Job Opportunities

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The wrong side of thirty? Not as fast as you once were? Felt strong in some big races this year? But you’ve not been offered a new contract. It’s got to hurt, you were always in the service of the team, carrying bottles, punching a hole in the wind for someone else and often there when the team got a result. So what do you do?

This situation is one facing quite a few riders amongst the top-18 World Tour teams. Riders with their best days behind them might be able to offer a few more years of service but if they haven’t got many UCI points then they often replaceable. But there is a way to come back: go abroad for a year.

These days many riders are being hired from around the world because of their UCI points. Those who sit near the top of the rankings in Europe, Asia, America, Africa and Oceania can each offer something valuable to a pro team: their UCI points. As we’ve seen riders have been signed almost purely for their points haul but they’ve flopped in the big league. Ag2r in particular tried this, hiring riders from exotic locations last winter; they’re nice guys but not at the level needed and nor were they signed as young riders to develop over time.

All this suggests that if a rider in the top league today is strong and able to work in a grand tour but maybe struggling for a contract now they could think about a career move to the US, Australia or Asia. Now they won’t get rich by signing for a team in these countries but if they can put their experience and ability to use they stand to win valuable points. If you like they swap being small fish in a big pond to become big fish in a small pond. And after a year they could convert their points to cash in with a World Tour team desperate to stay in the top flight.

The riders need not move too far. Have you heard of André Schulze? He’s a 37 year old German rider currently with Team NetApp, that’s him in the picture above. He’s ridden for many modest pro teams over the years but now sits 11th in the UCI Europe Tour rankings with 332 points. This isn’t enough to keep a World Tour team in the top flight but signing him can go along way to keeping a team in the top tier. In other words he’s actually very valuable right now for teams like Lampre and Euskaltel.

Persian pros with points

The same is true for many other riders around the world who have managed to get plenty of points in America, Asia and Africa. It’s not easy and a pro who’s done World Tour races isn’t guaranteed to win. But as we’ve seen from riders like Sohrabi at Lotto-Belisol and Zagari at Ag2r, you can be dominant in Asia but struggle to finish races in Europe. By extension if the reverse happened and Euro rider went to an Iranian team perhaps he could rack up a lot of points to become very valuable after one year?

You might think and Iranian team doesn’t want Westerners. But  in 2011 two Euro pros tried their luck with the Tabriz Chemicals team, Iran’s top squad and one of the best teams in the UCI Asia Tour. Iran doesn’t get a good press in the Western media but as far as cycling goes it is a surprising nation with some very good riders and a good amount of racing. Austria’s Marcus Eibegger was left out by Footon-Servetto as it became Geox and he went to Iran and duly won the Tour de Taiwan and was second in the Tour de Korea. His points haul was 127, not comparable to Sohrabi with over 300. So close, but not enough.

Not that it’s easy. It means going from a €50,000 salary to fraction of this and this is only the beginning. Gone is the team bus and the support of an army of mechanics and soigneurs. Mentally adjusting from doing your home grand tour to riding a race you’ve never heard of before could also be a challenge for some.

Summary
There’s a gap between the top tier and the other races. Many riders in the top league can find themselves without points and their teams don’t offer them a contract. Yet the very same teams who drop strong but ageing riders are hiring unheralded riders from around the world for their points, even in the knowledge that they won’t be so useful on the road.

It’s a perverse system and perhaps it needs to be revisited. But for now, so be it and perhaps a few riders can work the points system to their advantage? Those without a contract might contemplate a return to a local team or worse, unemployment at home. But there’s a chance that an international adventure could not only provide them with a living for a year but if it works out they could cash in just one year later. This isn’t for everyone but there are opportunities for experienced riders to exploit a system. What costs them their job this year could provide them with opportunities next year.

Vlaanderen90 October 4, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Schulze has been strongly rumored to Euskaltel along with Robert Vrecer, the Slovenian with Adria Mobil who has been doing big things.

