• "Great potential": Rohan Dennis is paid as much for his future talent as his talent now. (AFP)Source: AFP
222 million Euro transfers don't happen in cycling and never will. Neither will 50,000 Benjamin Franklins for bowing out in the first round of a Grand Slam, akin to missing the time cut on the opening stage of a Grand Tour. Still, if you're good enough, and so long as you're male, pro cycling doesn't pay all that bad, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
30 Aug 2017 - 9:17 PM  UPDATED 31 Aug 2017 - 11:04 PM

A year a half after reaching a career-high ranking of 17 in the world, Bernard Tomic, Australian tennis' enfant terrible, courtesy of his 11th first round exit in the 16 tournaments he's played this year, will slip to somewhere in the 150s on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) world rankings.

Monday in New York City, he bowed out to Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in four sets at Flushing Meadows, home of the US Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam of the year; bored with the game, bored with life. Party-boy Bernie nonetheless flies back to his US home in Miami, Florida US$50,000 (A$63,000) richer for his first-round appearance. Enough for a few rum and cokes and whatever else he and his mates fancy.

"Rohan Dennis is an example of an athlete with great recent performances but has great career potential and a great career ahead of him, which will drive up his price."

In pro cycling terms, it's more than the annual minimum wage for a WorldTour neo-pro (as of 2013, €29,370/A$44,000) or other rider (€36,300/$54,000) in the sport's premier league. And naturally, a great deal more than the minimum for a neo (€25,300/$38,000) or other rider (€30,250/$45,000) from the Pro Continental division.

So far, thanks to his self-confessed apathy with the game - "I just feel a little bit... I'm bored out there," he said after his previous first-round loss at Wimbledon - the 24-year-old will have earned just shy of $450,000 in prize money this year. Not too shabby for not giving a rat's.

That's 50 per cent above what Rigoberto Uran made for slogging himself senseless around France this past July, the Colombian receiving (€200,000/$300,000) for finishing runner-up to Chris Froome, who took home (€500,000/$750,000) after his fourth Tour de France victory. While not publicly detailed, tradition dictates the overall winner doesn't take a cut, instead dividing his winnings among riders and staff at the race.

Perhaps the only similarity between Uran and Tomic is that both have an undetermined future. Last Sunday, the former's Cannondale-Drapac team said they notified all riders and staff of "the uncertainty of our organization's future" after a new partner "we anticipated joining us in 2018" decided otherwise. Uran's agent has given the team two weeks to find a replacement sponsor. Tomic's pugnacious father and coach of 10 years is now banking on and travelling with his daughter Sara, ranked 660 in the world with a meagrely year-to-date earnings of US$4,138. His latest exit now means Bernard has fallen below the cut-off mark for not only ATP events but the qualifying rounds for these events. He will now have to ask (read: beg) for a wildcard at next year's Australian Open, which, given his disdain for the sport, is unlikely to be forthcoming. The next rung down from ATP level will be Challenger and Future tournaments that offer prize pools less than half what he earned for his first-round loss at Flushing Meadows.

It is common knowledge that if you're a male or female tennis player outside the top 100, making a decent living ain't easy. Conversely, the 500-odd riders in the men's WorldTour are guaranteed a minimum wage with expenses-paid travel and accommodation when racing. Of course, it's a completely different story for women's pro cyclists: in September 2013, newly-elected UCI president Brian Cookson pledged to introduce a minimum wage within a year of his appointment, yet has failed to do so (his term ends this year, where he is seeking re-election); and outside the top 50, life as an athlete continues to be a financial struggle.

While the top GC riders like Froome (as of last season, reportedly on a contract of £4 million/A$6.5m per year until 2018), Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador (€3.5-€4m/$5.25-6m) do much more than okay, as does world champ Peter Sagan (earning €4.5m/$6.75m at Tinkoff, the Slovakian's asking price before moving to Bora-Hansgrohe was €6m/$9m), as far as blokes are concerned, cycling doesn't pay too bad - so long as you remain in the WorldTour. Or you're a drawcard on one of the top Pro Continental teams, as will be the case for Warren Barguil next year who moves from Team Sunweb to Fortuneo-Oscaro, and, in light of his removal from the Vuelta a España for disobeying team orders, not a moment too soon.

