Prize Money

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 for their efforts, 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 here this just 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 richer rather than tackling the structural 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.

56 thoughts on “Prize Money”

  1. It’s been said before, and risk of stating the obvious, but the funds involved in womens racing really are staggeringly low. Whatever the whys and wherefores of that, the simple fact remains that it makes the commitment and dedication of those riders all the more impressive

    • Until recently, the exposure for women’s cycling was almost nothing, and it still is not that marketable. Therefore, are you going to pay millions to sponsor a women’s team?

      • I’d rather people don’t get stuck on the Catch-22 scenario here. Women’s races have low funds but it is changing at the moment, the direction of travel is a lot quicker than the men’s side.

      • Possibly the television numbers for the recent mens ronde vF and womensRonde vF suggest thatwomebs racing is of similar marketability to mens . . . . .

      • As it happens with most Olympic sports, by the way, despite the vast interest and marketing potential they’re endowed with… just during the Olympics, of course.

        De Coubertin’s dream made true, only in the form of a nightmare of sort – at least, for most athletes who are indeed required to be competitive to the highest level but can rarely get a decent wage for their huge efforts.

        Excluding the superstars (who are decently paid in women cycling, too) most athletes have to rely on short-lasting grants or more or less instrumental recruiting in some public corps, normally military ones or the police. Sometimes with unintended and unpleasant consequences.

        That’s even more impressive when you think about the absurd (geo)political importance Olympics are endowed with, besides the obvious economic factor.

      • Reminds me of my pro moto racing daze – we used to ask ourselves “How can you call this a professional sport when the equipment you need costs more than you can ever win with it?”

      • Haha, exactly or the “pro” deal i was offered on a bike when I was racing…. I still had to buy the stinking thing, and clearly never made a dime for my riding. It should be called a “complete amateur” deal.

    • Yes, some have to or they’re living out their dreams for a while. Most sports are winner-takes-all environments where the likes of Sagan/Froome (Messi/Ronaldo etc) collect more than hundreds of others. But things are changing and the women’s side isn’t far off the point where some of the leading teams can, and will probably be required to, pay a UCI minimum wage to all their riders in exchange for a premium status and guaranteed entry into the major races.

      • Agreed. If I was the king of cycling, being in the WT would require reasonable minimum salary for all the team members + the funding at a set level of a women’s racing team. But then I’d have to come up with some real benefits from being WT…and there really aren’t any to speak of…which is why 2019 will see 17 teams fighting it out over 18 places?
        I’m starting to wonder if the Froome fiasco will finally kick off the deadly fear of the Velon folks – that ASO might tell UCI, CAS, IOC and the rest to “F–k off…..Froome is not welcome. If you insist we allow another Contador-like scenario, we’ll just take ALL of our events and create our own pro cycling league. RCS and Flanders Classics are welcome to join us, but WE write (and enforce) the rules.” While I’m not a fan of French hegemony over the sport, I’m beginning to wonder if something like this might actually be an improvement over the current mess?

        • It’s worth pointing out that ASO don’t only have their own races, but also promotional links with quite a number of races that they don’t run themselves.

          Certainly enough to organise their own global top-level series which would hit markets across four different continents.

    • Well, in Italy that’s the yearly salary of most (m-o-s-t!) *pro* journos.
      Or university “professors” – that is, people-on-teaching-duties if you prefer (the vast majority are excluded from any tenure tracking system, given that it’s been blocked by the State some ten years ago).
      I’m not sure I can praise Italian press to the skies (but I should add that the least paid often produce the sparse best works you sometimes can find here and there, especially for free and online)…

      OTOH, what’s really surprising is that Italian researchers still go on year after year topping or podiuming the ranking of European grants obtained by nationality (and they’re the best by far if you normalise that to, say, €€€ invested in research by each coutry – but that would be too easy and too sad a “victory”).
      What’s unsurprising is that, unlike what happens in the rest of the main European countries, most of the grantees take advantage of such a chance to bring themselves, *the money* and their careers abroad.
      For example, here are the data for the ERC starting grants 2017:
      And for the 2017 ERC consolidator grant the story is pretty much the same:

      It looks a bit like cycling ^__^

    • I’m reading Phil Gaimon’s book and when he started as a pro, riding for Jelly Belly in the Tour of California, he was on $2000 dollars per year. At the time he was one of the best US-based pros as well.

