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The Ongoing Financial Plight of The Women’s Pro Peloton: An Interview with The Cyclists’ Alliance

By Megan Flottorp

Run by former and current professional riders, The Cyclists’ Alliance (TCA) seeks to provide holistic support to female cyclists during and after their careers. They aim to level the playing field and help the hard-working women of today’s peloton make a living from the sport.

Central to their mission is advocating for the national and international governing bodies of cycling to implement the minimum standards regarding salary, maternity leave, racing and training expenses, a mandatory vacation block, and more. They also want to ensure that all support team members are qualified, checked and professional, and that there is a universal standardised approach to race safety.

In support of their effort to create lasting change, TCA carries out a rider survey to provide hard data on the current status quo of professional women’s cycling. From salaries and contractual inclusions to legal and ethical concerns, the team at TCA has shed some serious light on the issues impacting women cyclists. In conversation with the organisation’s governing board, we unpacked some of the survey’s most surprising findings, how the organisation is hoping to address them, and what fans can do to help.

After looking at all the cumulative data in the survey, what most stood out to you about the reality of professional women cycling?

We see a lot of progress in women’s cycling, and especially at the World Tour level, the salaries are increasing year on year. We are even seeing teams go above and beyond the minimum requirements set out by the UCI. Two teams, TREK and Bike Exchange, took the initiative to increase the women’s base salary in 2021 to equal the men’s minimum baseline salary €40,045 (employed) or €65,673 (self-employed) rather than wait for a mandate from the UCI!⁠

On the other hand, due to the lack of minimum salary for UCI Women’s Continental Road teams, the wage disparity gap between WWT riders and Continental riders continues to widen, which is very concerning. Therefore, ensuring that all riders earn a minimum salary is one of the top topics riders requested TCA to continue advocating for. The other most-voted topic was increasing live TV coverage of races, as exposure helps generate fame, build fan bases and demonstrate commercial return.

It seems that fans are eager to engage but are often unsure how to do so. Have the findings of the report refocused your priorities in any way?

Currently, 81% of riders do not have an agent representing them. In addition, the awareness of TCA’s Approved Agent Quality standard, which officially recognised agents who adhere to a set of minimum standards and ethics as outlined in the TCA Agent Charter, was lower than expected, at only 40% aware of this service.

We will focus more on communicating this initiative to riders and informing riders that they can also review contracts with agents before signing. We will also work more closely with agents who are on our approved agent list, to educate them on the new regulations coming into effect in 2022 and offer them opportunities to create educational resources for our rider members.

44% of those surveyed said they had been pressured into a decision or to race . Because of this finding, TCA’s Ethics Officer would like to conduct a more in-depth review to gather more information and context about these situations to understand how we can best educate riders on teams about safe working conditions and ethical standards.

There were also some troubling numbers regarding Continental teams’ lack of access to resources—including that the percentage of riders with “no salary” has increased to 34% in 2021. To your knowledge, is there currently any plan in place to provide a minimum salary for UCI Continental Road teams?

No, not that we are aware of. As UCI Continental teams register at their national federation and not directly at the UCI, it’s currently up to the national federations to raise the standards for Continental teams. We have successfully advocated for a minimum salary in the Netherlands, where Continental teams now have to pay their riders a minimum wage based on a 12-hour working week. We have been discussing this also with several other federations, but so far, they are restrained. It would be great if there would be a push from the UCI to put some higher standards in place—or even to create a new division. For example, Pro-Continental, as they have in men’s cycling.

The UCI intends to increase the number of licenses for WWT teams and increase the number of riders per WWT team. However, more must be done to ensure Continental riders (who often commit the same amount of time to training and racing as WWT riders) are adequately supported financially for the women’s peloton to continue growing and progressing.⁠⁠

The fact that 62% of riders don’t know their image rights and 70% don’t know their data rights also stood out. As the sport continues to grow and become more popular, do you see more women riders getting sponsorship deals and do they receive support in negotiating these contracts?

For a rider to contract the services of an agent (who normally brokers commercial deals / sponsorships) and a legal advisor (e.g., to check agreements and contracts), they need a salary sizeable enough for the agent to take a commission that pays the value of their expertise. In addition, riders can’t enter into any personal contracts that would conflict with their team’s sponsorships. This makes it very hard for riders to negotiate individual sponsorship deals.

Based on these results, TCA will do more to provide educational resources to inform riders about their image rights and data rights. Our legal team has helped a few riders who have been fined for using photographs of themselves taken by professional photographers on their own website/social channels. In these instances, their portrait rights only offer protection for commercial purposes.

Data rights are becoming an increasingly complex topic in the world of virtual racing. These platforms utilise rider data such as height, weight, heart rate, and watts per kilogram to measure performances on virtual courses.

I’m sure many fans will be pretty upset to hear that their favourite riders could get fined for using pictures of themselves on their own channels! Is there anything fans can do to support professional women cyclists?

Fans of the sport can join the Cyclists’ Alliance Supporter Community and become part of our movement for change to have fairness in cycling. Our organisation is funded purely through our membership subscriptions and donations, and it enables all the work we do. We also encourage fans to demand coverage of the sport, watch the races, and follow riders and teams.

Absolutely! So in going forward and offering support, is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about TCA?

We help our supported riders in many ways, but our ultimate goal is a single word—and it’s not too much to ask—fairness. We have managed to accomplish a lot in just two years, too. So far, TCA has gained 193 members from 37 different teams and 32 different countries, launched contract management and mentor platforms, established an elected rider council, campaigned against #metoo abuse in cycling, and much more. We have also created a private electronic social platform for instantaneous communication on topics and critical issues. Ultimately, by educating riders, we see more and more riders become aware of their situation, and we can raise the bar together.

A huge thank you to The Cyclists’ Alliance for sharing their insight and for all the work they do behind the scenes to improve women’s cycling! You can read the full results of the rider survey here.