That one of the most read articles concerning minimum wages in cycling failed to canvass the direst situation of all only augments the parlous reality that is women's pro cycling, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

One of the most tweeted-about cycling yarns last week came from CyclingTips, 'How UCI minimum wage regulations are being broken'.

The story, researched and written by Irish-based journalist Shane Stokes, cited two methods by which wage regulations were being undermined: the first by riders being paid a salary, but having to pay for a portion of their travel and accommodation expenses; the second, by riders bringing one of their personal sponsors to the team, then subsequently being paid in part or whole from the money brought by that sponsor.

A Europe-based rider agent confirmed to CyclingTips the former arrangement was occurring: "I have definitely heard of this," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity, "and it has been proposed to me as well by a Pro-Conti team.

"We don't work this way and I think it's disrespectful, unprofessional and unethical. The job of a professional cyclist is super hard and needs to be rewarded.

"I can understand the temptation of a rider to make a deal like this out of sheer desperation - the team side of a deal like this is however unacceptable.

"If a team does not have the funds to pay the minimum salary it shouldn't be allowed to compete on a professional level."

'Rider 2' - according to Stokes, 'a competitor who raced at WorldTour level for many years, had success in Grand Tours and took national championship titles' - said "I've personally never heard of WorldTour teams doing it, but it is something (that occurs) at Pro Continental level."

He lamented that it was a situation brought about by opposing market forces: "The problem is that we are in a market where there are more riders than places available so, in the low end, everyone wants to 'give it a try' to racing as a pro even without a salary, hoping to get a bigger contract later.

"The UCI can do very little in my opinion until the riders report their situation to authority. But ultimately it's their choice. If they increase the minimum wage at this level can be an options, but it's like setting a minimum salary for women's cycling. The risk is that many teams will just shut down."

Okay, it was a given we were talking about professional men's cycling. Nonetheless, it wasn't until the sixth-last paragraph of this 2,300-word story that "women's cycling" was mentioned - only once, and not by the author, but 'Rider 2'.

Whilst I'm sure both scenarios mentioned are indeed taking place, what is not known is exactly how commonplace the situations are; from the anecdotal evidence provided, it could be non-existent at WorldTour level, and sporadic within Pro Continental ranks.

Which leads us to the elephant in the room... A minimum wage for women.

UCI president Brian Cookson, upon being elected as such in September 2013, so declared in his first-year manifesto: "If the UCI is to become a modern and progressive international federation, we must ensure that there are rules specifying teams guarantee a minimum wage for women pro road riders and proper, modern terms of employment. I commit to achieving this in my first year in office."

I was heartened, if not slightly dubious, about his chances of a successful delivery, as were the majority of astute cycling fans and particularly, the women's professional peloton, who have long-deserved such a right.

Sure enough, a month ago, on October 11, Cookson, in an interview with The Guardian, conceded it had been a broken promise - but argued that, if he followed through, the situation would be far worse for girl racers.

Five months previous, in a column in the London Telegraph, and just prior to the inaugural Friends Life Women's Tour in Britain (lousy name, by the way), won by the redoubtable Dutchwoman Marianne Vos, he wrote: "Simply passing a rule saying that there should be a minimum salary would not in my view achieve much other than a drastic reduction in the number of women's teams."

So why the hell did he pledge to introduce a minimum wage for women, then?

Cookson cited a UCI staff member bluntly telling him some years ago, "There is no such thing as a professional women's road team."

"I don't greatly disagree with that but what I'm being told is that if we're too firm with that rule too soon we will damage the sustainable development we're putting in place in the development of women's cycling," the UCI president told the Guardian, saying if he did bring in a minimum wage "tomorrow" - which he claims he has the power to do - "those women riders will not suddenly get a big pay packet every month. They will lose their positions and most of them - or a large number of them - would re-register as amateur teams."

But didn't he just say "I don't greatly disagree" with his colleague telling him outright, "There is no such thing as a professional women's road team"?

The author of the article in the Guardian, Suze Clemitson, wrote that "Cookson balks at the idea of 'forcing' teams to 'do what they don't want to do' and run their own women's teams."

"I think there are potential women's sponsors out there who might not want to sponsor a men's team," said Cookson, "and the same goes with events - there are promoters and host towns and cities who might want to do something with women's cycling and not necessarily men's cycling."

He says the women's commission - one thing Cookson did deliver upon - is telling him the imposition of a minimum wage would be counterproductive, with an immediate reduction in teams and, by consequence, many riders not being paid at all.

Surely, though, they're not telling him it will always be counterproductive?

What if, instead of a pie-in-the-sky promise, Mr Cookson, the UCI outlines a feasible three-to-five year plan: improve/expand the calendar; increase global TV coverage; work with national federations to encourage greater participation - leads to greater depth and better competition; and demonstrate return on investment for sponsors. And, by the end of that period, mandate the top-10 men's WorldTour squads (based on total budget) to create a 10 to 12-rider women's team, paying said minimum wage - and get them to do it properly, rather than reluctantly and haphazardly, as largely happened in the past?

A measly half a million Euros to provide some semblance of equality? Surely, it can be done...

Granted, it's disturbing to hear some elite male riders not being paid their dues - but something that appears to be the exception for men is, sadly and parlously, the norm for more than half - perhaps three-quarters, even - of the professional women's peloton.

A reminder of what the anonymous rider agent told CyclingTips: "The job of a professional cyclist is super hard and needs to be rewarded."

I think we can all agree that such a statement should be considered gender-neutral.

After all, how can I - or any of us, for that matter - expect professional female riders to be more impetuous, to boast a deep talent pool, or to race like professionals in every race they do, if they are not paid as professionals? And why would an aspiring wannabe pursue a career where, after years of hard graft to finally land a job, you had no guarantee of being paid?

It should be a right, not a privilege.

Tracey Gaudry, Brian Cookson, et al at the Union Cycliste Internationale - it's up to you to make it happen. If achieved, it may well turn out to be your most significant and enduring legacy.