      He didn’t have any overheads and they seem to sell off old team gear when they can get away with it but it’s still, basically, a slave wage because so many people want to be a pro so that wages for pack fodder are really low. I probably we earn more than many as Pro Conti riders who do the Tour, and I’m not exactly loaded!

      I’m not sure what the answer is exactly but it’s a tough sport in so many different ways. I know someone in the music industry and he said musicians either earn less than you think or more than you can imagine, cycling seems to follow that model.

      • As an example I vaguely know someone who was shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize – a nationally prestigious awards show which is broadcast on the BBC – and he was earning £5000 per year though music. Some industries have warped business models.

        • This reminds me of something I recall reading about Reuben, one of my favourite bands from the mid-2000s. Their drummer, despite the adulation and Radio 1 airplay, was still stacking shelves in his local Waitrose throughout.

        • Well.. that’s not indicative of a warped business model. That is just indicative of an athlete/artist who has yet to capitalise on their talent and who is still technically an amateur. While earning 5 grand or 2 grand, they’re barely professionals, by definition.

          • Fair comment re: cycling. My observation was more related to the music industry where a junior marketing bod running a record label’s Twitter feed earns x4 what an award-winning musician can. That’s a different discussion though!

          • In fact, it’s the whole concept of “being a professional” which now needs to be rewritten in an era of working poors. In several fields, the line you could draw that way doesn’t make sense anymore (that is, doesn’t offer any meaningful insight, journalism being a premium example). Wage used to be a proxy for many aspects – time dedication, specialisation, economic value of the products obtained… – which are now often detached from it, and in a way that isn’t comparable to ancien régime aristocratic amateurism.

  2. Another great article, this is the stuff that brings me back to the site every morning.

    And as I was closing my browser, I asked myself about prizes. You’ve covered some of this before, but what on earth happens with prizes?

    In the photo, well chosen by the way, Nibali has two rather odd momentos. I assume that his team finds a way to store and then return them to his house. Other prizes, well they don’t keep so well do they? When a rider wins a big block of cheese or a cow, what does the team do with this?

    And if the winner sells his or her cow, does the money flow to all the team or just to the victor? I suppose that if the rider keeps the cow, somehow, that the rest of the team should expect compensation. What is their steak?

    I’ll stop now, but if any of you have wisdom to share on this, please do!

    • A block of cheese will delight the team management, mechanics. A cow is rare these days but in the past behind the podium the rider would be offered a cash sum, often much less than the value of the animal.

      As for the trophies, the riders often collect them but sometimes they go to the team HQ or to a sponsor. There’s only so many trophies you can have at home, even a Sanremo one.

      I think it was Bernard Hinault but it could be someone else who once won a cow and intended to take it with him, to arrange the transport, and this put the sponsor out because they expected the prize animal would return to its farm that evening and the rider would settle for a smaller envelope of cash.

    • A cyclist’s best friend… diamonds!

      The best placed rider through the three one-day classics of Trittico Lombardo is being awarded a 10+ thousand euros diamond. It always suprised me that it wasn’t fought for harder.

  3. Like women’s cycling, I believe the situation is a bit different at Continental levels in Asia. Some of the Asian tours have relatively generous prize pools compared to the typical budgets (and thus salaries) of continental teams.

  4. Re your fourth bullet point:
    *Fines levied by the commissaires during the race are netted off, let’s pick a round €500 to leave €8,300*
    Presumably these are any fines levied against the winner (or his team?) rather than all the fines in the race? Would seem a bit unfair (on the winner) otherwise !

  5. I find it ridiculous that the administrative burden of collecting prizes requires a specialized company to make money out if it. It should be simple and automatic, without any mediation.

