It’s Just Money: Stybar Turns Down €800,000 for a Cyclocross Season — An Op-Ed by Steve Tilford
We’ve all seen the photos and videos of European cyclocross crowds, and they’re typically more than 20 times the size of the biggest crowds in the States. But less obvious is the fact that top cyclocrossers in Europe can earn 20 times what a top American cyclocrosser can earn. Multi-time National Champion and Masters World Champion Steve Tilford weighed in on this topic recently on his blog, and we’ve got the full piece below.
by Steve Tilford
I recently saw an article that said that the Telenet-Fidea ’cross team offered Zdenek Stybar €500,000 to ride for them, plus they estimated that he would earn at least €300,000 in appearance fees and prize money, maybe more. And he turned it all down.
Man, that is a lot of cash for a ’cross season. €800,000 is approximately $1,100,000. I very much doubt he gets paid that much to ride on the road, but what do I know about that? He did have a pretty good road season last year.
Anyway, if he did take the offer and won the prize money that Hans van Kasteren, team manager for Telenet-Fidea, estimated, then he would be for sure making more money than all the salaries off all American cyclocross racers combined. By a large margin, probably by a factor of two or three. Is that crazy to think? We have more participation in the sport of cyclocross than anywhere else in the world and one road rider in Europe can demand a salary more than all riders in the US combined.
As far as I can tell, only the cycling industry is cashing in on the cyclocross craze here. And I’m not so sure they are even doing that to a large degree. USAC is getting a lot more money from entries and sanctioning races. And the UCI is making a ton more money from sanctioning too, for sure. But the riders aren’t making squat.
For cyclocross to become a viable sport in the United States, there needs to be sponsorship to pay enough for a sustainable National Circuit for professionals. That isn’t the case. It has never been the case. The travel costs for flying around the country, chasing UCI points, just for lining up at races, mainly Nationals, is astronomical. So astronomical that many riders have already started to just bail on the travel and focus on their local series. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but it isn’t going to advance the sport to the next level financially. Right now Elite level ’cross racing is a just hobby for nearly every racer involved.
There are only a handful of riders in Europe who make any money racing ’cross. Most are Belgian. There is only one other guy that gets paid what they offered Stybar, and that is Sven Nys. All the other riders are on a lower level of salary, but they still make a good living racing ’cross.
Are American companies seeing value in that European audience? I was mildly surprised to read that Trek is going to sponsor Sven in 2014. Nys has been riding Colnago for as long as I can remember. And he probably gets paid a pretty penny for his bike sponsorship. Trek already puts some money in to their Trek Collective Cyclocross program, including Katie Compton, but for the money that they are paying Nys, I’d think they could have a pretty unbelievable Elite National program here in the US.
California Giant Strawberry/Specialized has a pretty good regional, more than regional, program going. I’d say they have the most consistent, best program for cyclocross the last decade. Anthony Gallino, czar of Cal Giant, is a huge supporter of the sport of cycling, plus a really nice guy. They have sponsored more up-and-coming ’cross riders, men and women, than any other program. Plus, they have awesome strawberries.
I’m not sure why Stybar gets to race ’cross and Mark Cavendish can’t race on the track, when they both race for Omega Pharma-Quick Step. That is probably because Patrick Lefevere, team manager for Omega is Belgian and probably likes cross better. Maybe he likes Stybar better too?
I hope Stybar decides to race the World Championships in Hoogerheide this year [Stybar raced Worlds in Hoogerheide in 2009, finishing second to Niels Albert). He already has dabbled, winning his teammate Tom Boonen’s charity event again for the second year in a row. He has said that if the Worlds course isn’t muddy, then he has a higher chance of doing it. That would make the race way more interesting. I’m sure we’ll see him racing over the Christmas holiday like he has the last couple years. He sort of changes up the rhythm of the “normal Belgian” tempo of a race, which makes it more exciting to watch for afar.
Do you think cyclocross in the States will ever attract the fans, sponsors, and TV coverage it does in Belgium? And does it matter to you? Drop a comment below.
See our in-depth Money in ’Cross article in Issue 17 for an objective look at cyclocross salaries and the sport’s financial health, both domestic and international.
