It seems like just yesterday that the Slipstream squad was hanging out in Julien, California, banging out some early season miles and planning the loooong year ahead.
Somehow, it’s already September and I’m now at the Tour of Missouri and just about to wrap up another season; amazing how fast the year goes by. Not that I’m done quite yet. For one thing, I still have six days of racing here and then another six in October in Mexico, but with fall in the air the mood circulating the dining room is certainly that of eager anticipation of the coming off-season.
Plans of vacations to come, home projects (my wife is still awaiting completion on the stonework I started last fall), mountain bike trips and ‘08 contracts, those signed and especially those rumored, are the hot topics of conversation.
Most people don’t understand how the employment side of the cycling world actually works. Even fairly knowledgeable cycling fans sometimes ask what we do to make a living, and how do we fit in racing our bikes on the side. Others (not many, but a few) assume that we’re all rolling in the dough because we’re professional athletes; laughs always follow from the cyclists in the room. Sometimes I’m asked by somebody who has a friend “that should really be on the team,” “when are team try outs?”
How does it actually work?
As for those “try outs”, well, that’s not quite how it’s done. Team directors are always keeping an eye out for those that might fit into their program and keeping tabs on youngsters through results and the occasional visits to amateur and u23 events. Blackberries buzz constantly with resumes floating around and the stacks of old-school paper palmarès litter desks.
The simple explanation: Once teams decide upon core riders they approach others that might be good fits for their programs, based both upon a rider’s results and strengths but also their personality and character.
Many forget how important those last qualities are in building a “team” and not just pulling together a group of riders to race in the same jersey. Once the director makes a call on whether or not to make an offer the negotiations begin. Sometimes it is as simple as that, other times a rider has multiple offers and a bidding war ensues.
Eventually, a decision is made, a letter of intent signed, and the final details are set upon and the final contract is put to paper. Most often these are one-year deals, sometimes two, and occasionally three or more.
Unlike much of the “real” world, there is very little job security as a cyclist. One reads of the biggies on the web – the seven-figure sums and multi-year deals for top Tour riders, name sprinters and the classics big boys – but for most, contracts are year-to-year and dealing with significantly smaller sums of coin.
Generally speaking, “contract season” starts up in July and goes through September. Exceptions obviously exist and there are always teams waiting until the last minute to snatch up riders at a discount, but most of the deals are starting to come together by now and many have been put to ink and were long ago filed away.
Slipstream for example has signed all but one of our 25 riders for next year. I’m in the fortunate position to have signed for two years and knowing that I won’t have to deal with the stresses of contract season next summer is a huge relief. Signing a letter of intent in mid-July put me in a great mindset going into the second half of the year knowing that I didn’t need to stress about what I’d be doing in the year to come. When you’re trying to perform at the top level, anything that can be done to reduce stress is a huge boost to performance. Unfortunately, for many friends this has become a tough, tough year.
The current situation in professional cycling has quickly changed the market from what in June and July seemed like a great year for riders to an overwhelmingly directors’ market. As fresh news pops up almost daily of another team in peril things just keep getting worse. In the States alone there are 40+ riders hunting for jobs just from teams ending or changing focus, let alone those caught up in the normal shuffle.
In Europe it’s far worse. As well as making things difficult for current pros imagine being a young rider trying to break in to the professional ranks: not fun, and a challenge for the sport going forward. The choice of hiring a youngster with promise versus a seasoned old pro makes for some interesting dynamics and it’s always nice to see teams take a chance on somebody rather than simply shuffle older, yet dependable, riders and adding “ghost riders” to maintain minimum age requirements.
Despite all of that behind the scenes we’re still busy racing and today launches the inaugural Tour of Missouri. A new event this year, we couldn’t be more excited to have another quality stage-race here in the States to bookend a season that started eight months ago with the Tour of California.
A challenging six days of racing with long stages over the rolling country roads of Missouri should make for some exciting racing and showcase a state not thought of before as a cycling destination. Race dynamics in the end of the season are always interesting with so many different agendas among riders and should provide some great entertainment for those following the race and fun racing for those of us taking part.
I’ll send in a bit about the fun moments of the week to come in a few!