The Inner Ring October 4, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Yes, that’s partly why I wrote the piece. These guys are getting hired whilst some reasonably well-known riders on the squad like Amets Txurruka are being shown the door.

James Jackson October 4, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Perhaps points should be granted for the entire team in a race should one of their riders win. To be honest I am entirely naive as to how points are awarded.

Pedaling the road October 5, 2012 at 12:13 am

One could always suit up to be one of those Kermis-kings too. Nailing numerous wins relying on extensive experience and making the most of every possibility in Kermis races all over Belgium. Wouldn’t make you rich but enough to get food and more on the table.

gary October 5, 2012 at 12:14 am

I’ve never seen the value with the old World Cup and now UCI points thing. Most race enthuasists would be hard pressed to remember who won the last few years. Classic and Grand Tour wins would seem to have far more cache. Should we care about the points thing, really?

Eb in AZ October 5, 2012 at 2:17 am

50k euro annual salary for a decent domestique? As much as I enjoy riding and a bit of racing, I sure am glad I don’t have to make a living as a bike racer. What they put themselves through for not much compensation is amazing, and it’s much worse for the women. At least they are obsolete at a young age and there are precious few health or financial security benefits, to my knowledge.

Robert Merkel October 5, 2012 at 3:22 am

That said, if you’re from one of the economically depressed parts of Europe, a 50k euro salary probably doesn’t sound so bad right now…

The Inner Ring October 5, 2012 at 8:26 am

The minimum is €33,000 for the top Pro Teams but riders doing the Tour de France and other big races should almost all be well above this. It is being raised to about €40,000 for next year.

ave October 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I’d be more than happy to ride for 50k annual salary.
And there are many. That’s the way the market works. If all bike racers would ask for 200k and upwards, then 200k would be the minimum wage.

TheDude October 5, 2012 at 3:05 am

+1 Eb. I continue to have a philosophical burr in my saddle regarding the “winner take all” spoils in pro cycling. I’m guessing that the same construct surely exists in other areas of professional team sport, e.g., football, cricket, rugby, jungle rules table tennis (sarcasm). But, the disparity between a top 10 rider in the World Tour with a rider contract of 2 million euro +, in comparison to a necessary domestic, with a salary of 50k to 100k euro…. egads. The disparity seems not only unsustainable, but just not sporting, as in, fair play. Maybe I need to recall the axiom that the defecation always rolls down hill in life, whether on the bike, or ringing petrol at the convenience store.

I guess the 50 to 100k euro is in the ballpark based on some of the notes at the following blogage.
http://www.cyclingtips.com.au/2012/02/professional-rider-salaries-on-the-rise/
http://www.cyclingtipsblog.com/2010/11/how-much-do-pro-cyclists-make/

As well, INRNG has written about salaries in the past.
http://inrng.com/2011/07/how-much-does-a-rider-earn/

james October 5, 2012 at 4:58 am

50k is the UCI pro continental minimum (or near to it) , if you think that is bad look at the wages Conti guys and girls get it’s a sham.

As for the kermis kings, unless you sell races and get someone to put you up and certainly unless you dont have kids it’s hard to make a living. most of those guys work part time as well.

Josh October 5, 2012 at 5:13 am

I’ve seen André Schulze before in photos of sprint finishes, never knew his name before. ‘Always had the same thought; “Who let this Cat 4 Fred into the pro peloton?”

I actually mean no disrespect, because I am 110% confident that he could bury me in any bike-riding situation (with the possible exception of bicycle soccer), but this season, he’s seemed so bulky, always with his kit around to pop around the seams.

His appearance is such a stupid thing to judge, but one can’t help but see that photo and be immediately reminded of their local pathlete. Obviously works for him, though.

InTheGC October 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

Was going to say something along the same lines, basically…how fat does André Schulze look in that photo! :0

Beasides that though, another great point illustrated and a nice insight into the workings of the transfer market!

Cheers Inner Ring!

