How much does a rider earn?

Lambo bike

The simple answer is €218,000, about  US$305,000. But before you rush out the door for a training session, note this is the average salary in the bunch and averages ignore detail. Simply put a few riders earn millions whilst most collect more modest pay.

I’d tweeted about pay yesterday and a couple of readers emailed to ask how much a rider earns. It’s a private matter in many respects but some details were published in French newspaper Le Journal de Dimanche which quotes the UCI regarding the average salary figure but later contradicts itself saying the “average Pro Tour salary is €12,300“, a monthly figure as is the convention in France meaning €147,600.

But averages mislead. As you probably know in sports, the winner takes all. Precisely because we often forget who finishes second in a race, yet alone fifth, those who win the most races are the most visible and get most of the financial rewards. As such Alberto Contador earns more than his eight team mates in the Tour de France combined. Estimates put Contador’s pay at €5 million. The article puts Andy and Frank Schleck each on €2 million and Philippe Gilbert on €1.2 million.

Within the French peloton Sylvain Chavanel is the best paid at €800,000 with Thomas Voeckler not far behind. Next come Pierrick Fédrigo and Sandy Casar are FDJ’s lotto winners on around €400,000 and Ag2r’s Jean-Christophe Péraud – silver medalist in the Beijing Olympics MTB race – rakes in €350,000, despite never having won a race on the road.

Salary vs. income
Just as talk of the average salary is misleading, so too are the figures quoted by the JDD. Because rider pay is rarely a single salary paid each month. Instead there are performance bonuses, image rights, merchandising, endorsement fees and other payments. These are more common for the higher paid riders.

At the lower end a rider will earn from €40,000 to €100,000 depending on their experience, their use to the team and also their haul of ranking points which can help their team stay in the top league of teams.

Minimum wage
There is also a minimum wage imposed by the UCI. For so-called ProTeams – the top 18 – this is €38,500 a year. For the next level, so-called Pro Continental status, it’s €32,300. But I can reveal some teams don’t always pay this wage or insist on payments back from riders. Most however respect both the spirit and letter of this rule.

Not just riders
Riders certainly use up most of a team’s wage bill but some squads can employ up to 100 people, meaning maybe 70 staff. Obviously one superstar rider will earn more than all the mechanics and soigneurs together but bear this in mind, indeed the results achieved by the star rider are often a collective victory.

For all the talk of high pay, the JDD suggests the combined wage bill of all 489 riders in the top-18 teams is less than the wage bill of Olympique Lyonnais, a soccer team. But in tennis you see the top few players “hog” the prizes and pay but quite quickly less players are on very modest wages, indeed some can be out of pocket if they travel to a tournament.

In cycling there is big money but this involves the broadcasting rights which are owned by the race organisers, for example ASO in the Tour de France or the UCI for the World Championships. This TV airtime is what then attracts most sponsors for they can get their brand into people’s homes via media coverage.

Pay varies a lot, some collect big rewards but most don’t. Rather than a focus on “who gets what” I’m more interested in the structural factors at play because compared to other sports it seems pay is relatively low, especially when you consider the commitment, hardship and risk involved in being a pro cyclist.

Riders are not organised in the way some US sports are and the real money flows to those holding broadcasting rights events like the Tour de France are bigger than the riders.

35 thoughts on “How much does a rider earn?”

  1. Why not just provide the “median” wage, which is much more fair representation of the typical cyclist wage. Hence why just because Bill Gates walks into an average bar does not mean suddenly the average patron is worth a billion dollars.

  2. Great post. Thanks for the shedding some light on the matter. The fact that the riders don’t get a cut of the TV dollars just doesn’t seem right. I see the riders as the reason people watch the events therefore, I feel they should get a cut. Just like the 4 major sports in North America.

    Should the riders actually organize themselves into a more powerful organization, they may be able to get their fair share of the dollars as well as other important changes.

    Just my 2 cents.

  3. The UCI doesn’t know how much the riders make. This information is privileged between the teams and the independent auditors who review the registration file and its plausibility. All the UCI knows is that the team has the ability to operate its team and uphold its contractual obligations, and that all the salary minima are met. These minima, incidentally, are not set by the UCI, but rather by a Joint Agreement between AIGCP and CPA. The UCI regulations defer to the Joint Agreement on these specific points.

  4. @The Inner Ring:

    Apologies – did not mean to criticize you personally. I was more critiquing the paper’s data and amounts they were providing.

  5. Un article intéressant, comme toujours.
    It is known that Alberto Contador is making in the area of 5 million euros/year, so when I saw last week on another cycling website that published the team budgets that Saxo Bank’s team budget was about 7 millions euros for the whole year, I thought something was wrong with these team budget estimates…

  6. Is there any kind of a players association or union? Why don’t the riders establish a collective bargaining agreement and start to take back the pay they earn for the broadcasters and rights holders.