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@cyclocross Millions...correction: a very dependant, converted 1.1million USD. :p
@cyclocross Its not about the money, fine, but he's now taking the champs jersey out of the sport for a season, you won't see it...
I think U.S. 'cross will never be what it is in Europe. We've taken another Euro idea and made it our own. It's a sport that many people (even old men like me) can have fun in even if they aren't rock stars. Rock stars is what Euro cross is about. I say let's keep U.S. cross a sport for the commoner, with family and friends cheering and heckling riders. The pros will have to decide if they want to have some fun or go to road racing where there used to be more money. Not so much any more.
Seems like a poor choice in judgement from where I stand. You only have X years to make money in cycling and passing up any amount of money is foolish.
There are two different issues going on when talking about how to pay cross racers here. First is relative to other athletes and second is relative to other cyclists. The first case is just not going to achieve parity in this country .... period. As much as I love the sport it would take a generational paradigm shift to allow even the smallest chance of any type of cycling becoming a mainstream spectator sport. I should never say never but in my lifetime this is as close as you can get. So, then the question becomes how does it stack up against other domestic cycling? I'll wager fairly well.
Regarding Stybar - if he doesn't need the money, why would he toss his offseason and early season build out the window to race a full cross season? Remember that a full cross season is not 20 races ... it is week in/week out from October through February of 2-3 races per week. When it is done he has no recovery period before the big early season miles of the road loom.
He may have turned down the money from the cyclocross, but you don't want to know what he gets a month from OPQS !?!
Two thoughts about getting America close to the Belgium Model:1) Figure out how to replicate Cross Vegas 10 to 15 times per year in the US (Not sure if Cross Vegas is profitable…but by far the largest audience). 2) Cross has to be a party, which would makes it less about the athletes and more about having fun… Talk to the creative minds behind the Red Bull Crashed Ice Events.They manage to get 50,000 people plus to show up and watch ice skaters bombarding down ice covered city streets, in the middle of winter! (Those are parties!)
I would happily race cross in his place for 1/20 the salary, and deliver 1/20 the results. The math works.
Don't worry guys, in the end they'll all come back for a few more years in the field, like Adri vd Poel did. Let's hope that goes for Lars Boom as well....
Until we can charge $20-30 per person to spectate and draw the crowds that they do in Europe we won't be able to pay our athletes real money and sponsors won't pay to advertise, etc etc etc. CX is to Belgium what NASCAR is to 'merica. Sorry. But it's true.
I read that Albert and Nys both demand equal start money (between 5-8 thousand euro) and salaries are similar. In fact in an interview Niels stated that he would have to be a regular podium finisher in the springs classics to earn as much on the road as he does in cross. Not bad gig, with summers off.
There is a lot less chance of injury in the mud with cross than there is with a crash on wet pavement.
I really miss Styby racing cross, his presence broke up the Belgian stranglehold and he is very exciting to watch. But I have to admit I was shouting with excitement when he was in the winning break at Paris-Roubaix 2013! When he clipped the fan my heart dropped. If he can win a Monument like P-R or Tour of Flanders, then he's made a good choice to check out this whole roadie thing. But PLEASE spend some time playing in the mud each season, Styby....
He's probably trying to minimize the chance of a crash that would kill his road season. He clearly can race in mud.
I've really been mulling the question, "can we attract money to US 'cross" a lot this season. As someone still relatively new to the sport (in my third season as a masters 35+) it seems to me that upping the experience for casual fans would make things better for everyone.
The challenge is getting the up front investment.
As it stands, it's a work of passion for race organizers to put these races on. They don't have the resources to do additional infrastructure like outdoor video displays to follow the race, full day kid/family activities, and announcer talent with quality PA systems.
To get a TV audience we will need a well produced stream with camera setups on cables, cranes, and quadrotors. It's much more watchable from afar when you can see the battle at the front taking place.
Imagine getting an overhead view of the entire course during an elite race! I fantasize about Tour de France quality coverage of stateside CX races.