The Inner Ring October 5, 2012 at 9:25 am

The photo isn’t very flattering but I can’t get many of him from 2012. In years past he’s looked very big but much leaner.

Panda October 5, 2012 at 8:49 am

Ignorant question – in all this, are there issues with getting work permits e.g. if you wanted to join a US team, wouldn’t it be difficult for your team to persuade the authorities that there aren’t suitable locals who could do the job?

The Inner Ring October 5, 2012 at 9:23 am

A good question and it will depend on local laws. But they could always claim experience at a level higher than the locals, the ability to pass on knowledge and experience etc. Several riders have been able to move and get permits.

Salsiccia October 5, 2012 at 10:08 am

“It’s a perverse system and perhaps it needs to be revisited”

Nice understatement, Inner Ring! You’ve been pretty vocal about the UCI points system, and with damn good reason. It’s a farce, as you’ve so clearly outlined above.

Just another example of how the UCI are about as effective as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest.

Bryan October 5, 2012 at 10:42 am

I really do not see the need for any points system. Most fans have very little interest in these artificial classifications, which work against team domestics. The teams know only too well the value of riders in the pro peloton. BUT the UCI in their wisdom uses this criteria as one indicator for World Tour Teams eligibilty status.

Agree with Salsiccia and others, just another example of UCI muddled thinking and incompetence.

Tim October 5, 2012 at 11:26 am

I’m going to be a contrarian here, but I really don’t see what’s so perverse about this system. What you seem to be saying is that some riders, who are good enough to ride WT but not good enough to score enough points to justify their places on the team, have the opportunity to drop down a level for a year or two, in order to try and show off their worth in the top tier again. And if they do that successfully and win lots of points at the lower level, then they might earn themselves another chance at the top tier. In the meantime – while they are dropping down a level – the top teams have an incentive to replace them with riders who have already been really successful at the lower level, to see if they can step up and do it at a higher step.

Isn’t this exactly what you’d expect in a meritocratic sport? Indeed isn’t this the very essence of competitive professional sport – that you go out and prove yourself each year, and those that don’t perform get dropped? And indeed as your blog points out this isn’t a risk-free process – your Austrian man above dropped down a level and was moderately successful, but hardly seems to have schooled the locals in his year in Asia.

In fact I think it would be more perverse if there was no incentive to look at promoting the most successful riders from around the world, and that the World Tour became more of a self-perpetuating (and pretty much developed world) club that kept the same old riders on each year, regardless of their performance.

I’m not saying the system is perfect by the way – I don’t know enough about it – but generally the concept you’ve described of fluidity between the lower margins of WT and Coti-tour riders seems like the obvious aspiration for the system to encourage.

The Inner Ring October 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Thanks and I see what you mean… but my point is that there often isn’t much fluidity between the top level and the rest. So we’re seeing useful riders being left out whilst riders are hired for their points, even if they will struggle to finish a race, yet alone get in a breakaway or even win. The meritocracy isn’t here, it seems like stronger riders lose out to weaker ones.

AK October 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm

This would be a meritocratic system if cycling was an individual sport. It’s not. At least for a large part. The domestiques that help a team get wins do not get point for their work.
To make a football (US:soccer) comparison, the current system would be like deciding which teams stay in the top league by adding up all last season’s goals by players they have for this season. It would mean some teams could stay in the league by firing the goalie and all their defenders to buy scoring players from lower leagues.

Adam October 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I agree its a perverse system, but at the same time what ability does André Schulze now have to get a huge premium over his riding ability from a team like Lampre? Surely if their future rests in part on his points he can sign a deal for multiples more than he’d otherwise be worth.

Ronan October 5, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I see the problem, but at least the points system should and could bring a little bit of transparency to the sport if it was regulated and administered a bit more thoughtfully.

As has been said above, it’s not unreasonable to incentivise teams to hire riders from around the globe, it helps develop the sport as much as the Tour of Beijing. But Pro teams fielding riders who cannot compete is tipping the scales too far. Maybe they could make an exception for some of these riders and award them neo-pro status for a couple of years as a promising rider tries to adapt?

