Rider recruitment and nationality

Cadel Evans Aussie
This guy could be from Australia

One rider agent has denounced the “dictature of UCI points” when it comes to teams hiring riders. I’ve long suggested these ranking points are important, to the point of twisting incentives within the sport. But teams will recruit for other factors too. Obviously they want to hire riders capable of winning, or if not then good helpers. There are several other factors at play here. But one is nationality. Let’s take a look.

First, this manifests itself in the most obvious way, in that a team will recruit locally. Take French squad Cofidis, it is based in Northern France and so it’s full of Frenchmen… but it also has several riders from just over the border in Belgium.

Second there’s a practical element. With a team that’s already full of one nationality a foreigner might stand out, there is at least a language barrier to overcome. Don’t forget that whilst a race might be six hours, team morale can depend on the other 18 hours of the day. Who rooms with who, the mood on the team bus or the breakfast table. Riders need to share jokes. A mix of nationalities can work, it just takes an effort; similarly a room full of riders from the same country is no guarantee of good morale, far from it.

Above all there’s the target market of the sponsor. Quick Step has recently announced the recruitment of two Poles, Michał Kwiatkowski and Michał Gołaś. It’s no co-incidence that the Polish economy is growing faster than most European countries and that a company selling flooring products is keen to get a slice of the construction market. Similarly French consumer credit business Cofidis is expanding into Spain and keen to ride the Vuelta, it has Spanish riders. You can go through almost every team and spot this, for example the way Garmin-Cervélo has riders from around the world to help sell their devices and bike frames to cycling fans; the way Cannondale wants US and Aussie riders with Liquigas or Sky’s recruitment of German and Italian riders.

Which leads me to an interesting question: does a rider’s pay vary according to their nationality? Because if some riders are big names in big countries, is this not more valuable. For example John Degenkolb and Tony Martin are from Germany, home to over 80 million people and Europe’s largest economy. Everything else being equal, are these two riders not more valuable because they can tap into this giant consumer market than if they were, say, Austrian or Danish?

Finally nationality can have other consequences. I’ve mentioned the economy as a backdrop above, in terms of team sponsors targeting consumer markets. But there are other national effects. I wouldn’t want to exaggerate them but different countries have different wage levels and some teams have recourse to riders from Eastern Europe where wages are lower. They can find riders willing to settle for the UCI’s minimum wage when others might not.

Teams pick riders for their abilities and a win is a win, it gets great publicity. But fitting in with the squad matters. In addition many sponsors are keen to target particular markets and hiring riders of certain nationalities is a way to achieve this. Nationality can matter.

13 thoughts on “Rider recruitment and nationality”

  1. Interesting thought. From a Canadian perspective, I suspect Hesjedal and Barry and Rollin (maybe the three most prominent male riders on non-Canadian teams) kind of fit this rationale here beyond being good on their bikes. Hesjedal has been marketed as “Hope of a Nation,” upon which Garmin and now GarVelo seem to have capitalized. And Rollin, who seems to fit the FDJ young, brash, and strong mold, is French Canadian. Barry fits less well. He is an excellent domestique and team captain, but that doesn’t really seem to fit the explanations above. Maybe his writing skills carry over well to a predominantly English-speaking audience?

    The German case is more interesting, however. Keep in mind that Germany really seems to have soured on pro racing. That’s clearly had a negative impact on Martin’s and Degenkolb’s careers insofar as there is no German team among the highest ranks of the sport. Part of me buys your argument that their value is high due to the size of the country and its economy, but I wonder, too, if they’re also a liability, because Germans seem less passionate about pro cycling than the Dutch or Belgians, French, Italians, Spaniards, etc.? This might be a bit of a stretch—just thinking out loud—liability is a bit strong, but undervalued. Of course, both are more than likely to pick up critical points through wins in the years to come…

  2. You have also David Veilleux with europcar who brought with him Louis Garneau as a sponsor for the team.Louis Garneau being based near Quebec city and David veilleux being from there also meant they had many occasion to meet. Sometime having close connection with a major cycling company can help to get a contract. And i am pretty sure LG is very proud of this year TDF and more so when Rolland, Voeckler and Veilleux will ride here for GP cycliste de Québec just one week from the world championship.

  3. Velonista: true but with Rollin he was available and had lived in France before as an amateur.

    fshires: yes, a good example.

    Godsight: good detail, you are right about Veilleux and smaller sponsors often bring a rider. Sometimes even riders can bring a small sponsor with them, for example Kacheckin joined Lampre and brought an oil company with him, who covered his wages.

  4. Interesting you chose Cofidis as an example, as they appeared very much behind Estonian Rein Taaramäe as their leader at the TdF, perhaps it’s safe to assume that if you can integrate into a team well, (I would imagine Taaramäe is fluent in French at least) then nationality is less of a factor.

  5. Interesting viewpoint. Will be interesting to see what might happen over the next decade with the ride of the Far East. I would hate to think that teams end up full of inferior talent for marketing reasons (see: Denver Broncos – Tim Tebow).

  6. It’s been argued the same principle applies in Professional Football. Seria A, EPL etc have been accused of hiring token Japanese and South Korean players more for the marketability of selling club jerseys in the home nation.

  7. But really, you don’t gain anything in terms of marketing at the German market by hiring Tony Martin as the media there is almost totally indifferent to the sport itself and only waits for any ol’ rider to speak out on doping. Germany is totally screwed when it comes to cycling and it will take decades for cycling to gain lost ground.

  8. Not convinced that Skil will sell more power tools in Germany by signing Martin and Degenkolb, smacks of being more about trying to get the team to the top table.

  9. yes, while cycling in Germany has a really troubled position, not only due to doping, i must admit, there is (finally) a normalisation in the mainstream media, finally more sportive articles appeared and less doping related. And especially Martin and Degenkolb have gained some limelight in the German media. Also, with the signing of those two there is really strong German fraction in the team, Martin, Degenkolb, Kittel, Kluge, Geschke, Gretsch, Fröhlinger and Reimer. And most of them are still really young. I wonder if that means anything…

  10. Right there Slim Jim, the Gunners signed Japanese star Inamoto who subsequently made a grand total of 2 appearances but nevertheless they reportedly sold 10 million shirts into Japan over his 12-18 months with them…

    Green Edge’s Eritrean signing could be the same?

    Nothing wrong with it, just means the squads should be bigger.

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