We asked agents: what do you actually do?

What is there to one of the main behind-the-scenes jobs in cycling?

Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.

Jump To Comments

There’s half an hour until the start of the Giro del Veneto. Patiently, I lurk by the UAE Team Emirates bus, watching Davide Formolo chat with Alex Carera.

Eventually, their conversation winds to a halt and Formolo goes off with his partner and children for the final moments before the race, but as I try to go up and introduce myself another rider zips in for a chat. Then another. And another. If you were just passing by the paddock you wouldn’t necessarily look twice at Carera, unless you mistook him for the rapper Pitbull, both sharing a shaved head and a penchant for large, luxury sunglasses.

But if you stand in amongst the team buses and riders and study the goings-on, you notice Carera is seemingly the most popular man in the paddock. Barely a rider cycles past on the way to the start line without turning to say ‘ciao’ to the agent or offering a pat on the back.

Alex Carera is one of the most notable agents in the world of cycling, running an agency alongside his brother Johnny that counts Tadej Pogačar and Vincenzo Nibali as its star riders. But many diehard cycling fans have never heard of him.

The world of agents and contracts is one that exists behind the scenes, the goings-on usually only discussed via rumours in column inches. So, what do agents like Alex Carera actually do? What are they doing to elicit such a response from a multitude of clients in the start paddock? Is it just the money they’re putting in their riders’ pockets or is there more to it?

To find out, we spoke to two people in the business, Anna Moska of Protouchglobal, a firm that represents the likes of Stefan Küng and Louis Meintjes, and Jamie Barlow of 258 Protege, which looks after the Hayter and Fisher-Black siblings as well as Sarah Gigante, among others.

What do agents do?

Jamie Barlow: I guess the main one is negotiating rider contracts and making sure that they have all their insurances in place, making sure that they are known to the top teams. And then you have an obligation to them to make sure they’re investing their money wisely. Setting up their taxes and getting that side of things in order. But I would say the main role of any agent is to bring team options to the rider.

Anna Moska: The main thing is to support them, also in the young categories, actually. That’s because when they are young it’s not mainly about contract terms and conditions but more about finding the best environment and to make sure they are well integrated because often they are from different culture, moving from one country to another, and it’s important to support them and make their life a bit easier, especially at such a young age. Then, apart from finding a team, it’s more about trying to build a long-term relationship with them and build the trust. Because often it’s not mainly ‘find me a job, find me a contract’, but we want to make something for the long-term with a long vision because we believe the target is to build a career for as long as possible and as successful as possible.

How does a rider signing for a team work? Is it you approaching a team on behalf of a rider or do teams come calling?

JB: I think it probably works both ways. The teams will know … the way the sport is changing now teams are signing younger riders and WorldTour teams have development teams so it tends to be the same names that pop up year after year. Before, that would have been primarily in under-23 races. Now, it’s probably more junior races as everyone is afraid to miss out on the next Remco or the next Pogačar. There are changes in terms of five, six years ago, when there was probably 1% or 2% of junior riders who have agents but now that percentage is much higher. It’s just a reflection of the sport today.

AM: We are approaching the teams. We show them all the riders. If we’re talking about WorldTour, it’s who is at the end of their contract and the young riders coming up. Now it’s, let’s say, a bit easier, because with the development team WorldTour squads can exchange the riders. So they have the opportunity to test them, to let them try and do the step up without taking a big risk of signing them straight away. This is something that’s convenient. But of course, not all WorldTour teams have a development team. So we are meeting [the teams] and every month we follow up with phone calls, emails, analysing data including power data. Actually, something else that I really like from the COVID-19 period are video conferences with the athletes. I think it’s good because before that wasn’t really happening. It’s useful for the team to have a different perception, to see the rider and ask some questions like a normal interview for a normal job. I think it’s something we should do more often.

How are deals done? Is it big boardrooms on the top floor of skyscrapers surrounded by people in suits?

JB: Yes and no [laughs]. Depending on the rider and depending on the circumstances, it’s most likely done in the hotel lobby on a rest day of a Grand Tour or at one of the Classics. The teams now are starting to employ their own internal scouts. Quick-Step were probably the ones who really brought that in a couple of years back and now Bora have a scout, DSM have scouts. On the rider side it’s the same kind of couple of riders that pop up and I would say the top riders coming through now, most of them will have agents and the riders will have good options, they’ll have a number of teams to choose from.

It’s not always the team who’s going to pay the most is going to be the best fit for the rider. Especially the young talent coming through with the team who’s actually going to invest and develop that rider and develop them in the right way rather than a team who’s going to pay them the most then after one or two contracts they’ve either fallen out of love with the sport or they’ve already peaked and plateaued. So I think it’s finding that balance on a case-by-case basis. It’s not one team that is best for all riders. What might suit a sprinter might be a really bad fit for a GC rider or a time triallist.

Everyone’s been talking about the shift to signing youth in cycling, what’s your take on that topic?