I always like to see young riders earn their stripes with Pro Conti teams and ‘earn’ a move to the big league anyway. Think Tiernan Locke and Kittel.

AK October 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm

If only the points were awarded for more than just wins. Points per km spent at the front of a breakaway group. Points per km spent at the front of the peleton chasing the breakaway. Double points for victories after a solo breakaway of more than 20 km. Triple if it was in the rain. The list could go on.

The Ladder October 5, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Sounds like a bit of a bingo system to me, although the current one is not far removed from that either.

Gingerflash October 5, 2012 at 3:06 pm

“not good enough to score enough points to justify their places on the team”

Some great domestiques and lead-out men score very few points. Look at the riders with only one point – Greg Henderson, Nick Nuyens, Karsten Kroon…

The point is that teams are feeling they have to drop an otherwise very useful rider simply because they need the points. the points system does not reflect the quality of the rider’s performances. Giacomo Nizzolo got 86 points while his teammate Jens Voigt has only 10. Voigt’s contributions on the road are hugely important for the team, but it’s not reflected in his points tally.

David Millar has only 20 points, Cummings 16, Van Summeren and Van de Velde have 10…Is that really a reflection of their quality or their performances?

The Inner Ring October 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Certainly not, and there are some riders without points who are kept on the team. It’s more the marginal cases of riders who get let go but could possibly carry on and exploit this.

cd October 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I’m guessing that’s why Sutherland went to Saxo. Although in his case I believe he’s a pro tour quality talent.

The Inner Ring October 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Yes, he’s another example. A longer stay in the US perhaps because of his doping history but he is not just hired for his points, he should be useful for the team based on his results this year.

marco October 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Wasn’t this a problem about 10+ yrs ago as well when riders were chasing FICP points as I think it was called then? I think this was when there was Div 1, 2, 3 teams and it was similar to football with the best Div 2 team moving to Div 1 the following year. All pre-world tour of course. I seem to recall reading Millar in his Cofidis days complaining that riders were just chasing points instead of working for the team goals or something like that. or contracts just being rewarded based on points.

Deja vu it seems.

Irrelevant commentator October 5, 2012 at 4:41 pm

The dude André Schulze looks pretty fat in that photo, no?

TheDude October 5, 2012 at 7:19 pm
Larry T. October 5, 2012 at 11:14 pm

The points/ranking system is a fiasco. But it’s a product of greed by the UCI. First they created this top-tier World Tour/Pro Tour crap, then allow way too many of these top-tier teams because they like the financial rewards. Then they come up with criteria to rank and control them that doesn’t make much sense. All this a product of Mr. Mars’ screwball plan to “modernize” pro cycling. Has there been any REAL benefit to cycling (not counting the coffers of the UCI) from this scheme? Maybe someone out there can point out benefits but I can’t think of any vs the old daze. What was so wrong about the old system anyway? Mars and his sidekick, the Mad Hatter, have REALLY made a mess of pro cycling in many more ways than just their tolerance of doping!

Jim B October 6, 2012 at 2:55 am

Most American domestics pros would be thrilled to make $50K. They aren’t even close to that.

Bundle October 6, 2012 at 8:32 pm

This points thing is a very stupid joke, and so is the whole WorldTour concept, and so is the UCI regulatimg the jodb of race organisers. Freedom to organise races now!! I don’t know awhat ASO and RCS and the like are thinking of. They should be running the show. It’s their show.

Michael October 8, 2012 at 5:46 pm

As I see it it’s not the point system that is the problem. It’s the restrictions in the point system.

I the old day around 8 years ago you made point from all different races. Now a days the WT riders cant make points in other races than the WT races.

In most races 1.hc and 1.1 and the 2.hc and the 2.1, there is more or less always 50% riders from WT teams because the races are prestigies and the riders want to win them. But only not WT riders can score points.

Those stupi rules means that ar hole lot of point are not awarded because the wrong rider gets them.

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