Cavendish is not allowed to ride on the track for different reasons... one of them being that he is not allowed to ride his Specialized when competing with the UK track team and Lefevre is paying Cavendish a lot more than he is paying Stybar (or Keisse and Terpstra who are competing in 6-day events but did what they had to do during race season) Cavendish is paid that amount for winning races and he didn't do that enough this season... Another reason that Stybar said no is that Quickstep will leave for a trainingcamp in the middle of cx season and Cavendish will be there too so another reason for him not to compete on the track...
I think his quote "..if the course isn't too muddy.." answers the question. If you don't like mud..cross in Europe isn't for you.
Daniel, nice analogy. Except for the gambling insinuations with Jordan, right? Does that mean we'll see him return to cx with a new team in a few eyars 30+ pounds heavier with no bunnyhop? Oh wait, that was the second return.
I tend to view his move as similar to Jordan's move from basketball to baseball except Stybar is making the change successfully. He has won everything he needs to win for himself in CX and wants to try branching out.
@scotj14 the Cross After Dark series attempts to replicate that, but without the industry held captive in Vegas, it doesn't quite bring the people. The St. Louis event didn't seem to even have a tenth of the CrossVegas spectators. Red Bull events like the Crashed Ice certainly draw the fans, but we're wondering if the speed of the event and popularity of the NHL helps (plus it's easy to go to commercial break!).
@scotj14 Agreed. But the fact is that they are still mostly athletes. (Well, maybe not for red bull stuff), but in Belgium, they are non-cyclists. Middle class, cycling loving fans who are loyal to one rider or another from their area of the country. I think proximity has more to do with this than anything. They can drive to every race within 2-3 hours. Or less. It is a social club. There are bars in their little towns that riders are from that they 'belong' to. They belong to the clubs. Buy the jackets. Travel together. Here, it is the athletes and their families. We have to fly. I hate to be negative, but I doubt we will ever be even close to the Belgium model. Crashed Ice events have a certain one time appeal. It's novel. CX is amazing, but honestly to have 50,000 people fly around weekend after weekend to watch races during the season. As much as I would like to see it... The only reason CX Vegas works is b/c of Interbike. You take industry folks away, who would come? Party or no party, it is very cultural. My two cents. As I have thought about this a lot over the years, having raced there and here. Not sure there is an answer.
@Jeff Sanford Sven gets between 8-€12000 start money. Even then for most CAT A races you can expect 50-€100 for showing up as an extra at the bad of the grid. U23 and Juniors can expect about €25
@suebutler Do you think becoming a spectator sport here in the US should be the goal? Sure, it would help with salaries, and CX seems to have more TV potential than road and mtb, but we don't see BMX much still on TV or drawing out tens of thousands of paying spectators here in the US, and if that can't do it, can the weird sport of CX have a chance? Would moving in that direction change the nature of the sport that we love? I'm sure our readers value your experience and opinion.
@cyclocross @suebutler I would love it to have the following it does in Europe. One can dream, right? But, no. I think the goal should be for it to be mainstream enough that riders can make a living, not PAY for races, but get paid to race. I think due to proximity, it would most likely have more of a couch following (TV) than a real live following. Racing in Belgium is like nothing else. Well, maybe like racing a Cross Crusade, but seriously, it is a niche sport. Cycling has a totally different heritage in Europe, but the countries are also the size of our states. I would love to see it grow, but honestly, it IS probably as big as it is in Belgium, but our crowds are soooo spread out that they can't go to the races. And even though most of our fans are cyclists themselves, the numbers are there. I can't see the demographic of folks who are cx fans in Belgium being fans here. It's just different. Cycling has sort of become somewhat elite-est, b/c you can't really race unless you can afford it. It's a hobby. A choice. We have soooo many other sports in our schools, etc. Our whole culture is very different with sports. Even at a young age. There aren't tons of school related sports teams to choose from in Europe, if any (at least as far as I know from my travels and being an exchange student.) Most sports are clubs outside of school or at the local Sportsclub. Cycling being a big one. And since it is cultural, there is more interest from a young age, etc. etc. etc. This could be a good thesis for someone. But No, honestly, I don't see it becoming mainstream. Most people still have NO clue what it is. Even good friends of mine. But if it was part of the local or even national news every night, heck, maybe you would have heard about it. OK, I've gotta go to bed. My brain hurts now. :)