  6. We can all remember back in the day. Prize list would have a $ amount in pre race marketing material. But when you showed up after winning or placing in a race, you receive merchandise valued at x$

    One could not even get gas money, sometimes you could sell a tubular or ?? for gas.

  7. Except for tennis, I don’t know many sports where prize money is very important. In athletics I think it is more the start premiums for top athletes than the prize money that matters, but I am not an insider there. Golf, maybe? Is there even a monetary prize at all for winning the Champions League, or the World Series, Super Bowl etc. ? There are plenty of financial benefits for the teams and players of course, but is there also such a thing as prize money in these sports? If there is it is not discussed much in my presence.

    So to me ” any outsider looking at the sport might glance at the prize money available and think the sport is even small and struggling than it is” seems a bit far fetched. Note that I copy-pasted and left the typos in. Should be “smaller and more struggling” perhaps?

    • Hummm, dunno about athletics, I’m no insider either but I’d say that the prizes matter quite much, at least in the Diamond League (nomen omen… by the way, more about diamonds above!).
      The ten top winning athletes – who were 70% women – won between 85K and 135K each, in Diamond League prizes only, for the 2017 season.
      The top 50 athletes all won – again, from Diamond League prizes only – more than 40K each.
      Then, well, you might also win the diamond ^__^

    • Champions League winners get €15.5m plus their prizes for earlier rounds (so the total is around €35m), Super bowl winners get around $110k per player, and World Series winners get something like 36% of the gate revenue for the playoff games (which comes to around $25m). The monetary prizes for the world’s biggest sporting events are pretty substantial.

      • That is indeed pretty substantial. Still it is not what people talk about at these events. At least I never saw a post match interview with the question : so what are you going to do with all that prize money. All the other revenues are larger too in these sports.

    • Golf, “Nascar” (not necessarily a sport), “poker” (haha, I know not a sport), North American Pro Sports pay out bonuses for playoff runs (but the league doesn’t give prize money because already have strong revenue streams – so any playoff money is from door, advertising and TV revenues).

      Well, I’m not an outsider, but cycling in many ways appears to be a smaller and struggling sport. The main issue is there is a very weak business model – unfortunately it’s the nature of the sport with no contained stadium. I’m still on record as being completely shocked at the TV revenue model – I’m very surprised that there is not more money from this, at least from the TdF.

  8. If the fines for the race are deducted from the prize money won, how are the fines paid if the team does not collect any prize money in the race? Surely just from the team budget and not from rider salary, therefore why does this change when there is prize money involved?

      • This makes no sense, to cover fines there must be team budget, paying fines from prize money would then create budget savings for the team at the expense of prize money being passed onto the riders and staff. Odd.
        But then when has much in pro cycling made sense?

        • Prizemoney is not ‘extra’ money for a team, it is part of the team budget.

          Only if a team outperforms their expectations does anyone get a bonus at the end of the year.

          • A point that was lost on me, thanks!
            It seems a bit of a flimsy financial forecast/budget based on potential future money that is won.

  9. When I saw a podium photo of the women’s Ronde van Drenthe, it struck me that in front of the winner there was on prominent display a cardboard box containing a 32″ Salora HD LED television. The runners-up received merchandise prizes as well, albeit smaller in size and presumably in value.

    I mean, I’ m used to seeing such consumer goods, from televisions to laptops to waffle irons as prizes in a national level cross-country skiing and orienteering races and in age group events and I could imagine that the winners of all those minor Belgian races would receive similar prizes – but this was a 1. WWT race!

    I’m not sure it wouldn’t have any less pathetic if it had been a 55″ set…

    • When German Women’s football team won their first World Championship title, they got a coffee set by the governing body DFB. And no prize money. Women don’t need cash, they like something for the kitchen, brillant ideas by old white dudes. Not.

  10. Froomey is like Armstrong. TUE, salbutamol and…money. Lots of money. No difference then and now. Just even more hypocrisy. And even so called cycling fans prefer to pretend nothing is happening.

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