugh when I hear about some of these ‘US Pros’ and what they make. Many years ago – with a good sponsor and the ‘job’ they offered, some prize money and a whole lot of racing I made more beyond a doubt than 95% of today’s domestic ‘pros’ and that is not even accounting for inflation. And I hear the ‘pro’ tri-athlete almost pay to be on teams….this I find very funny. That takes some big bolas.

  23. channel_zero

    Cyclocross is about Continental level. The back marker “pro” gets equipment at a discount and is lucky to get some travel expenses.

    A guy like Page has a longtime personal sponsor as well as spending enough time in Belgium so race organizers would pay something for appearances. JPow was at least smart enough to recognize that he needed to do much more than just race bikes to drive the endorsements with his mostly American schedule.

    Now how much do they actually make?? No idea. But, the smart racer is working hard for their sponsor outside the racing as well as working things like coaching. There’s just no money ‘racing.’

  24. mark - Bici Italia Cycling Tours

    The UCI International “Pro” license is now $200. Wasn’t that much the last I held one and definately not that much the first time around “living the dream” back in the early 90’s. The best domestic road pro’s on UCI Pro Conti teams, are making euro 27,500/year. Horner might be getting a bit more than this next season but not much.

  25. Steve Tilford Post author

    David-I meant his contract, not his salary. I changed it in the contents. I know it isn’t comparing equal income on the same time basis. I was comparing his compensation for playing baseball to our sport as a whole.

  26. JS

    I would bet Horner makes at least twice that much. Safeway probably came on board in order to finance Horner’s signing and hopefully get the team into the TOC.

    Rumor was that Horner owned all the team bikes when he was on Webcor. Can anyone confirm that? I was on a small D3 team at the time thinking that was a pretty sweet deal.

  27. Rod

    So what is your point Steve? Doctors make more than teachers. CEOs make more than doctors
    and so on and so on…. It’s called “the way it is”. If you want to make baseball players money, you
    should have picked up a bat and glove instead of the bike.

  28. wasfastnowimnot

    Life lesson # 1….Life’s not Fair

    Next is supply and demand….I loath baseball and football but LOVE soccer and cycling, sailing XC skiing etc…. If you think the money in the American big three is absurd and disturbing. Take a look at the amount of money floating around the soccer world. Granted the individual salaries aren’t as dramatically large as you list here, but in soccer the $$’s are MASSIVE and distributed around hundreds of top level players and owners.

    I say who gives a shit. How people choose to spend their money is their business. If that benefits only a few individuals then fine. Good for them.

    I’ve been teaching middle school for 20+ years. Many of my peers who are biz owners or work for private corps make 3 or 4 times what I make. I contend that I make a material impact on my kids and, therefor, a small impact on society. Do I deserve to make $100K or more annually? Sure! I think so! But the reality is that I don’t and never will as a teacher. I CHOSE this profession and LOVE my job. I’ve had several opportunities to leave for other employment but I choose to stay.

  29. Fabio C.

    Maybe cycling world should hire someone in the “How to make big money in Sports”. Looks like the big 3 like Basebal, Football and Basketball, they all got their best deals by working together as a group, and a big share of the TV, advertising, etc money. So, why can’t cycling ( don’t count on UCI ) do the same thing ? However we do have to look at reality as well.. Cycling is not a main stream sport. Just a simple note.
    ( I tried the life of pro-cycling. Besides super hard … it was even harder to make enough money to support myself, as a middle of the pack pro. Still it was awesome experience by choice.)

  30. Ron

    Count the number of people you see riding their bikes on a given day, then ride by just about any soccer field. There lies your answer. It just isn’t and never will be a sport that pulls in a lot of people like soccer, football and baseball. For most, it simply takes far too much time/effort to even be decent at it. I was good at baseball and football from the moment I stepped on the field.

  31. Dog

    Pro baseball players (on average) make about what most pro cyclists make. That is if you include the entirety of the minor leagues and the post-draft development / farm system. The majority of baseball players are either sharing crowded apartments with others or are living in a minor-league-team fan’s home. Their signing bonuses are either blown soon after they receive them, or the smart ones put it in the bank and use it for living expenses during their 2-3 year minor league journey. The notion of a salty “Costner-like” character found in “Bull Durham” is mostly fiction (coaches are another story). Baseball doesn’t waste the time of a player who isn’t heading upstairs. They have to make room for the new ones.

    Pro sports is a fantasy. It’s not really a “profession” in the classic sense. The career itself is a hustle within a hustle. And yes, a few people are able to parlay it into a living. We can spot those people long before they achieve it.

  32. Jason

    Baseball players make next to nothing in the minor leagues. There’s only hundreds of players in the major leagues making millions. Obviously, there is more money made in baseball, but I’d like to see the comparison of average salaries between the top 300 or so professionals in the world in each sport.

  33. Craig

    And because the American public gives a shit. Come on, in my house there are 1.5 indiviuals out of 6 that could care less about cycling and my son (the .5) really only cares about “Red Bull Rampage” and the grand Tours. There is no money in cycling because there is no spectator base. Even the Belgian crossers don’t make stupid money and look at their fan base.

    It is what it is. The best hope for viewership would probably be cross, track and some downhill events … after that you have to be a purist and there is no money …


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