Rider Agents

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Chris Horner’s jobs saga is over with a one year contract with Lampre-Merida being announced today and so he’ll start his 20th season as a pro. It’s a triumph for his new agent Baden Cooke who is getting a lot of publicity out of the deal, valuable since he’s setting up a new agency. It’s the second time this week news of a big deals has emerged with Peter Sagan’s reported agreement to join the new Alonso team for 2015. Normally agents work in the background so here’s a quick look at their role.

At the simple level the work is what you’d expect with the agent contacting prospective employers to place their client. It makes perfect sense as the rider can concentrate on what they are good at, namely training and riding rather than polishing CV and knocking on hotel room doors. But the work can involve plenty more. Typically a rider agent will handle other contracts, for example riding a criterium or the shoe and sunglasses contracts signed by many riders.


Funnily all those “thanks for the shoes” tweets you see with a photo of the shiny shoes always crop out the pile of cash that comes with the deal too.

Some agents offer plenty more from handling social media accounts and website design to financial advise on where to invest their earnings. At the top of the sport we see some big names with large agencies. For example Fabian Cancellara used sports marketing giant IMG and is now with InfrontRingier, Mark Cavendish has Wasserman who more often represent the stars of the NFL and English Premiership. Meanwhile Bradley Wiggins goes beyond the sporting sphere and into celebrity culture with the select agency XIX Entertainment who represent David Beckham and Lisa Marie Presley. Many don’t use agents, for example Sylvain Chavanel or Pierre Rolland negotiate direct to save on the fees.

There are 76 UCI-approved agents with freshly retired South-African sprinter Robbie Hunter the latest addition. A forceful personality, Hunter could be a fearsome negotiator but for now he’s working as a manager with Garmin-Sharp so presumably he’s yet to handle any clients. Some agents have more clients than others. They often work on linguistic lines with Andrew McQuaid handling many English-speaking riders including Richie Porte, Taylor Phinney and Joe Dombrowski; Alex Carera represents many Italians including Nibali, Paul de Geyter covering Belgium with Tom Boonen, Michel Gros handles many French clients and Amsterdam-based SEG International represents many Dutch-speakers.

The fees vary enormously and so does the service. 10% is typical but sometime it’s free: one agent has taken on neo-pros for nothing. It sounds generous but makes perfect sense because it generates loyalty from the rider to their agent and above all, a rider’s first contract is often their cheapest. If their career works out the agent will get a percentage of plenty in the years to come.

UCI-approved
The UCI introduced regulation at the start of 2012 requiring all agents to be approved and registered The regulation came in the wake of several incidents upsetting team managers. Approval is easy, sit an exam and a practical module held in the summer where the questions relate to chunks of the UCI rulebook that relate to contracts, transfers and other relevant points. It’s useful having an approved list and once an agent passes they have to assume professional indemnity insurance to ensure if they mess up there’s money to pay for the mistakes. But it’s not foolproof and any transfer shenanigans happen below the radar anyway.

UCI Rules vs Real World
UCI regulations are fine but they must co-exist with the certainty of employment law and the incendiary power of big money. Take the case of Peter Sagan and reports of a deal worth €3.3 million with the new Alonso team for 2015. If his agent Giovanni Lombardi has brokered this it can’t be official yet because no rider is allowed to sign a contract with a new team before 1 August under the UCI rules:

2.15.120 For any change of team between two seasons, the transfer period extends from 1 August to 31 December… …A UCI ProTeam or licence applicant may only recruit riders during the transfer period. For the purposes of this article «recruit» shall be deemed to mean concluding a contract with a rider to ride for the UCI ProTeam or licence applicant’s team.

Recruit is the active word and everything can else can be done to prepare a deal. It has to be this way as a big name and a top team cannot afford to wait for the UCI’s 1 August date to start work on a contract for the upcoming year. The team must act early and sign riders now because waiting for August is a gamble, a late scramble. We don’t know the Sagan deal but I suspect all that’s missing is the signed UCI contract with side letters and other agreements in place to ensure everything is ready to sign. It’s common with the big riders, the kind you build a whole team around. Vincenzo Nibali moved to Astana in 2013 with a deal reached early in 2012. Some deals can be done even further in advance. I think it was the Humans Invent podcast that mentioned Rigoberto Uran’s move from Sky to OPQS was agreed during 2012.