JB: Definitely the shift in recruiting younger and younger has dramatically changed in the last two seasons. I’ve been working with pro bike riders for almost 10 years now and [previously] it would have been quite unusual for WorldTour teams to show an interest in juniors. And even the mindset now of some of the juniors has changed. In the past, at 17 or 18, you were really only starting out and you would have the ambition to try and turn WorldTour at maybe 21 or 22. The mindset I see with a lot of the top juniors is in their first or second year at junior level they want to know that a WorldTour contract is on the table or it’s very close. I don’t particularly agree with that mindset. I think there are some incredible under-23 races on the calendar. The Baby Giro, l’Avenir, Aosta, nation cups and so on. But it’s definitely a change in the mindset of some of the juniors who feel like they might miss their opportunity if they don’t turn pro at a younger age. On the other side of that, I question if some of these guys will have the same longevity in the sport and still be hungry to race and enjoy racing when they’re in their mid-30s.

Leo Hayter, represented by Barlow, making his first WorldTour steps with the Ineos Grenadiers.

AM: What I am finding difficult nowadays is this modern way of looking at cycling and looking for super young athletes. We are finding it difficult to show the teams that our wide range of riders are still talented and super strong at the age of 20 to 23 and still deserve a place. This is something that’s getting difficult. It’s tough because the young riders feel already old, which is not true. And they sometimes see their dreams as not being possible any longer and they actually see their career ending too early. This is something that must be difficult for them. For us, of course, we have to try to explain to them that it’s not their fault. It’s just the way the world is going, or maybe it’s just something happening during these few years and then it’s going to change, which is something we also believe is going to change. But at the moment it’s like this.

I understand [the teams], they are all looking for a super rider. We all know that it’s not easy. For a Pogačar or a Remco or a Van der Poel, we are finding each only every 15 years or so I think. And so the risk is to burn the super young riders and to just not allow the riders to continue their dream.

What’s the hardest part about being an agent?

JB: I think the hardest part is ultimately when you fail to get a rider a contract, whether it’s failing to get them World Tour or ProTeam, that’s always the hardest part. You know, you have a duty of care to riders. Obviously, helping them through injury can be really difficult and Covid-19 has been a really difficult time for a lot of bike riders, especially the riders that are maybe 20, 21 and 22 because it was such a crucial time for a lot of them to develop and show themselves to the bigger teams. And that opportunity was kind of wiped away with Covid-19. I guess it’s trying to keep in daily and weekly contact and lift their morale and keep talking to teams on their behalf. But yeah, I think ultimately failing to get a rider a contract at the next level is usually the most difficult part because obviously, you build personal relationships with the talent you represent.

How has the women’s cycling side of what you do changed over the past few years?

JB: On the women’s side it’s really interesting because that sport is changing drastically. Two or three years ago, professional women were happy to race for probably a team tracksuit and a bike, which is outrageous, but it’s getting better and better. And there are some fantastic teams out there like SD-Worx and Movistar. And with more broadcasting and more young talent coming through I think it’s a great time for some of the younger women to be turning pro and earning a salary that they can actually live on.

AM: We are also agents of ladies now and women’s cycling is growing a bit more. This is another interesting part of the job because it’s something that for the ladies is new, they didn’t have agents before. So there is a completely different approach with that. And for me, as a lady, I don’t want to say it’s easier, but I understand it more.

What’s something that you want people to understand about what it’s like to be an agent?

JB: Different agencies have different strengths. smaller agencies, larger agencies, it tends to be dominated more so on a language basis. So you tend to have a dominant Italian agent and so on. I formerly worked in the largest English-speaking agency. I would say it’s more [decided] on language than anything else. The number of agents has also probably increased in the past couple of years. I think it’s maybe somewhere between the 80 and 90 mark at the moment. But probably dominated by less than 10 names. If you look at an agency like SEG, SEG probably have at least 80 riders. The top four or five agencies manage most of the pro peloton.

But it’s also not as glamours as the title sounds. It’s typically over and back to Europe on a Eurotunnel or taking short flights, eating out of bad service stations alone at night, then catching up on missed emails or calls whilst at the race. However, it’s the sport we love and are most passionate about, if it was only financially driven we would all be football agents or golf agents!

AM: I don’t see the agent purely as headhunters, picking up a guy and working in the team. We see the job as being a trustworthy person who’s not part of the team. The team is of course more about following their goals. We are not part of the family either. Maybe cyclists are not really coming from a cycling family so they don’t have a person with whom they can exchange a few opinions about how the race went or to express disappointment with. So we can be someone they can really talk to without fear. And I think it’s important. Of course, not all of them. Some are open or they want to talk. It’s important to have empathy, we deal with people every day. We have to understand that one rider likes to talk, another doesn’t. And it’s important to understand how they react, what they need, what they don’t need. Maybe someone is never calling you, another one is calling you on a weekly basis. You need to understand how they like to be treated and what they need to perform, which is actually the same goal as the team. We really like to cooperate with teams in this way because maybe I’ve known the rider for five or seven years and the team doesn’t know them as well. So it’s important to understand if they have some difficulties or have down moments to have an exchange of opinions, even with the agent, which provides some additional value for the teams.

Editors' Picks