• Country

To be among road racing’s elite as a member of the WorldTour and take part in the Giro or Tour de France, even as a domestique, must fill a cyclist with pride and a real sense of accomplishment. All the dreams, ambition and, especially, hard work have led you to be among the world’s best and to be treated like the royalty of the sport. So it’s not much of a surprise to hear that some of them actually act like royalty.

Being a star apparently gives some riders a sense of entitlement and a feeling of superiority they don’t hesitate to express when riding in a Grand Tour next to a so-called second-tier rider who competes on the ProTeams circuit and participates in a Grand Tour only by special invitation.

Burgos BH Cycling Team
Burgos BH Team in July 2020. © Profimedia

According to Willie Smit, a South African pro riding for the second-tier Burgos-BH team, he has often been told to get lost, in no uncertain terms, when he tried to take part in a final sprint just because of the jersey he was wearing. His reaction? “Fair enough mate, just write us a book of who is allowed to compete in the finals and who isn’t,” Smit tweeted.

There is a definite hierarchy in the peloton, Smit said, and the better-known riders often look down on less well-known pros. “In the Vuelta a España, I had a couple of instances where Big riders asked me why the [obscenity] we were sitting here in the peloton,” he said. “The irony was half his team were dropped, but according to him we are [obscenity] and should go to the back.”

He made it clear that not all the top-level riders shared this attitude. “You would never hear a guy like [Movistar rider Alejandro] Valverde say stuff like that,” he said. “The guy is pure class.” But some star riders are not adept at bike manoeuvring and tend to resent it if they get out-positioned by someone they consider to be an inferior cyclist. “This is what many riders in smaller teams have to endure,” he said.

The irony of that is, he went on, that the star riders need the lesser riders to illustrate the hierarchy. “At the end of the day, you only look good because you are beating the riders you categorize as unworthy,” Smit noted, adding: “Quite hypocritical if half your team is already dropped without having done any work yet.”

He knows the WorldTour atmosphere well because he used to be a WorldTour pro with the Katusha-Alpecin team. He said that during his time at the elite level, he never saw himself as more worthy or talented than another rider. “When I raced next to them, I respected them as I fought their battles to reach the top for many years in the amateur ranks, with no stepping stones at my disposal except a borrowed bike, a few grand in my bank account, and a random Spanish family that opened their doors for me to live with them.”

Smit had already made this point one year ago when he complained about the treatment from star riders in the Vuelta and posted a screenshot of the following quote, attributed to Janez Brajkovič, the former WorldTour rider who now races for the Continental Adria Mobil team: “The only way a Conti rider can ride at the front mixed up with [WorldTour] egoistic crybabies is to be stronger than them. And oh man, it feels so good when they’re breathing through gills, and let you slot in… even between their teammates. Of course, they’ll say things like: ‘don’t do stupid things’ or ‘don’t be stupid.’

“It’s a great pleasure when you can do whatever you want on a climb, and they’re powerless… nonetheless, I love all of them. One day, they’ll figure out that it’s not about who you are as a cyclist, but who you are when cycling is taken away from you.”