But the early planning can prove disruptive. See Bradley Wiggins who wanted to get out of his contract with Garmin to join Team Sky which got settled by a large payment to the US team in order to release Wiggins from his contract. Or take the case of Richie Porte’s contract with Saxo Bank, he’d joined on a modest salary but time trial wins in the Tour de Suisse and the maglia rosa in the Giro saw his value shoot up. But he was tied to the existing contract and team manager Bjarne Riis was blaming his agent Andrew McQuaid for tension in the team. You can see both sides with a team manager wanting their rider to stay especially of on cheap terms but the rider wants to get paid according to their going rate rather than ride for peanuts. A contract has to be respected but so does a rider.

Transfer market
Cycling doesn’t have a transfer market although there have been cases of riders buying themselves out of contracts. The whole area could change as I understand the UCI is exploring changes to this so that teams can trade riders under contract, perhaps even mid-season. Agents will love this as the rate of transactions goes up as “assets” get bought and sold more regularly. The more deals, the more fees.

Cooke, agent of loose change?
Back to today’s news and Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke’s been representing Horner, working the phone to get him a ride. “I had to start cold-calling people left, right and centrehe told Ride. He has yet to sit the UCI exams but this doesn’t mean he can’t work for Horner and others. The rules allow three exemptions:

  • family don’t have to be regulated. A spouse, brother, sister or parents may act on behalf of a rider. We see this with Alberto Contador where his brother Fran does the business
  • lawyers are exempt from regulation, presumably because the UCI recognises their higher qualifications and expertise
  • the regulations do not apply if the rider agent is not remunerated

Given Cooke is neither family nor a lawyer we can only assume he’s scrupulously respecting the UCI rules and has generously worked for free.

Conclusion
Baden Cooke’s succeeded where others could not and placed Horner in a World Tour team, a high profile move. But usually agents act behind the scenes, negotiating in private – in fact this is what Cooke was doing until Velonews got the scoop. The work and fees vary, a neo-pro contract is usually a copy-paste job from before so there’s little work to be done but the stars of the sport have complex arrangements with payments for image rights, product endorsements and more.

There are also a range of other agents. Having covered rider agents there are others who handle sponsorships on behalf of corporate clients, signing up pro teams to use their brand of tires or saddles.

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{ 52 comments }

LM January 30, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Great subject.

As the salaries rise, so will the competency of the agents. Congrats to Horner, it would have been a travesty if the Vuelta champion couldn’t defend his title. Congrats to Lampre, they seem to be making good decisions. And, congrats to Baden Cooke. He may be working for free, but he couldn’t have paid for the goodwill and good PR he will glean from this deal .

Back to the bad old days with the UCI January 31, 2014 at 3:36 am

Do you think so? Looks to me that Cooke performed about as well as he is qualified, not very well at all.

If Cooke is acting without being qualified, then that seems very shonky. To be acting for all intents and purposes as an agent, yet knowingly flouting the rules of needing to be qualified, and this is his first and only client too. Any half smart rider wouldn’t touch that risky dodgy stategy.

If the UCI were serious about the issue they would ask Cooke and Horner to sign a statutory declaration that he was not being paid. That aint going to happen.

Horner has been bandied around like a beaten dog, I wouldn’t look at his treatment as being a good reson to sign on with his agent. It was farcical at times, making Horner look pathetic, aren’t managers supposed to protect you? There was more leaked information and social media dribble than a 16 year old girl. It’s not a massive coup, when you consider Lampre has a history of allowing dopers as we all know, so I guess Katusha and Astana rosters were full.

No doubt Cooke is putting the hard word on lots of young Aussies right now, most of the Orica Greenedge team I would guess, so their agents would be nervous, especially from a guy who flouts the rules (or worse, doesn’t even know them) from day 1. I bet there isn’t a UCI rule about stealing someone else’s client.

Any decent manager/agent would start out trying to build his business based on adhering to the rules, building up trust, working with younger riders, etc. Taking on a rider who half of the fans think is a doper is a risky and silly move IMHO. Same goes with the rumoured contract with its bonuses, full of incentives to dope. Says a lot about the people involved.

Damien January 31, 2014 at 5:30 am

You do know Horner only recently switched agents to Cooke, and then got a contract reasonably quickly with far less BS being leaked than before?

Back to the bad old days January 31, 2014 at 6:51 am

Yes, Baden Cooke announced he was representing Horner January 10, but given that he seems not to be qualified who knows? From my pov, if he’s only been acting for less than a month and it’s already been this much of a soap opera then good luck anyone else with him…

LM January 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm

I’m sorry you feel this way, but if you look a little closer, you’ll see that, at least on paper, everything is very by the book. Without writing 4 pages, these are a few thoughts that I think are worth following up on.

