Wednesday Shorts

Are your socks the right length? The UCI used to regulate sock length but the rule vanished. Now it’s back for 2019 and the handy image above sets out the maximum permitted length in graphic terms rather than the dry text of UCI Rule 1.3.033 bis. We’ll see if commissaires are running after riders with tape measures…

Now to people needing to pull their socks up. Aqua Blue‘s riders are waiting for their wages, in the wake of the team’s demise the riders are claiming the bank guarantee posted with the UCI for just this purpose. When there are stories of unpaid wages – Astana’s troubles went public earlier this year – the guarantee isn’t an overdraft to dip in and out. Instead there’s admin and paperwork involved meaning the money can take time to release. It’s not helped by the odd communications from the team. There’s even talk of suing riders who speak out, as if the team management still have money to fund legal action when there are delays to pay the wages but it’s surely impossible to imagine anything actually going to court.

Late or on time, a stat for you: the average pro salary for men’s cycling is about 450,000 Swiss francs, about US$440,000 or €400,000. It’s not made public but this number is derived from the amount listed inside the UCI accounts as held in reserve for the bank guarantees for all the teams, World Tour and Pro Continental, which amounts to just short of 1,000 riders and treat this as a back of the envelope number. Each team has to set aside one quarter of their rider wage bill but there are some caveats, for example the amount was that held on 31 December 2017. There’s not much meaning to the number, the wage distribution is very heavily skewed by a few riders at the top, sport is a winner-takes-all domain where those who win the biggest races get the greatest rewards so chances are if you bump into a pro they’re not on this but it’s the mean average. For comparison back in 2013 the mean average UCI World Tour salary was €320,000 and the median salary was €200,000.

Now to smaller pay deals and Groupama-FDJ have launched a development team and it’ll have UCI Continental status for next year. It’s got a budget of €1.2 million and all riders will be salaried – there’s no UCI minimum for the Conti teams but in France they’re classified as professionals and have to be salaried and insured by their employer (which isn’t the case in other countries). They’ll also attend some form of education or ongoing education while housed near the squad’s HQ in Besançon, a town in eastern France. It’s similar to Ag2r La Mondiale’s long-established feeder team in Chambéry and the new UCI reforms for 2020 look likely to embed the idea of a development teams further. To borrow management jargon it makes pro teams more vertical in that they don’t have to scour the U23 scene for talented locals as much but can instead recruit direct from their feeder teams; and use the feeder teams to recruit possible talents.

Will FDJ’s money stay on tap? Just as Team Sky’s parent sponsor has changed ownership with Comcast’s takeover of the UK broadcaster, now FDJ, the French state lottery, is being prepared for sale by the French government with the FDJ privatisation expected for next year. It’s likely the sponsorship, now more than 20 years old, stays for the short to medium term but as ever a change of owners can bring new spending priorities.

FDJ had a decent start to their sponsorship, winning Paris-Roubaix with Fred Guesdon in their inaugural year of 1997. Two years later Andrea Tafi won Paris-Roubaix and now he wants to race it again, aged 52. If he starts he could finish if everything goes his way but probably won’t feature in the race. But how to start? He told Italy’s RAI TV that he was in talks with a World Tour team which seems odd because there’s only seven riders on the start line and so little room for a guest rider: few squads take to the start of Paris-Roubaix without ambition. But today’s Gazzetta Dello Sport reports Dimension Data could be the team. There’s a connection as the team has a base in Italy near Tafi’s home and a glance at their roster for 2019 suggests they’re not going to have a strong team for the day but all the same hiring Tafi for the day, or the spring, is a good way of signalling this to the world.

Staying with cobbles, the Arenberg forest is special to Paris-Roubaix. If the cobbles are legendary, it’s also the gaps between them that make riding across them so hard, wheels bounce and there can be vegetation and moss which can be slippery. Now this is being fixed reports local newspaper La Voix du Nord, instead of the annual weedkiller spray and then a roadsweeper, the local authorities are blasting the gaps with a high pressure jet to clear out debris and will soon move to cement the joints between them. It should make them marginally safer but perhaps the real story is how the race and its geography is becoming part of the region’s heritage, something to spend money on and preserve.

68 thoughts on “Wednesday Shorts”

  1. Great post and thanks for sharing the piece from La Voix du Nord about restoration to the cobbles in the Arenberg forest. While I am not sure I would restore the cobbles in a manner not consistent with original construction if you truly want to preserve their history and heritage, I do appreciate the deeper recognition these roads are finally getting amongst the masses regarding their cultural history and place within the landscape.

    As far as the Tafi thing goes…I’ll go ahead kick off the comments section by saying I’m all in for this one. He was one of my favorite riders at a time when I was competitive as an amateur in the States. I’m wishing him all the best. I recall a story from Cancellara about his first Paris Roubaix when he was struggling at the back of the race, minutes behind, and all of a sudden he was passed by Tafi who ended up finishing 10th.

