What's Cool In Road Cycling

Carmichael Sez: Racing For A Contract

The Tour de France is unquestionably the biggest, most important race in all of cycling, and correspondingly, it is the biggest and best stage for the riders to make a name for themselves, to prove their value, and to ensure that they remain in the game or better their position as they ‘race for a contract.’ It’s not all about winning stages or jerseys though, and there are more than a few ways to prove your value to prospective squads.

By: Chris Carmichael

Amateur racers and cycling enthusiasts should find it very encouraging to watch Mauricio Soler ride through the mountains. He’s a shining example that you don’t necessarily have to look good on a bike to go fast. He may be all over his machine, but man, he’s fun to watch. And while everyone was paying attention to Michael Rasmussen, Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, and Cadel Evans battling for the top of the leader board, Soler put in a tremendous ride on the Col d’Aubisque to move into the lead in the King of the Mountains competition. It’s a good thing Barloworld signed him to a new contract yesterday, because his value just went even higher.

Besides being the most grueling race in professional cycling, the Tour de France is also a rolling job fair. It’s one of the rarely seen or talked about sides of the Tour, but it’s during these three weeks that a lot of teams make the deals that move riders from one squad to another for next year. This sometimes has an impact on the race itself, because one impressive performance can be enough to get you a better job, on a better team, at a higher salary.

Winning a stage of the Tour de France guarantees that you’ll have a job next year, and having a Tour stage win on your resume can also have the long-term effect of keeping you on a team even if you have a bad season in the future. As the race enters its third week, a handful of riders are fighting for the various jersey competitions, and a larger group of riders are fighting for their jobs.

Some of the negotiations actually happen inside the race caravan. The discussions are short, but happen as riders move through the cars and pause to talk to the team directors. Talks continue before the stages in the Tour de France village where the riders gather before starting each day of racing, and afterwards in the hotels. And since teams have limited budgets to pay riders’ salaries, it’s important for riders who don’t already have a secure contract for 2008 to make a deal before the race ends. If you wait too long, the team you’re talking to may not have the money to pay you a higher salary.

You don’t have to win a stage to get a job, either. There are many roles to play on a ProTour cycling team, and a strong performance in a supporting role is often enough to peak a team’s interest in you. Take American Chris Horner. His job at Predictor-Lotto may be secure, but his performance at this year’s Tour is an example of how a support rider increases his value. He’s been the most consistent helper for team leader Cadel Evans, and he’s sitting in the top 20 overall. Team directors are always looking at the riders who are doing their jobs well, whether it’s riding tempo on the front of the field, chasing down breakaways, or getting bottles. At some level, every moment of the race is a performance evaluation.

And it’s not just riders who negotiate deals during the Tour de France. Race results here also have a big impact on team sponsorships. The Discovery Channel team, for instance, is still looking for a title sponsor for next year, and having Alberto Contador in the white jersey and sitting in second place overall could be a huge factor in convincing someone to write a very big check to sponsor the team. It’s a lot harder to find a sponsor when a team is struggling, because media exposure – positive media exposure, that is – is the primary reason for a company to sponsor a cycling team.

This is part of the reason that some teams at the Tour de France are beginning to get desperate. Time is running out to get a stage win that will please the current sponsors and possibly attract new ones. And with the bad press the sport has been receiving recently, there are fewer potential sponsors out there to begin with.

Thus far, the biggest winner in the job fair at this year’s Tour de France is probably Mauricio Soler of Barloworld. Right now he’s on a Continental team, which is a step below a ProTour team (kind of like Division 1 and Division 2 in college athletics), and before the Tour de France he was a relatively unknown and unproven rider. Now he’s won a mountain stage at the Tour de France and now he’s leading the King of the Mountains competition. And it’s not just Soler who benefits from that. With two stage wins in the Tour de France, Barloworld gains valuable UCI points that could elevate them to being a ProTour team in 2008.

But UCI points are connected to riders, not their teams, which is part of the reason that winning races increases a rider’s market value. Barloworld has to keep their two stage winners, which may not cost them more in salaries, in order to keep their UCI points as well. And it was announced today that they did just that, at least with Soler; he’s signed on to stay with the team for the next two seasons.

I picked Stage 16 as one of the six key stages of the 2007 Tour de France, and recorded a Do The Tour… Stay At Home™ audio workout with 7-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong that’s specifically designed to mimic the unpredictable accelerations that happen in real races. Check it out and download it to your iPod at www.trainright.com.

Chris Carmichael coached Lance Armstrong throughout his 15-year cycling career. For more information on Carmichael Training Systems’ 9+3 Coaching Offer, the Do the Tour…Stay at Home_ audio workouts with Lance Armstrong, and our free Tour de France Newsletter, visit TrainRight.com.

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