Book Excerpt: How to split race winnings

Friendships have ended over disagreements with post-race payouts. Chris Horner and Jamie Smith explain the rules

Editor’s note: Excerpt republished with permission of VeloPress from Reading the Race: Bike Racing from Inside the Peloton by Jamie Smith with Chris Horner. 

They were the best of friends until one of them won a bike race. After that, they never spoke.

Sound familiar? It’s happened more than once in this sport: two riders disagreeing on how the winnings should be divided. It strains their friendship past the breaking point. This is one of the more interesting aspects of bike racing that isn’t found in other sports, mainly because few other sports require such intense effort and offer cash prizes to the top finishers. In a softball league, the winning team often gets T-shirts, and the trophy ends up collecting dust in a bar or a closet somewhere. In cycling, we usually pool all of our winnings, primes, and any loose coins we find in the parking lot and then decide who gets what based on the amount of work he or she did in the race and how effective that work was.

And we do this with teammates we aren’t even sure participated in the racing. Being in the race and being involved in the race are two different things.

The payout

On the rare occasion that I find myself in a breakaway, I assume that all of my teammates are working diligently at the front of the field to preserve my lead and prevent any chase efforts, but I can’t actually see it happen. For all I know, they could be sitting on the back of the pack, telling ghost stories they learned at summer camp. But after the race, they’ll assure me that they turned themselves inside out to help.

Do I share my prize money? Yes.

How much? I don’t know. Knowing me, I probably finished in fifth place, so we’re not dividing a pot of gold. More like a $25 gift card and a set of tires.

Still, I’ve seen grown men have hissy fits over an amount of money that doesn’t even begin to pay for the gas money to get there. Obviously, it’s not about the money; it’s the principle.

The true payout of this sport boils down to appreciation and respect. Most riders just want a little love for the effort. Yes, some will only accept that love in legal U.S. tender — nothing smaller than a twenty, thank you — but most riders just want to be appreciated for what they’ve done. And what they’ve done is considerable. Remember how much work is involved with blocking and chasing and the sacrifice necessary to make it happen.

A much more experienced friend of mine once said something to the effect of “I’ll bury myself to help a teammate win, and he doesn’t have to pay me a nickel. But if he doesn’t at least thank me, I’ll have to think twice about working that hard for him again.”

I cleaned that up a little. He spoke in bike racer language that’s probably too spicy for these pages.

I’ve heard the same sentiment from other riders on more than one occasion. It’s a commonly held desire to simply be thanked.

An honest assessment of your contribution

If you never saw the front of the field, you probably didn’t influence much of what happened in the course of the race and as such probably didn’t contribute much to the overall success of your team.

Near the front of the peloton is always a good place to ride, but the actions involved in contributing occur in the front three or four places. There is little you can do to affect the outcome of the race by sitting in 9th or 10th position. Perhaps you can tow a teammate to the front, allowing him to save his energy for a breakaway. Or maybe you will launch him into an attack. You may retrieve water bottles from the team car. In these cases, you will play a part without actually reaching the front lines of the battle. But generally, in amateur racing, the contributions are a bit more hands-on.

If, after the race, you find yourself waiting to receive money from your teammates who actually receive prize money, you need to be honest about how much of a part you played in the outcome. Just showing up for the race and wearing a clean jersey doesn’t guarantee a payday.

Although it might.

Some teams, in an attempt to reduce the number of hissy fits, make it a policy that all prize money is evenly divided among all riders who enter the race, regardless of what transpired during said race. If so, start making plans on how to spend your $12. Dream big. New tubes? Bar end plugs? The possibilities are endless.

Even if your club has a policy that governs this, it should allow you the ability to opt out of any profit sharing. If you’re able to openly admit that you never saw anything but rear ends all day, speak up. Sure, this sport is pricey, and it’s always hard to turn down free money (although any money won in a bike race is anything but free).

But be honest with yourself and your teammates. If you weren’t up there during the race, they’ll know it. And so will you.