  2. That average salary makes a bit of a mockery of the fear that there’s not enough money in (Men’s) pro cycling – interesting how the economics of the sport work. A median salary way higher than most of us could dream of earning, yet sponsors that won’t stay in the sport and races disappearing.

      • I assume they’re allowed to work after they retire… But seriously, there are multiple positions within the sport as a coach, DS, manager, agent, commentator etc. Otherwise, seeking a new career at some point between your late 20s to mid 30s is normal for loads of people, in and out of sport.

    • There’s never been as many pro teams as there are now, there’s never been as much sponsorship and wages are higher than ever before. But yes, teams don’t have any guarantees as to their future, many work off short term sponsorship teams and some have medium term ones.

    • AndyW – What’s the average career of a World Tour rider? 5-7 years? Plus, the majority of riders make much less than the average (the demographic chart is bell/pear shaped) and have a very short (2-3 years) career, so the vast majority of World Tour riders earn $150,000 USD (estimate) over their 3 year career, and then have to find another job. So the real earning potential of a World Tour rider is very low, and therefore the finances of the World Tour is very much insecure. Note my analysis isn’t even looking at Conti and Pro-Conti or Women’s teams.

      Note that a comparable is Major League Baseball. Rosters have 25 players, league minimum salary is $550,000 USD. So even if you play for only 2-3 seasons you’ve made $1.5M USD, which if you’re smart with your money is either a) enough to retire on (earn annual investment income of $50k easily) or b) gives you a buffer to sort out your post playing career.

      • They can get other jobs after they finish and they earn far more than the average person. Why not compare them with the average person rather than the world’s richest sports people? Or compare them with curlers?

        • Yes, it’s the teams posting the guarantees with the UCI so the UCI takes it on but it belongs to the teams in the end (eg teams get it back if they stop and pay their riders properly etc) … but there’s probably no interest.

          • Of course a Bank Guarantee given by a Team does not come free, the Bank will charge a couple of per cent per annum and will likely want some form of security to ensure should there is a call on the guarantee the team will bear it, not the bank.

          • It’s usually the other way here, the team just has to post the cash rather than the bank trying to work out the risk. It’s quite a burden on new teams because they have to find a quarter of their wage bill and then effectively leave it in a bank vault doing nothing, it ties up a lot of money. But it’s proving worth it with teams.

          • Dai bank – it’s the other way around.

            These bank guarantees are funds held in trust, and they’d be interest bearing with the interest going back to the teams or back into the guarantee funds. The banks use the funds in their normal operations and make money that way. The interest they pay out on the funds is AFTER the profits from the bank operations. I don’t need to explain the basics of this to everyone on a cycling blog forum, but that’s normally how this works.

          • If the funds are held in EUR or CHF then it won’t be earning interest due to interest rates being negative… The UCI’s bank may even be charging them interest on the balance.

  3. It seems impossible to believe , but I do , that an organisation running a sport would be bothered with socks . There may be other things that need your attention UCI????

    • There are doing the big things too, the Continental development team above is linked to this, this blog’s covered the big reforms (or more the continuation of the current system) and more, even if the UCI isn’t that powerful so it can’t rule on everything. There should be news on the Tramadol and cortisol ban for 2019 soon.

      • You could be onto a marginal gain there, aero bib-tights!!

        I can imagine the uci com-misery discussion now….
        “my mind is blown, they have normal socks but the rule book says bib tight / legs warmer ok? But they have aero material…. I want to fine them but I can’t aaaarrrr….”. Haha….

    • Oh yes, and the UCI is not alone on things like this. Back when beach -volley took flight, the FIVB laid down regulations on the length of ladies’ shorts. Very short, they were; and the ladies duely protested and had it changed, much to the dismay of the male-part of the public 😉

    • Every pro sport institutes strict dress guidelines. Plus, many other industries have strict dress codes as well.

      The part of this that boggles my mind is why would anyone wear socks longer than the UCI limit?!? Those stupid looking “recovery” socks look RIDICULOUS and should never be worn in a race (even training they shouldn’t be worn). I’d love to see a real scientific study of the benefit of wearing them. Plus, offset that with the effect of wearing full length socks in the middle of July in France and come on people! Use your common sense!

  4. Surely that average salary is misleading as it is heavily skewed by the Sagan, Froome, valverde’s or the peloton. I’d be very surprised if 80% of the peloton earned anywhere near 100k

      • “What is the median income?” was my first thought. Do you have any evidence to back up the 200K number? As to Tafi, one of the few to set his retirement date in advance and stick to it despite all the calls to continue just had a birthday. Rather than look like a fool, Tafi should take a page out of Bernard Hinault’s playbook and stay retired. BigTex should have followed this example as well, he’d likely still be a big hero to many and feted at cycling events, just like Hinault and Indurain.

