A lot has been written and said about the state of cycling over the last decade or so. I wanted to take a little time to give you my take on things in my first blog in quite awhile. Last year, I officially still held a professional racing license and showed up at some racing events from time to time with Team Illuminate – a pro cycling team that is US registered and races all over the world. I have spent a few decades racing with the best in the world both internationally and here in the US. I would like to write more about my personal views on the sport – from specific races, racing in general, training, the transition to a more regular life style, and more in some later blogs, but for now I would like to talk about one current problem pro riders are facing both in the U.S. and abroad – the job market.
A few days ago, it was announced that Greg Daniels just signed a contract with a UCI continental team in Canada for the 2019 season. In the racing world, signing in October or November is considered late (and very stressful), but for a rider of his talent, signing in January is crazy! I was there for his U.S. Pro Road Race Championship win in 2016, and I can tell you firsthand that it didn’t come because he was lucky with how the tactics played out or had what I like to call the Hand of God (flat out luck or that one in million day when all the stars align just for you) pushing him. A few weeks after the US Pro Championship race, we met up again at the Tour of Beauce – a week long stage race in Canada. He was again dominating the race, whether it was on the hills, flats, TT, crits, or circuit stages – whatever the organizers threw at us that week, he dominated. I saw him make a few small mistakes tactically during that week of racing, but he easily overcame any mistakes with just his talent and fitness. He reminded me of myself in my younger years – I could see that he was strong but still had a lot of room to improve on the details of racing that could make him even more impressive down the road.
I used Greg’s story because it is one of the most recent to talk about in regards to the state of cycling today. A great talent, some bumps in the road on his first round in Europe, and unable to stay in the ProTour field after his first Pro Tour contract ended. There are of course other riders with similar stories – Matthew Busche (multiple time past US pro champion), Ben King (past US pro champion and multiple time Grand Tour stage winner), and even George Bennett who is now riding with the top ten best GC riders in world during the Grand Tours. These riders have all had problems finding professional racing team contracts in the not so distant past – even though they were riding at the front, winning races against the best in the world, popular with the fans, great teammates on and off the bike, still very young at the time with tons of potential, and exactly what a sponsor should be looking for.
When riders of this level are having problems finding a contract, it’s clear to see the sport is not healthy (especially here in the US) and needs to start fixing the problem. How many young riders have quit the sport after hearing these stories or a year like 2018, when we saw more teams leaving the sport than coming in. Just think about where the sport could be here in the US if we had a deeper field of racers over in Europe representing us every time we turned on the TV to watch a bike race, cheering on another story like Ben King’s 2018 Vuelta with two amazing stage wins. Certainly it can start at the top with the UCI and the national governing body doing all that they can to help support and find contracts for riders. The teams themselves could easily solve this problem – especially when, for so many young riders, it is an injury from a crash that sets them back on their season’s goals and costs them a new contract. Now I’m sure the governing bodies and race teams already have plenty of things on their to do list to help the sport, but making sure the riders that are in the sport and riding well have contracts and are taken care of should make the first page. Having more riders at the big races will give the US more chances for success, leading to more start spots in the world championships and Olympics. Or to put it even more simply – to the US teams and US sponsors – how could you not have signed recent US Pro Champions the moment they came on the market?