Baden Cooke’s actions have been completely transparent and exactly by the book. His representation of Horner is completely UCI legal, B-C knows the rules regarding his qualifications, stated them publicly. What’s more, he got Horner a good job relatively quickly. There is a very good, funny post further down about all the bad business decisions B-C has made and there is a fairly popular entrepreneurial business thought that failure leads to greater success.

As to Horner’s treatment, the worst of it was from some idiot at another cycling news website starting and then fanning the flames of a rumor that Horner was a doper. This was then kept alive by the internet trolls. Regardless if the real truth is different, Horner has never even smelled like a whiff of a cheat and that’s that.

Rutherford did not do his best representing Horner; he was not prepared for the Vuelta win, he had not had serious talks with and he was not on top of the management changes at RS, he did not react quickly and he did not manage the PR properly. That being said, who predicted the Vuelta win beside Horner himself? I hope those two two other people had some money on it and are now retired. It was also, as B-C correctly pointed out, an unfortunate set of circumstance; Horner’s age, his recent health issues, the worst global economy in our lifetime, the end of the season, rosters mostly picked and teams’ budgets being set. Last two points most importantly.

Leaks are sometimes a tool, almost inevitable, often dishonest and need to be controlled. The worst was a lie by Christina Watches, B-C handled it. And, really, what do you expect from a team created around The Chicken? It’s not a massive coup, it is a success. And, if you were looking for work right now, who would you call, B-C or Rutherford? Every team in Professional Cycling has a whiff of doping’s past, but to decry Lampre’s is to ignore the management and roster changes.

In the end, Horner wanted and deserved a well paying job and B-C found him one. Everyone wins but the trolls. That’s good, right?

Back to the bad old days February 1, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Best response ever.

gabriele February 2, 2014 at 12:27 am

Those don’t “allowing dopers” usually prefer to dope themselves the riders, as a team: organized strategies to manage the doping periods within the group, far better political cover, direct control via team doctors… who could ever blame them? That’s the pro way.
The funniest thing is when you see “not-allowing-dopers” teams hiring riders or doctors or directeurs sportifs that happen to have a doping past. Again and again. But, obviously, so many times that doping past comes to light afterwards, and no one might ever ever have suspected anything about it…

Chris January 30, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Baden Cooke surely knew he was on to a win-win situation when Horner agreed to take him on. If Cooke got his client a new deal, it would reflect well on the Australian’s negotiating skills and probably lead to plenty of other riders showing interest in his services.

If he had failed to find a team for Horner, he could point at the American’s age and (some might say) questionable past as pretty valid excuses and move on to working for other riders.

tourdeutah January 30, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Looks like Lampre will be riding Cali, Utah, and Colorado. Great news for the American tours !

tourdeutah January 30, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Probably not USPro as it conflicts with the Vuelta. So, does CH or Rui Costa lead Lampre at the Vuelta ? It’s obvious Chris will wear the number 1 as the defending champ !

Sam January 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Costa will be Lampre’s leader at the Tour, and Horner at the Vuelta.

The Inner Ring January 30, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Interesting as Merida bikea are not sold in the US, it looks like a no-compete deal for Specialized.

Scott January 31, 2014 at 10:59 am

American Coated Steel manufacturers will be quaking in their boots over the US marketing their bitter Italian rivals are about to receive.

LM January 31, 2014 at 2:58 pm

While they may not be quaking, I think this was the reason Lampre signed him. The demise of the US steel industry generally is a sad poster child for the mistaken direction the US has taken economically. Talk about mismanaged natural and human resources…

Eryn February 2, 2014 at 6:48 am

Merida Bikes are available in Canada. I was on a Scultura for the last two years.

Rhys February 3, 2014 at 1:55 am

I’m so sorry.

Sam January 30, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Letter of intent seems to be a favoured piece of paperwork beween a rider and a new team, ahead of the UCI’s Aug 1 date.

Andy W January 31, 2014 at 12:17 pm

The UCI rules says it’s illegal to sign a contract pre-1st Aug

This will be a contract to sign that contract ;o)

Sam January 31, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Quite – not THE contract though. Letter of intent is non-binding (well, usually) – lots of get-out clauses on both sides (again, usually – in my experience)

Glasses January 30, 2014 at 5:20 pm

And don´t forget that a good agent will/should take care of tax declarations, medical and other insurances etc. for the rider

The Inner Ring January 30, 2014 at 6:55 pm

It can go even more. I gather Cooke wants to operate a base with a gym, motor pacing and more. Almost a team.

Some soigneurs already offer similar services from massage to motos.

Jason January 30, 2014 at 8:34 pm

“Given Cooke is neither family nor a lawyer we can only assume he’s scrupulously respecting the UCI rules and has generously worked for free.”