  5. First they came for the burqas and I did not speak out.
    Then they came for the dimpled jerseys, and I did not speak out.
    Then they came for my long socks.

  6. Well-banned. They should limit shorts to mid-thigh now. Shorts are way too long now, almost to the knee. They look horrible and they don’t help appreciate thigh muscles. And, decisively, they’re not what Merckx wore.

    • Ferdi – I’ll add to your rant with complaints about those gawdawful scoop-neck skinsuits. I don’t really want to see the pasty-white non-cleavage of these guys, do you? What’s next, lace?
      While they’re at it they could also require some level of opaqueness on the costumes as well. Some of the from-behind chrono shots have too….well….behind!

      • What’s worse is that all this inevitably filters down into the amateur ranks. Those see through scoop neck skinsuits are bad enough on a 10 stone pro. Your 15 stone mate squeezed into one at your local time trial like a cheap sausage is even more harrowing.

  7. As a qualified dry stone wall builder I question the logic in placing rigid cement between the cobbles which are currently set in a flexible bed. The stones move with the bed in the current scenario but with cement in the gaps the bed will still move fracturing the mortar. In the same way the top stones of a wall settle with the wall over time except when glued together with mortar, where they are left hanging in mid air. Any one on here with more knowledge than me re cobbled roads?

      • I’ve seen (and ridden on) a few “Roman” roads and don’t recall any of them being anywhere near smooth. Where are the roads you refer to? On the old Appian Way in Rome the pavement is far from smooth – huge gaps between the stones with plenty of them tilted at odd angles, etc.
        Someone claimed they’d been yanked up and put back again, which could be true as I remember some of the ancient wheel tracks no longer lining up like one would expect, but they look (and feel) these days nothing like the perfectly cut, smooth and even blocks of their mythical past.
        I wonder if “cement” in the case of the Paris-Roubaix cobbles means mortar…or some other material that might fill the gaps but remain somewhat flexible? What about that gray polyurethane stuff you fill cracks in your cement driveway with?

    • Hey Eagle Sam,
      I was thinking the same thing. If they are going to take the time to remove the material between the cobbles, it seems more advantageous to replace it with something like decomposed granite, compacted in, and then excess brushed-off. This seems like it would nicely fill in the gaps and still maintain the bumps. Concrete seems bad; imagine what it might be like in 10 years.

      • Agreed. I think the idea is to try to restore the cobbles to their original condition at the time of construction using traditional materials and methods. I doubt the Napoleonic Army and folks in Northern France used cement. So not only is cement a bad idea for the reasons pointed out by Sam, it would be historically inaccurate. The Friends of Paris Roubaix have images of their reconstruction work that appears to be more in line with traditional methods (e.g. compacted sand and gravel).

      • Walkable pavements in my neck of the woods are made by first spreading a layer of sand over the prepared substrate. The pavement stones are then hammered into the sand bed which fills in the gaps. This technique is only suitable for walkable pavements. Traffic-bearing cobbles are always laid dry over a compacted base, similarly to Sam’s dry walls. Part of the reason may be because the cobbles can then settle naturally with the loads where a cemented construction would fracture, but there are other reasons: e.g. a dry contruction allows rainwater to filter in while cementing the gaps leads to standing water and more runoff damage. Furthermore, dry construction is easily repaired or modified and this is useful in urban areas where it is often necessary to access the underlying infrastructure. Pull up a section of cobbled road and you are left with reusable road building material; break up a section of cemented road and you are left with useless rubble that has to be carted off.
        Not all of these points apply to the rural tracks of Paris-Roubaix, of course, but I would expect that cementing the gaps will at least require banning vehicles that exceed a specified weight.

  8. Also unless treated & regularly cleaned / retreated the concrete infill will quickly become coated with algae which when wet rapidly turns into a lubricating slime as anyone with a concrete path or patio will attest.

  9. As great as he was, for Tafi to perform at all at Roubaix now he’d almost certainly need to ride a few lead-up races. If he does I think the reality of his age will bite hard and the show will be over before it starts. If he doesn’t he’ll be seriously underprepared. On a hiding to nothing either way. A good story at least.

  10. I bet sooner or later the Anonymous team will deal with ‘colour of jersey’ issue. So I jump ahead and boldly argue with teams having RED all over the race. Top shot they look the same. From behind likewise. Helmets on, don’t they look quite alike. Probably should have cyclists’ names somewhere pinned. A grumpy old man’s idea. Socks length? I could live with any measurement as long as bibs are in place. The trend of ‘jersey / bib deregulation’ is here though I argue for the belated rule. Looks like UCI just wake up from their party nights and ha ha … where were we?
    I wonder how the tallest 6’7 pro cyclist will look like here? No offence whatsoever.

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