Super-domestiques, like Froome was to Bradley Wiggins in 2012 or like Richie Porte was to Froome from 2013-15, can make €1-1.5m Euro/$1.5-2.25m each and every year they ride in the service of others (generally on the proviso their leader performs to expectation). As can a rider like New South Welshman Mark Renshaw, who has led out Mark Cavendish for much of the last decade, though given a sub-par season from the Manxman, their net worth is likely to drop when it comes to negotiating season 2018 and beyond. Then you have those who have already achieved quite a lot, but with the promise of much more: "Rohan Dennis is an example of an athlete with great recent performances but has great career potential and a great career ahead of him, which will drive up his price," agent Andrew McQuaid of Trinity Sports Management, representative to a large number of English-speaking riders, told Sky Sports in 2015, the year the BMC Racing Team rider won the opening stage of that year's Tour at a record average speed.

"It's not just a rider's nationality; it's a mix of factors, including the team they are going to and why that team wants that rider. For example, a team may have a British sponsor and so want a British rider," McQuaid said.

"Lots of teams are sponsored by bike manufacturers, so it serves their purpose to have riders from that nation and they want good riders from those nations. The perfect rider for them will get the rider a good salary."

The Sky Sports article said that "basic domestiques" can make between £140,000-420,000/$220,000-680,000, and even a young professional with just a few years under their belt but who has already shown good potential can command £350,000-560,000/570,000-900,000). In other words, in a team sport like cycling or football where there are a number of roles to fulfil, the breadth of positions required means there is earning opportunity for a greater number of participants, rather than the winner-takes-all approach in sports like tennis or boxing.

Nonetheless, getting a well-paid gig in pro cycling has never been more challenging.

On August 7, when Orica-Scott announced they had acquired the signature of Italian Matteo Trentin, double stage winner at this year's Vuelta and winner at all three Grand Tours, head sports director Matthew White said: "Matteo's versatility was also a big attraction to us; this adaptability will become even more important in a world of cycling that is constantly evolving." Then on Monday, when the Australian WorldTour squad also announced they had signed another Quick-Step Floors rider in Kiwi Jack Bauer, White expanded on his reasoning for obtaining two riders of similar calibre: "We are thinking long term and he fits into our plans. With the team rosters set to be smaller in the future, we need guys who can do a lot and offer a lot on different terrains."

On June 22, when the Professional Cycling Council (PCC) said they had approved the 2018 UCI WorldTour calendar, it was confirmed that, while the events remain mostly unchanged from season 2017, as of next year, team line-ups in all three Grand Tours will be reduced "from the current 9 to 8, thereby reducing the peloton size to a maximum of 176 and assisting in efforts to ensure the safety of the peloton and the rest of the race convoy.

"In addition," the statement read, "it is intended that the maximum peloton size for other races in the UCI WorldTour and the UCI Continental Circuits will also be reduced to 176, with the regulations to put this into effect being submitted for approval in due course. These changes will be effective from the 2018 season."

It is therefore very likely that WorldTour team sizes will be truncated from an average of 26-28 riders to 25 or less, making for a total peloton of no more than 450 at the top tier of the sport. Though it's not all bad news: it could well make for a healthier Pro Continental and Continental scene as the depth of quality riders broadens, as will a team's results, you'd expect, meaning that, over time, salaries may improve not just at the highest level but those below it.

Cycling will never see the €222m/$332m transfer windfall that FC Barcelona footballer Neymar appears set to enjoy when the Brazilian forward moves to Paris Saint-Germain next year. Still, if you can count yourself as one of the top four hundred-odd cyclists in the world, it's not a terrible way to earn your crust.