Cycling as a second career: a look at the other lives of cycling pros
While women’s cycling is evolving, it still has a long way to go. Whereas minimum wage requirements ensure that riders competing at the men’s WorldTour and Pro Continental level are paid a salary where they can live off, there is no minimum wage at any women’s level. Even some of the best teams on the scene can’t afford to pay their riders a full salary. As a result, many pros cycle only part time, spending the other half of their time supplementing their income with side jobs, studying or taking care of their families.
Here’s a look at the ‘other’ lives of some cycling pros.
Claire Rose, a British doctor in America
If cycling doesn’t work out for British individual time trial champion Claire Rose, she’s got a medical career to fall back on.
The 30-year-old started cycling after an injury ended her rowing career. Within seven months, she started racing bikes and was picked up by the British team pursuit program. She would represent team GB at several international events but decided to continue her studies and work as a doctor.
Still, she was curious to see where cycling could take her. So when her British team Podium Ambition folded at the end of 2016, Rose decided to cross the pond and sign with American UCI team, Visit Dallas-DNA, eyeing the national TT title and a chance to prove herself on the world’s stage at the 2017 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond. Her first goal has been reached, now we’ll have to wait to see if she makes it to Bergen.
“Having spent a couple of years working as a junior doctor, I knew that I had to make the decision now if I was going to really go for it and give cycling a good shot again otherwise I would miss out on the opportunity,” Rose said in an Ella CyclingTips interview earlier this year.
“It’s not that I don’t love medicine or that I didn’t want to be out there working. I just knew I also wanted to be out there riding my bike and you can’t do both together,” Rose said. “Medicine will always be there. They always need doctors. So I know that if cycling doesn’t work out, I can go back and throw myself into medicine. I just know that if I don’t do this now I will definitely regret it.”
Elisa Longo Borghini, a future Italian police officer
When Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) crossed the finish line of the Italian road championships, she wasn’t donning her usual black Wiggle-High5 kit. Instead, she wore the blue and purple outfit of the Fiamme Oro State Police.
Ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Longo Borghini took a month off for a training block and to graduate a one-year program at the Italian police academy. And upon winning the bronze medal in the road race, she was honoured in the prestigious Coni a Roma ceremony by the Italian police.
Longo Borghini is part of the Fiamme Oro program (‘fiamme oro’ meaning ‘golden flames’), which dates back to 1954, when the state police devoted themselves to the development of high-profile athletes across several disciplines. The aim is to maintain and promote and enhance the national sports heritage.
“In Italy if you one of the top riders, and are a candidate (or have been to) the Olympics, you can enter the army or state police in the sports sector,” Longo Borghini told Ella CyclingTips.
“You do some courses and attend some lessons, but you can complete your sports career with funding from the state. And when you finish your sports career you return to the police or army to complete the academy and start working on duty. You can choose your speciality and I, for example, want to work with dogs. It’s a good program because you have a proper job, pension facilities, etc. It allows you to focus 100 percent on your sports career and you know you for sure have a job when you finish.”
As long as Longo Borghini is a professional cyclist, she will not actively be on police duty, but her education with the police means she knows, among other things, how to shoot a weapon.
In addition to a career in the police force, Longo Borghini has also expressed a wish to get a degree to become a Russian or Chinese translator. We are interested to see what Longo Borghini’s post-cycling career will look like, but that won’t be for several years yet.
“Yes, it will be some years still. I’m like the wine, the older I get, the better I get,” Longo Borghini joked.
Amalie Dideriksen, world champion and student
Even world champions sometimes need to juggle their professional cycling careers with something else. With Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans), however, that has mostly to do with her age. Becoming a world road champion at just 21 years of age, Dideriksen had yet to finish school when she earned the rainbow stripes.
Dideriksen attended a special elite athletes’ high school; Team Denmark Class. While regular high school in Denmark is three years, usually Team DK athletes graduate high school in four years. Dideriksen got it even further extended to five years, due to her many travel days. She was always doing homework on the road and got her training rides in before she went to school or after she returned home.
“Most of my classmates finished school last year,” Dideriksen said in her Ella Rainbow diaries of May 8. “Because I have juggled full-time racing with school, I needed some extra time. My school worked with me to accommodate my unique situation, and while I really appreciate that, I’m also very much looking forward to having one less ball in the air. It will be really nice not to constantly have deadlines looming and assignments clamouring for my attention.”
“The increased focus on school until my exams are over means a small step back from cycling. I’ll still race and train hard, of course, but extra energy will go to school for the moment. It’s a bit of a bummer that my year in the rainbow jersey can’t be all about cycling all the time, but I proud to graduate in the same year that I’m world champion.”
Luckily, for now at least, the end of a dual career as a professional cyclist and student is over. She graduated in June and can now turn 100% of her focus on cycling.