  7. I agree with CG, and with what I took to be one of the major take-away points of this post; which is essentially that the pro cycling wage distribution is strongly left (positively) skewed. This isn’t remarkable; incomes as a rule are left-skewed, which is why median wages are considered a better measure of ‘typical’ income, and why it is so strange that the mean is available, but the median is not.

    It has long been known that professional cycling doesn’t typically offer pay commensurate with the amount of work and risk involved; the fact that information is often not publicly available probably doesn’t help the situation. Perhaps better organization would see race organizers or broadcasters paying some kind of standard appearance fee to racers, but aside from the practical difficulties (smaller races have to pay for TV coverage), there is something unsettlingly regressive about an appearance or bonus scheme, rather than simply higher salaries.

  8. @Breakwaway artist: Contador’s assumed income includes personal sponsorship by Specialized, Giro etc. It’s unknown how the deal works, but Riis probably isn’t paying the biggest part of his star rider’s paycheck.

  9. very interesting , thanks. I wonder how much of that money riders must “invest” in their trade? do they pay for any medical/travel expenses or equipment out of pocket? say if they want to go somewhere warmer to train in the offseason or if they get injured in the offseason, who pays? or, say, Chris Horner crashes out of the TdF, obviously the team pays for medical expenses, but who pays for him to fly back to the US?

  10. “…Pierrick Fédrigo and Sandy Casar are FDJ’s lotto winners on around €400,000.” Nice. Am I really the only one who got it?

    Very interesting article. Yesterday’s stage showed just how hard the sport can be and that perhaps all riders earn more than they get.
    As for the football comparison, I hate football.

  11. What about the payoff from crits, etc, which the riders do after big races? I’ve heard the annual payoff from that can often be several tens of thousands of euros?

  12. @Breakaway artist and @inrng
    could it be that those 5 million are not his salary but his income, speak plus sponsoring deals, like the ones with selle italia and sidi he has?

  13. You should add that prize money won during a race, especially at the Tour is often spread among the entire team, not just the one who crossed the line first to get it.

    On a side note (and not to stir anything up) Armstrong was known to give bonuses to the entire team and staff out of his own pocket at the end of each Tour victory. I wonder if Conti does the same?

  14. I don’t think the riders would do themselves any favors by organizing. I guess they could limit the highest salaries, but Pro cycling is not exactly a sport that is rolling in it right now. Sponsors are reluctant to invest and, to judge from the departure of some bigger names like T-Mobile, not finding good returns on their investments.

    The low end riders make what the market bears–there are plenty of hungry riders at the lower levels that could fetch water bottles and they know it. Contador makes millions because the sponsors want him. Saxo Bank itself surprised many be re-upping their sponsorship for another year, and Contador’s success wearing their name is no doubt a part of it.

    I love Cycling, but it’s a niche sport that sells no tickets and has very few events networks will pay to broadcast. Salaries are going to be low.

  15. Armstrong never gave anything out of his own pocket. The prize money consisting of the yellow jersey stages, final yellow jersey ($$$$), and stage wins were disbursed to the entire team with him taking a step out to show gratitude for the team. When you add this all up with his winning streak, this is a considerable amount of money for a rider who might’ve been earning the minimum wage.

    However, this is standard practice with any big name GC rider so not unique to Armstrong in any way at all.

  16. @inrng There is another source of income that you did not talk about: arrangement on the road.
    It is a fact of life that racers will buy and sell their “watts” individually and collectively. I remember a national championship that had so many different “clauses” that it took me half a week to regain my sanity.

    Of course this is a very delicate subject: the values people put in the sportmanship (effort, honesty, etc) are contradicted violently. Plus the betting side of things: not sure if bets on cycling are legal or organized (PMU style) in many countries but arrangements are a sort of collusion and that can get very ugly like football in Italy just experienced.

    I have somewhere a not so old VHS tape where a very famous rider has a onscreen reaction to the offer that was made to him to let go of his chances in a semi-classic. Priceless;-)

  17. That’s true Luc and we saw Ullrich making the “money” gesture with his hands, rubbing his thumb on his fingers, to Virenque in 1997. But this is more like a bank account where money comes in but often goes out too. And others make income from criteriums, from TV appearances and other things.

  18. What about the typical prize money splits at the end of the year? Wonder how much additional they get? I have heard that riders divvy up all of the prize money based on the # of days raced in that season.

  19. hi to you all love watching any type of sport but this tour is fab and sad at the same time ,fab as for sceanery and sad for those who were knocked off by a very bad drive (dont care if it was the first time he did it ) but bloody hell was he blind ,but please the guys are getting better

  20. It’s important to remember that the Tour de France was first devised as a tool to sell more newspapers. These days, it’s a tool to sell more of anything, but still retaining the ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’ attitude is what makes this kind of race so exciting. The riders [and indeed team] are in it for the sport, not the money.

Comments are closed.