The Secret Pro: Taxes, Zwifting, and the things we talk about

We talk about different things, depending on the setting. Allow me to explain.

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Hello, dear readers. I’m back. Back with some rumours, some goss, a little bit of inside-the-peloton chatter, and, hopefully, some insight into what it’s like to live like us. I’ve spent a lot of time responding to controversy lately, so I wanted to tackle topics that may not make headlines, but are more relevant to our day-to-day lives.

It’s strange, being a pro. I can see this even though it’s all I know. It’s like we inhabit two different worlds, the racing world and the real world. Maybe more than two worlds, actually. There’s the in-race world of the peloton, and the post-race world of the hotel, and the out-of-race world of home. And we talk about different things, depending on the setting. Allow me to explain.

In the peloton, we’re in race mode. That means we talk about other teams. We spread rumours. (Has anyone else noticed that riders go backwards when they leave Quick Step? The only exceptions are Laurens De Plus and Max Schachmann.) We talk about who has a contract and who doesn’t, who’s going where next season. How some guy lost a ton of weight after switching teams to one outside the MPCC. We complain a lot. Everyone has something to complain about. Nutrition sponsor, or the nutritionist, or the clothing sponsor. The bike, and how the engineers don’t listen to us. Our sunglasses. We are world-class complainers, at least while we’re racing.

This year one of the biggest topics is how much faster we’re riding. I don’t think it’s reflected in climbing times or on TV, because we’re not riding faster on the key climbs, we’re riding faster the whole fucking time. People have started to go real hard, real early. And then some teams are eerily strong. I know I’ve talked about Astana before, but I’m going to do so again. They have 23 wins so far this year, just a few behind Quick Step. But here’s the thing: They don’t win sprints. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand how crazy that is. They win solo, or out of small groups. And they have the second most wins in the WorldTour. That is just insane.

So, naturally, we complain about them, too.

Dinner table talk is different. Post-race, around the pile of rice and chicken, this is where we talk taxes.

I’m serious. We spend a ridiculous amount of time talking about taxes. We’re trying to figure out how to pay fewer taxes. This may sound crazy, but it’s not when you stop to think about it. None of us are going to do this for very long, and few of us have a university degree. So you either make it, and you’re financially secure for a long time, or you don’t. Most of us know that our salaries now are more than we’re likely to make once we retire. And we know that there are only so many director seats, commentary positions, etc. that the world needs. So there are always leftover retired cyclists, scrounging for money. Which is why I hate taxes.

We talk about investments. This feeling of financial foreboding affects a lot of us, even those who make good money. Lots of guys are investing in real estate, but the trend right now seems to be investing in restaurants and coffee shops. Robert Gesink just opened a place in Girona, Jack Haig is buying Lee Howard’s spot in Andorra. They get someone else to run the place, attach their name to it, and hopefully can make a living after retirement.

Lots of guys are moving to Andorra, actually, because they hate taxes even more than I do.

Some guys invest in watches, or so they think. Others burn cash on cars. Then there’s Caleb Ewan, who appears to be investing in shoes. The rumour is that he has over 150 pairs in his basement. Some say 200.

Pay is one of those things that isn’t talked about openly all that often, but it can make for a strange dynamic between riders. You forget how rich some of these guys are. I mean, I do just fine, but these guys are loaded. There are guys who make more in one month than the bottom 30% of the WorldTour makes in a year. It makes for some funny conversations and awkward moments, like when you walk past one of them up in first class on your way to the back of the plane. I guess I should train harder?

Maybe we’ll all just become professional Zwifters after we’re done with the WorldTour. It would certainly be safer. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure how good a lot of us would be. I’ve tried Zwift, and it’s not exactly pro bike racing. Plus, I got dropped by a bunch of amateurs. Maybe I need to lie about my weight? Or train harder.

The rumours that the Giro d’Italia was going to start with a Zwift race were pretty funny. I hope that doesn’t happen. Riding a bike is a skill, and racing one is way more than watts, even a time trial. If it was just watts, a lot of us wouldn’t be here.

Being in the right place at the right time is a skill. Zwift takes that away. It takes away the element of chance, and knowing when the crosswinds are coming, and what part of the cobbles are good or bad. Surfing a peloton of more than 100 riders is a skill that takes years and years to perfect. Take those things away and you’d end up with a different set of riders at the top of the sport.

Who would excel if we dropped the pro peloton into a Zwift world? There’s another way to phrase that question: Who would I never descend behind? If you’re a bad bike handler but managed to make it to the WorldTour anyway, you probably have a massive engine.

David de la Cruz comes to mind. Big watts, bad corners. No offence American riders, but it’s usually you lot. Joe Dombrowski would be amazing as a pro Zwifter. I wouldn’t want to take on even a retired Phil Gaimon on an uphill course. Alex Howes is a good bike handler though. A notable exception to the rule.

Ben O’Connor, top Zwifter. Julien Bernard and Thibaut Pinot, too. All can lay down the watts, but waste a ton of them in real bike races.

But hey, if Zwift racing opens up the sport to more fans and brings in more money, maybe I’ll finally be able to afford one of those fancy accountants so I can stop paying so many taxes.

Until next time.


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