“I’m happy that my last exam is now finished so all my attention can be directed towards cycling. It’s my dream that this single-focus will help me reach another level,” Dideriksen penned in her latest Rainbow Diary.
“The women’s peloton includes a lot of people that are juggling a professional cycling career, alongside academic pursuits to try and pave out a future career path. Special shout-out to all of them. I’m super impressed by their commitment to education and cycling but I’ve decided that I need a break from school to embrace the opportunities I have at the moment. I can study later, but I can’t cycle forever.”
Carmen Small, DS and caretaker for her nieces
In 2014, when her sister was no longer able to care for her two teenage daughters, Carmen Small (Team VéloConcept) took them under her wing. While it could have meant the end of her professional cycling career, Small was able to combine both and went on to win a second world title in the team time trial with her teammates from Specialized-lululemon, several individual time trial races, like the 2015 Panamerican individual time trial championships, and a stage in the Cascade Cycling Classic.
Coming from a troubled family, Small went back and forth between her addicted mother and her father growing up. Her parents had separated when she was two. Small’s sister was having her own issues and taking in her nieces when her sister could no longer care for them, was a logical thing to do.
“My husband and I decided we were going to take my nieces,” she told Bicycling at the time. “I knew it was going to be challenging, but I didn’t know how hard it was going to be. Because of all their baggage. It’s not like I’m just getting two teenagers. I’m actually getting two teenagers who have huge issues.”
Three years on and Small is transitioning away from being a rider and into a new career as Director Sportif with her new team, VéloConcept. A heavy crash in de Ronde van Drenthe left her with a severe concussion of which she still hasn’t recovered fully. But she’s trying to pick up DS duties as much as she can, having coached teammate and pupil Shani Blochi-Daviov to the Israeli national time trial title, which shows the caring side of Small – even when it sometimes goes against her own health. We hope to see a smashing performance once more by Small before she truly says goodbye to the sport as a racer.
Christine Majerus, a cycling soldier
Never one to shy away from hard work, Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) is the ultimate domestique who’ll do whatever is necessary to get her team the desired result. It’s not a stretch then, to imagine her as part of the Luxembourg army.
Majerus completed her army education back in 2012, when she was racing for the French Team GSD Gestion, and won’t have to serve on active duty until she finishes her cycling career.
“Physically, [the military eduaction] was not a problem,” she told Luxemburger Wort after graduating. “Discipline also played an important role in the army. It’s important for soldiers to be prepared for foreign missions as optimal as possible. There shouldn’t be any mistakes, because it’s about human life. If someone from our group had not adhered to the rules, we were collectively punished.”
Similarly to Longo Borghini, Majerus won’t be actively taking part in any military operations while she’s a professional cyclist. But the army still plays a big role during her cycling career, as training programs and race schedules are drafted upon consultation with the national federation, the Luxembourg Olympic committee and Majerus herself, so that they are in line with military regulations and procedures.
Being part of the army does offer some extra racing opportunities in military cycling events, and in the early years of her career, Majerus also took part in the world military championships, and won silver in the 2013 road race. In addition to the army program, Majerus also holds a Master’s degree in Sports Science.
— Lizzie Deignan (@lizziedeignan) 11 april 2015
Scotti Lechuga, coach and mom to twin boys
In 2008, Scotti Lechuga (nee Wilborne) knew that she wanted to become a professional cyclist and represent the United States in the Olympic Games, and so she reached out to coach Ernie Lechuga to help her out in training. But what she didn’t know then was that Ernie Lechuga would not only become her coach but her life partner as well, and they’d be having twins within just under two-and-a-half years of meeting him.
Putting her own career on hold, the couple set up coaching company LeBorne coaching, offering coaching, bike fits and testing to cyclists.
In July 2011, Lechuga gave birth to Eli and Ethan, and just seven months later, Lechuga was back to racing. The couple now take their kids to as many races as possible, making it fun family outings as much as a means of living.
At the Amgen women’s Tour of California this year, Lechuga was the only mother in the peloton.
Riejanne Markus, co-owner of sock company Sockeloen
As part of the Rabobank Continental Development team, Jasper Ockeloen was known as ‘Sockeloen’ due to his extreme focus on wearing the right socks of good quality. When no cycling sock met his standard, Ockeloen decided it was time to take action himself.
He started redesigning and testing different types of socks himself, cutting and stitching all types of socks by hand. With the knowledge and experience he gained from this, he created a company that produced socks that did meet his standards. The company was, of course, called Sockeloen.
Ockeloen’s long time partner is cyclist Riejanne Markus of WM3 Pro Cycling. She was there alongside Ockeleon to witness the evolution from making cycling socks as a hobby to a professional business. She co-owns the company and helps out with the financial administration and PR, often acting as a sales representative at fairs and bike shows.
Sockeloen is also the official sock provider of the WM3 Pro Cycling team.
Stories like these are a dime a dozen, which female professional cyclists with second careers would you like to read about?