Life after cycling: Inside the program that wants to help riders retire
The Cyclists' Alliance mentor program wants to make retirement easier for riders, as well as support them through other aspects of their careers.
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Retirement is a ticking clock that will eventually chime for all riders.
Some athletes are able to choose how they do it, while others are forced into it for a variety of reasons, but it always comes, and leaving behind the only life you’ve known for years can be a difficult step.
While there is a retirement fund for male riders since 2002 – which has been plagued by issues – there is very little, if anything, in place for the women’s peloton.
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In May, the women’s riders’ union The Cyclists’ Alliance (TCA) launched a mentorship program to help cyclists with the transition into post-pro life. It is part of a wider program that aims to support female riders through all steps of their careers, from budding junior to veteran rider.
“We’re seeing a lot of athletes struggle with transition across all different sports. And in women’s sport,” TCA co-founder Gracie Elvin told VeloNews. “Some riders kind of just disappear after they’ve retired and sometimes it’s very rational reasons, because they’ve started a family, or they actually don’t want to be involved in this sport anymore.
“But for a lot of other women, they don’t see any opportunities to stay involved in this sport. So, I think, at the small level, being part of the mentor program once you’ve retired and helping younger riders is really special.”
Unlike the retirement fund for men, the program does not pay out to retiring riders, Instead, through the program, TCA hopes to connect retired riders with some big-name cycling brands, where they can do internships and gain skills to set them up for a new career.
Cannondale, Liv Cycling, Specialized, SRAM, and Trek have all signed up as ‘podium partners’ for the project.
Elvin and her colleagues were initially apprehensive about trying to get these rival brands to work together but it turned out to be much easier than they first thought. And since launching in May, they’ve had more brands and riders offering their help to the program.
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While there has been a push within women’s cycling for better coverage and funding, the reception to the mentorship program has shown that there is a need and desire for more support in all parts of the sport.
“Initially, it was a bit scary to pitch to these big brands, but we didn’t have to play too hard to get them on board. I think they saw the value of this straight away,” Elvin said. “Once we were launched, we had some really great public feedback. A lot of riders are really excited about it, and we had a few more applications for people wanting to be in the program and we had a lot of extra offers for help.
“We’ve had small and big businesses, and trying to figure out how they can also be part of it and lend their help, whether it be through providing them or mentors or even work opportunities. It’s really exciting that so many people can see the value of the female athlete and want to help their journey in all parts of it.”
📈 The number of professional riders with “no salary” has increased from 17% in 2018 to 34% in 2021*.
2018: 17% receive no salary
2019: 23% receive no salary
2020: 26% receive no salary
2021: 34% receive no salary
— The Cyclists' Alliance (@Cyclists_All) July 13, 2021
Making the transition
As a former professional rider, Elvin knows the perils and challenges of retiring from professional competition. After nearly a decade at the top level of the sport, she hung up her racing wheels at the end of last year.
Learning how to live without constant goals to drive her and riding her bike just for the fun of it has been a learning curve for Elvin. Thankfully, the Australian had the benefit of family support, work with TCA, and a university degree to help her through.
It was still a very big step into the unknown, which is one of the reasons she was so keen to get the program going.
“I’ve had a really great support network in my whole life, and my whole cycling career. My parents were really supportive, but also very level-headed. They never put pressure on me, but they encouraged me to kind of pursue other things while I was an athlete, which turned out to be going to university. But that didn’t have to happen,” Elvin said.
“I probably didn’t have a lot of mentors that were Australian professionals that were older than me. I definitely want to be more there for the young Aussie riders coming through. But in general, I was very lucky, I had a very fortunate career and had a lot of support. So, this is kind of my way of giving back.”
The mentorship program is still in its infancy and the initial phase of it will focus on supporting riders during their mid-career and post-career. The mid-career pillar of the program aims to link less experienced riders with those that have been in the sport for a long time, as well as putting them in contact with various experts so the riders have the skillset needed to progress in their careers.
Elvin hopes that the third pillar of the program, pre-career, will be ready to go for 2022.
“We didn’t quite have the capacity to do the pre-career as well this year, but we really have high hopes to get it off the ground for next year,” she told VeloNews. “We’ll definitely have to network with national federations, club-level teams, and junior teams as well, which will take a lot of work.
“I think we need good teams as well that having good support and are safe. I no longer want to see any tolerance of abuse in teams like we’ve seen coming up in the media in the last few years. It’s young riders that usually cop that kind of poor treatment from lower-level teams and those bad people. So, I want to see zero tolerance from that going forward so young riders feel safe and supported, and they’re able to go to races and do their best and not have to worry about money or bad people.”