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Salary caps in pro cycling? It could happen, says UCI chief David Lappartient

UCI in discussion with teams over measures to level the financial playing field: ‘There has to be a balanced battlefield.’

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Salary caps in pro cycling could become a thing sometime soon.

UCI chief David Lappartient told Wielerflits that he is considering measures to bridge budget gaps at the top of pro cycling.

“It is true that we are currently discussing with the [men’s team’s group] AIGCP to get more balance among the WorldTour teams,” Lappartient told Wielerflits. “A budget ceiling or salary cap are matters that are discussed. We are not yet ready to go into the details.”

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The world of pro cycling has long procrastinated over, but never progressed with, the notion of a salary cap.

The rise of mega-money Team Sky in the early 2010s saw many insiders calling for limitations on team budgets. Fears grew of a small circle of squads buying up the world’s star riders, something that would in turn bring top results and a pipeline of funding from sponsors eyeing a slice of the marketing spoils.

Team Sky/Ineos boasted the biggest bank balance of the bunch since the so-called “Froome-era,” with the team’s 2020 budget stated at €50.1m in its financial accounts.

Tadej Pogačar won stage 4 of the 2022 Tirreno-Adriatico
UAE Emirates spent big this winter as it continues to grow around Pogačar. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The state-backed UAE Emirates started to close that gap in recent years, and this winter dished out big Dirham in the quest to both keep Tadej Pogačar at the top of the Tour de France while also expanding its ambition further afield.

Star riders like João Almeida, Marc Soler, George Bennett, and Pascal Ackermann were among the team’s staggering eight-rider haul this offseason.

Meanwhile, some WorldTour crews like EF Education EasyPost, BikeExchange-Jayco, and Intermarché-Wanty Gobert Matériaux work with just small fractions of the finances enjoyed by Ineos or UAE.

“The wealthier teams will always be able to pick the best talent, and UAE, are able to retain that talent because they’re not at risk of another team paying Pogačar more because they can always beat the offer on that,” EF Education-EasyPost boss Jonathan Vaughters recently told the Bobby & Jens podcast.

“The bigger teams – they can sign, retain and poach the best talent from smaller teams. It’s a rough game. You’ve got to be really scrappy.”

Lappartient’s discussions with the team representation group AIGCP could totally reshape that “game.”

Major league sports across the globe operate salary caps in a bid to promote parity and ensure competitiveness, limiting spending on individual athletes, entire rosters, or both.

How a similar system would work in the revolving door sponsor system of pro cycling is unclear – but it is something that seems to be on the table.

“We are now making a ‘road map’ to jointly tackle these problems in the coming years,” Lappartient told Wielerflits. “This is definitely an item on the agenda, because we don’t want all the good riders to be in a few teams. There has to be a balanced battlefield.”