Decades of doping may not just be a consequence of this being arguably the most arduous of sports but also a result of years of being overworked and underpaid, along with a system in constant flux that heightens insecurity for both riders and teams. No wonder a breakaway league is afoot, writes Anthony Tan.
Do you think these riders queuing up to confess to doping are doing so purely for catharsis?
Is it also to show Lance was simply one of an overwhelming majority mixed up in this squalid affair? Or is it aimed at reaching a watershed moment, so finally, we can make some real headway into improving cycling’s image and, sometime in the next hundred years, make it through a week talking about something other than doping? (Last Friday UCI president Pat McQuaid confirmed to the Associated Press he will canvass the possibility of an amnesty at their management meeting later this month, slated for September 19-20).
Or, in the case of Tyler Hamilton, is it to profit from their misdeeds. After all, who wouldn’t want to read what really went on inside the Postal bus and discover the contents of their refrigerator?
Perhaps it’s a subliminal way of telling us this is what happens when, in arguably the most gruelling of sports, you spend your entire career being overworked and underpaid.
I was interested to read of the recent disquiet among male tennis players (unsurprisingly the women, who receive equal pay, are not complaining), where there is talk of a possible boycott at the 2013 Australian Open, the first of the year’s Grand Slams and with a prize purse of $26 million this year, the best payer among the four majors.
In pro tennis men and women receive equal pay, where prize money at each Slam varies between 11-16 per cent of overall tournament revenue.
“The ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), the ITF (International Tennis Federation), powers that be, are betting against us being able to unify, they have been getting away with that gamble for 25 years and we haven’t proved them wrong yet. That’s where we stand,” said popular American Andy Roddick, who retired last week after thirteen years on the circuit and with a tad over $20M in prize money earned.
“(Irish rock group) U2 doesn’t ask permission to go on tour. We ask permission to do a lot of things.”
Compared to previous player disputes in other sports, however, it’s an issue far from being at tipping point. The consensus among players appears to be that the Slams pay well, though given the product’s commercial success, could pay better.
Conversely, the consensus among the peloton is that the ASO is a tightwad monopoly and the UCI does little to nothing to improve the financial welfare of teams and their riders, hence perennial instability for both. The situation for women is, um, well, er… let’s not go there.
Bloomberg estimated the Amaury Sports Organisation generates as much as $200M a year from Tour de France television broadcasting deals alone. If the figure is correct, total prize money at this year’s Tour - just over 3,000,000 Euro ($3.7M) - accounts for less than two per cent of that. Remember also that $200 mil is from TV rights only, comprising roughly 60 per cent of their income; they also make a killing from marketing/sponsorship and merchandising, such as those towns and cities that pay handsomely to host a stage start or finish of La Grande Boucle.
At the US Open tennis tournament, the final Slam of the season and near conclusion as I write, the first round losers walked away after some two to four hours of play (for the women, it can be as little as an hour or less) with US$23,000. Peter Sagan, after riding 3,497 kilometres up hill and down dale this July, equivalent to nearly 90 hours on the bike in whatever conditions Mother Nature could throw at the Slovak, took home a paltry €25,000 ($31K) for winning the points classification, while his 152 compatriots who also made it to Paris got €400, otherwise known as Sweet F.A.
Peter Perfect took home another €24,000 ($30K) for his hat trick of stage wins to top up his coffers. Overall champ Bradley Wiggins was compensated €450,000 ($550K) for his domineering display over three weeks, which, as tradition has it, is shared among his teammates; a token €56,250 ($70K) each for flogging themselves to pieces.
At the US Open, after slicing and top-spinning their way through seven successes in a fortnight, the men and women’s singles champion will receive US$1.9 million apiece. Around 10 per cent goes to their entourage; the rest they bank.
The winning team at Le Tour, RadioShack-Nissan, would’ve painted Paris red with €50,000 ($62K) in their pockets. Not.
Last year, UEFA Champions League tournament winner FC Barcelona received over €30M ($37M) in prize money. And this season, just for showing up and kicking and heading the round ball, each of the 20 teams in the English Premier League will receive around $60 million, derived mostly from TV revenue and prize money.
That said, tennis players don’t receive a base salary, so if you’re outside the top hundred you may be better off being a dommy (domestique) in the WorldTour, where you’re guaranteed an annual income of €38,500 Euro, or just short of fifty grand in Aussie dollars (Pro Continental riders receive a minimum €32,300, or A$40K).
Bathing in banknotes, hardly, but at least you can put bread on the table for your wife and kiddies each night.
Classics are no better than Grand Tours. Last month Edvald Boasson Hagen received a pathetic €16,000 for winning the GP Plouay, though it does sound marginally better if I tell you it translates to 80 bucks a kilometre.
Is it any wonder then, this mooted breakaway league, unofficially known as World Series Cycling (WSC), is fast gaining ground and projected to roll out in 2014? To paraphrase Andy Roddick, the way things stand in cycling, teams and riders ask permission to do everything.
The brainchild of the Rothschild group and Gifted Group, WSC does not intend to replace the WorldTour - let’s face it, corporations like ASO will forever remain entities unto their own - but will instead be run as a series of 10 four-day events, established under a points system similar to Formula 1 and NASCAR auto racing. (Nicolas Roche, who will be leaving AG2R-La Mondiale for Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank next year, recently lambasted the current WorldTour points system: “The way the UCI counts the points for the sporting evaluation is absolute bullshit. I’m racing here (at the Vuelta) for AG2R-La Mondiale but shall I score points, it won’t count for them. This system is ridiculous.”)
The world’s fourteen best teams would each hold a stake of just over 4.5 per cent in WSC, equivalent to 64 per cent of the entity. Gifted Group would retain 10 per cent, with the remaining 26 per cent sold to outside investors. In its initial pitch to those outside investors, Gifted Group predicted each team would take home an annual profit of around €2M ($2.47M) by the end of 2016, three years after the projected launch.
As soon as McQuaid got wind of WSC in March last year he immediately dismissed it as “unworkable”. However, as my colleague Richard Moore wrote in an issue of Procycling magazine earlier this year, “The UCI thought them workable enough that they were moved to buy up several domain names (worldseriescycling.com, worldseriescycling.net and worldseriescycling.org) that might have been attractive to the new joint venture.”
Still, the UCI prez won’t be losing sleep over WSC just yet.
So far it is understood only eight teams have cottoned on and signed up to the idea. Selling a 10-race package run across three continents which excludes the three Grand Tours and five monuments is also a weighty challenge, if not problematic. If successful the advent of WSC is likely to exacerbate the demise of longstanding events, particularly in Europe, and precipitate others to foreclose. One of the chief protagonists, Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters, conceded in the Procycling story that ASO needs to work with, rather than in isolation or against, the WSC partners in order for the venture to work, which essentially means revenue sharing. (Earlier this year ASO turned their noses up at a proposed collaboration with the UCI’s race promotion arm, Global Cycling Promotion (GCP), a clear indication of their mindset now and into the future.)
And, if the intention is to circumvent the UCI, who will regulate WSC?
“They may go outside the UCI with a number of events but if they go out with one then they’re leaving behind others,” McQuaid told Cyclingnews in April this year. “Unless they take ASO, RCS and number of other organisers from the UCI they’re doomed.”
I’m not saying the WSC doesn’t have merit or is “unworkable”. But it’ll be a minor miracle if it happens in 2014, as is their wont.