…or just been paid under the table…

The Inner Ring January 30, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Surely not, this is professional cycling after all ;-)

Andrew January 30, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Good to see your irony detector is switched on.

Andrew January 30, 2014 at 9:26 pm

@Jason, that was…

Touriste-Routier January 30, 2014 at 9:48 pm

A prime example of a UCI rule with enough built in loopholes, negating the effect of having the rule in the first place.

I thought it would be better to offer a “certified agent” program, as a stamp of approval rather than making it a mandate. Just as riders can have unlicensed coaches, doctors and mechanics (utilized outside of competition), they could use a non-certified agent.

Back to the bad old days with the UCI January 31, 2014 at 3:39 am

Just like the ‘transfer period’ being a joke as well. All the major trades are done at the Tour de France, when everyone knows the UCI prevents this.

Scott January 31, 2014 at 11:01 am

*prohibits – not prevents

Sam January 31, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Many are done well ahead of the Tour

The Inner Ring January 31, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Yes, by then teams are looking to add secondary hires around the leaders. By August and September it’s the scramble to fill the last slots.

Tricky Dicky January 30, 2014 at 9:09 pm

I saw from the RIDE interview with Cooke that the deal is very heavily bonus-orientated. That should make for some interesting team dynamics if Lampre have more than one rider in contention in a race: Horner is hardly incentivised to help (or at least sit up and let) a teammate win.

I know that prize money is often shared out but how do riders reconcile these “personal bonuses” with the need for a “team ethic”?

The Inner Ring January 30, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Prize money is shared but these bonuses are private. Some riders will buy valuable gifts as thanks for work done as a way of sharing but as you say the incentives change with the bonus structure.

Vanilla_Thrilla January 31, 2014 at 1:54 am

Interesting question: are bonuses only paid in relation to race results?

In other words, could payment be dependent on being available for certain races? So if someone is a no show (whether b/c of injury or maybe being subject to USADA investigation) they don’t get paid?

Are there ever bonuses paid out based on team management assessment of whether a rider followed team orders? Kind of like a qualitative performance review in the public sector or corporate where your manager might decide if you should get a bonus based on his/her evaluation of your work.

Justin January 31, 2014 at 2:09 pm

If riders know that another rider is paid bonuses for results, it introduces an interesting dynamic, especially if the bonus incentive is generally known in the peleton. Beyond the team ethic, the bonus makes the pie bigger, and slices can be shared by anyone who cuts a deal. The rider with the bonus incentive may even find helpers offering their services. Shrewd negotiating skills, and the rider’s reputation for cutting deals, become a bigger part of the game.

LM January 31, 2014 at 3:04 pm

This is a unique aspect of the sport that I appreciate; making last minute, temporary deals with riders from other teams.

MK January 30, 2014 at 10:56 pm

How do you know the bonuses are linked to individual performance and not ‘team efforts’. You;d imagine some wording around the scenario you have mentioned. The last thing Lampre would want is a ‘team’ of 9 individuals.

LM January 31, 2014 at 4:49 am

Simplified and ignorant of the exact facts: It took more than a month to hammer out the details of Horner’s contract. Not every(any)one on the team has a similar contract. Horner knows, as long as he’s healthy, what races he’s targeting and depending on the importance of the race and the market, what a result is worth. Top 10, 5, podium spots, stage, etc.

The rest of the team are riders that get paid to support him. Generally, their bonuses come from his bonuses. Horner is a perfect short term prospect; he’s guaranteed news worthy, he’s a very good cyclist, he’s a nice, funny, laid back guy. He takes a little pressure off Costa, giving him time to develop into his GC role.

Ben Zerbe January 31, 2014 at 12:59 am

You would think the performance bonuses would be fairly well targeted at Horner’s areas of specialty. You would think they would be aimed at races in which he is likely to be team leader for a start. Besides bike racers aren’t stupid. He is hardly going to be gunning for the sprint on the champ elysees.

Jack D January 31, 2014 at 4:11 am

How do bonuses NOT promote cheating and doping? Lance Armstrong was well documented in rorting that well. Looks to me that both sides are silly to allow it.

I guess Cooke is telling people he’s going to be a great manager because he’s learned from all the mistakes he made.

Looking back at his career, he made some really bad decisions to join teams. Choosing the US instead of Europe and joining Mercury before it folded, then walked out on FDJ breaking his contract to join Unibet which was a debacle, he was the previous year’s green jersey but couldn’t get a ride in the Tour. Dunno what Barloworld was all about? Then at the end of his career with OGE they retired him, no obvious effort to keep him in any capacity like most others.

