Prize money in cycling rarely makes the news. Sometimes when people see how much the men collect they’re surprised it’s so low… until they see how little the women get. But what do the riders actually collect? The net sum received by the winner is often a tiny fraction of the headline prize for first place.
Let’s imagine €10,000 for first place. Never mind which race, it’s just a big fat round figure to use as an example.
- 7% is automatically deducted to fund the CPA rider’s union (covered in more detail here) so we’re down to €9,300
- 2% is deducted to fund the CADF, the UCI’s anti-doping body and both these two deductions are formal and part of the UCI rules. We’re down to €9,100
- the prizes are actually handled by the local federation involved and they take a cut too, often 3% so we’re down to €8,800
- Fines levied by the commissaires during the race are netted off, let’s pick a round €500 to leave €8,300
- Cycling Service, a Dutch business, handles the admin of reclaiming and distributing the prize money for more than half the World Tour teams and they take 3% too, €8,000 remains
- There’s tax to pay of course, say at 25%, so we’re down to €6,000
- Team staff get a third of the remaining pot, so €2,000 for them which leaves €4,000
- The remaining amount is divided up among the riders who rode for the team, so for a team of seven riders it’s €4,000 / 7 riders = €571 per rider, whether they win or DNF on the day
So as you can see we’ve gone from the headline of winning €10,000 to actually collecting €571 or 5.7% of the notional first prize.
It’s not outrageous, rather than a story of a rider being fleeced the money goes to support various good causes. Along the way the prize pots fund the rider union – the men only, the new women’s union, the Cyclists Alliance wouldn’t get far if it lived off a percentage of the prize pot, they prefer a subscription instead although perhaps in time they’ll get a share too. Similarly the anti-doping effort is supported by prize money. Teams also share out the prize money, it’s a nice top-up for team staff like mechanics and masseurs who get to share in their team’s success and then riders share the spoils among themselves. The formulas for sharing are hardly public and each team can have its own system so take the above example as a suggestion rather than a certainty.
Outsider view: if prize money isn’t a big deal in the sport, perhaps it is to those outside of it? Anyone who doesn’t understand the sport looking in on pro cycling may glance at the prize list and think the sport is even smaller and more struggling than it actually is, that the sums involved look derisory and by extension leap to the assumption that victory is of little value. At the risk of stating the obvious to readers this isn’t the case because the value in winning or placing lies in the marketability of victory or trying rather than a post-race prize pot. It’s TV airtime and related publicity that drives a rider’s market value and they’re salaried both for the races they’ve won and the races they could win, whether directly or for their contribution to the team effort. This in turn translates into a contract worth much more than any prize pot. It all leads to the conclusion that prize money is nice but not a big deal in men’s racing, it’s almost an administrative matter that helps keep the rider’s union going and funds anti-doping.
Things are slightly different in women’s racing. For starters the cash prize lists are usually tiny but there are no automatic levies and deductions. For those events that do match the men’s races, like the Ovo Energy Tour in Britain matching the Tour of Britain, the prize pot is a big factor, a chance for some riders to collect a significant prize, possibly a multiple of their salary given almost half the women’s peloton earns less than €5,000 a year (five thousand Euros, there’s no missing zero). Winning a race is still the aim but sometimes the prizes are a more significant incentive but given the top riders are more likely to win it just sees the already salaried star riders in the women’s peloton get more rather than tackling the problem of many in the women’s peloton who are on low wages… or none at all.
Pay per view: lastly ASO often publish the prizes per team in their press releases and the tables make interesting reading. Not to ogle at the money, nor lament the relatively small prizes, but instead they’re a proxy for activity in the race, like some big combined classification that adds up every stage win, day in the leader’s jersey, each intermediate sprint win and every KoM point etc. As such the € symbol isn’t the point, it’s a ranking of a team’s activity and aggression in the race.