How much money do pro cyclists make?

by CyclingTips

A year ago I wrote a post about the basic structure of Professional Cycling. One of the questions often asked is “how much do Pro cyclists make?”.  Salaries in many other sports are openly discussed, but this topic is kept relatively quiet in pro cycling. While I’ve already scratched the surface of this topic in my former post, this time I dug a little deeper, looked at some documents, and asked a few PROs to discover some more about the salary range of a pro cyclist.

As you already know there are three different levels of professional cycling under the current structure. Pro Team (formerly known as ProTour), Pro Continental, and Continental.

Pro Teams include the likes of Team Sky, HTC-Columbia, Garmin-Transitions, BMC (as of now), etc. There are 18 Pro Teams in total. The 2011 Pro Team licenses were just announced today. (from here on I’ll use the “ProTour” nomenclature because we’re all used to it)

Pro Continental teams for 2010 included outfits such as Skil-Shamano, BBox Bouygues Telecom, and Cervelo. The 2011 Pro Continental teams will be announced on Dec. 10. Expected to be here is Pegasus Racing.

Continental teams have a wide range of professionalism in the mix. You get teams with riders who are working full time jobs all the way up to teams such as Jayco-Skins (AIS), Drapac, FlyV and Rapha. Last year BMC was the only Pro Continental registered team in the US. Most teams racing predominantly in the US get nothing out of registering for a higher status.

You can look up all the teams from 2010 and their respective status here.

So, How Much Do PRO Cyclists Make?

Now that we’ve got that bit of background out of the way, we can explore the different salaries of a pro cyclist. Of course there are a huge amount of variables, but this will give you an idea of the factors that determine salaries and the pay scales.

The minimum salary for a Pro Tour rider is €35,000. (€ 24,000 for a new professional). A good domestique will make between €40k-€100k per year. A very good domestique (perhaps a lead-out man) will make between €100k-€200k.

If a ProTour rider wins a stage in the Tour de France (and nothing else) he will be able to negotiate a salary of around €150k for the next season. If a rider wins a stage of the Giro or Vuelta he might be able to negotiate just over the €100k mark, but not much more.  Winning a major Classic (Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold, etc) is a bigger deal than a Grand Tour stage win. If a rider wins one of the Classics he’ll be able to negotiate over €200k. A rider with a good mix of placings and wins in the major races can make anywhere between €300k and €600k+.  Of course the more big wins a rider scores, the more he’ll make. Guys like Cadel, Cancellara, the Schlecks, and Cavendish are making anywhere between €1M – €3M.

The minimum wage for a Pro Continental rider is €27,500 (€23,000 for new riders). Usually one or two riders on Pro Conti teams are paid well. Perhaps €150k per year, but that’s the limit.  The rest are making much less while working their guts out for that big win.

Continental teams have no minimum salary requirements. Many Continental teams pay their riders nothing. Some pay $20k AUD to each rider, and others pay up to $50k to some of their riders. From what I understand, until recently it was common that some teams would require that select rider(s) bring aboard a cash paying sponsor to ensure he gets a ride with the team (i.e. to pay his salary). This even happened at the higher levels as well. Apparently the recent UCI financial governance and new level of transparency has done away with this dodgy way of running a cycling team at the professional level. Perhaps it still happens – I don’t know.

While we’re on the topic, Women pro cyclists have no minimum salary requirements.

Endorsements, Bonuses, Winnings

Much of the time riders are free to wear whichever shoes and sunglasses they choose, so a lot of endorsement deals can come from these products. They don’t provide the same type of endorsement earnings that someone like Lance Armstrong would receive from Nike, but might be in the tens of thousands dollar range. These endorsement deals can vary widely depending on the product and the rider.

Winnings received from the race organisation will usually be divided equally among the winning rider’s team. There is still a certain amount of discretion on the split based on the DS’s and winning rider’s judgement. For example, if a rider pulls out of the race because it started raining out, that rider probably wouldn’t be getting much of his share.

Bonuses are decided within each individual’s contract. A National Championship Title might mean an extra €20k in the rider’s contract. Same with other wins such as a Tour de France stage or a ProTour race win.

Other ways that PRO riders make a bit of extra money is by receiving appearance money for the post Tour de France Criteriums or races in the offseason such as the Bay Crit Series. Prize money for primes and wins in these smaller races are often split between the riders “in the chop” (who are not necessarily on the same team).

Tour de France Prize Money

To give you an idea of what the biggest contest in Pro Cycling pays, here is the breakdown of the winnings awarded at the Tour de France:

Stage Win: € 8,000 (€ 4,000 second, € 2,000 third….all the way down to € 200 for 20th)

Outright winner of Yellow Jersey: € 450,000 (€ 200,000 second, € 100,000 third….€1,000 for 19th, all the way down to € 400 for 150th (and for all classified riders)). Total prize money of €998,000. The yellow jersey winner of the day is awarded €350.

Outright winner of Green Jersey: € 25,000 (€ 15,000 second, € 10,000 third….all the way down to €2,000 for 8th). There is also daily prize money awarded for placings in the intermediate sprints (€800, €450, €300)

Outright winner of Polka Dot Jersey: € 25,000 (€ 15,000 second, € 10,000 third….all the way down to €2,000 for 8th).  There is also daily prize money awarded for placings over some of the KOM’s (€800, €450, €300)

Outright winner of White Jersey: € 20,000 (€ 15,000 second, € 10,000 third, €5,000 fourth)

Most Aggressive Rider: € 20,000

Team Classification: € 50,000 (€ 30,000 second, € 20,000 third, €12,000 fourth, €8,000 fifth)

All this info can be found here in the 2010 Tour de France rules and regulations.

To put all of this in perspective with some other professional sports, the minimum salary in the 2009-2010 season in the NBA is $457,588USD for first-year players and $1,306,455 USD for players with 10 or more years of experience. Check out some of the higher NBA salaries here. You can see why sponsoring a professional bike team is a steal of a deal for companies looking to promote their brand.

Note: all of this information is from professional riders I’ve spoken to and official documents. In a couple cases I’ve come across slightly conflicting figures (probably due to multiple currencies being quoted and exchange rate fluctuations). Many numbers quoted here are ballpark figures and there are sometimes exceptions to these cases.

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