Just on whether he is legally allowed to operate as an agent without being qualified, he mentioned a while ago in an interview about the company he had started with others managing athletes, so he would surely be aware of what he was doing and if it was legal or not.

Back in the day, he beat a host of sprinters (Cippo, Zabel, Bettini, etc.) and rode alongside guys who have all since been busted for doping, but he’s never been of course, so I guess Baden Cooke is a natural…?

Ben Zerbe January 31, 2014 at 6:19 am

Performance bonuses are hardly new to the sporting world, it is not like cycling is going it alone in allowing them. Bonuses are useful for both riders and teams in that they allow some amount of flexibility in contracts.

For instance say a third year rider had not done much in his neo pro years but came out and won five races. His market value has risen markedly, however if he has no bonus clause he receives little to no immediate compensation for the dramatic improvement in performance while his team reaps the benefits of the UCI points said rider brings to the team. Rider is trapped (I am probably wrong but I thought a lot of cycling contracts were 2 years in length) and may become disenfranchised with the team, break contract and walk away. If performance bonuses are in place, the rider is rewarded in line with his achievements, while the team has not had to carry the risk of an inflated flat rate salary.

I’m not sure if younger riders even get offered bonuses but anyway.

The more pertinent example of why bonus performances are useful is that it allows teams like Merida-Lampre to pick up guys with Chris Horner’s capabilities and reputation without having to gamble an obscenely large (in relative terms) amount of money on a 40 year old veteran. If Horner lives up to his reputation, he is handsomely rewarded. If he flops, the team claims his UCI points for a bargain and carries on into next year with him still on their roster regardless of whether he races or not, aiding them in securing World Tour selection and everybody is happy.

Olivier January 31, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Just have a little correction about the agency of Fabian Cancellara: while he use to be represented by IMG he has been with InfrontRingier for almost 3 years now. Thank you for taking not of that.

The Inner Ring January 31, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Thanks, it’s noted. I see you are also replacing IMG at the Tour de Suisse.

Olivier January 31, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Yes, we do indeed. Are allready in the planning process and will be in charge from 2015 onwards.

Hemel Hempstead January 31, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Olivier,

You are not on the UCI accredited agent list…… no one from InFrontRinger is, are you a fully qualified lawyer ? ……

:-)

Luke

gabriele February 2, 2014 at 12:51 am

OT: Olivier, what went wrong with the TV images in Florence? Were you someway in charge of that, or not? We ended up longing the -good- old RAI… not so good, indeed, and that says much about our level of disappointment.

Anonymous February 2, 2014 at 9:20 am

The images where produced by Infront, which is one of your motherhouses. We’re a swiss subsidiary and and are just working on the swiss market (Tour de Suisse and other events). So I can’t say anything about that subject…..

gabriele February 2, 2014 at 1:19 pm

It was a major slip on their part, I’m still hoping anyone would take responsibility for that; anyway, ok, it can’t obviously be you, since you had nothing to do with the facts!

Kev February 1, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Over the years, I’ve encountered Cookie at races, cafes and bunch rides worldwide.
I’ve never heard him promote or hype, anything he thought was utter crap.

Career results might have reflected less than his talent deserved, equally, he’d likely agree, some of his team choices, weren’t his best decisions, but he knows the score, and the way it works.
I think he’ll be a good agent,I can’t think of many who’d want to go ‘toe to toe’ with Baden.

The Inner Ring February 2, 2014 at 7:37 pm

His career and experience of teams gives him plenty to get started on, maybe some choices didn’t work out with hindsight but it’ll give him plenty for the new job.

Stoke on Vent February 2, 2014 at 10:13 am

Haha,

I think Olivier might regret popping up to make his I represent Fabian comment…. Maybe he’s not a lawyer which could be ironic given the article… Great stuff INRNG once again!

Davis

gabriele February 2, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Well, I think that when some kind of corporation represents you, it’s okay if they’ve got a legal department or at least some qualified lawyer in their team; and I guess they do, at InfrontRingier. Or not?!
… [Googling] …
Actually, on their website I can now see that seven out of twelve person at IR are on things like sales and/or marketing, and no reference to legal issues, except that one of the website sections is called “Sports Rights”. I suppose a qualified lawyer can work on sales, or be a Managing Director, or his Assistant, or whatever.

Anyway, we shouldn’t neglect the “charity” option :-)

Regards,
G.

PT February 3, 2014 at 12:52 am

Plenty of folks in the bigger sports marketing agencies are – or used to be – lawyers. Some of the small guys too. They need to know their stuff around contract and property law, often in many jurisdictions. They may no longer run a legal practice but they are in every other sense, lawyers.

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