Cycling can sometimes be categorised into two things – cycling the sport, and cycling the occupation. The difference being that anyone can play sport, but only a select few can classify it as their job, and it is with this latter point in mind that we currently sit in one of the most important periods of the year for racing cyclists.
For the big names of the sport, many of the season’s goals have already passed; the spring classics are a distant memory, the two biggest Grand Tours are over, and for a lot of amateurs on the brink of professionalism it’s a similar story. There are still some big races left – think Tour de l’Avenir and World Champs, but opportunities to shine are running out. With that being the case, attention is ever increasingly intensifying on what will be a popular question in the bunch at the moment; “what are you doing next year?”
To put it simply, results during the current few weeks could potentially decide where rider x will be riding next year; whether he resigns with his current team, whether he manages to move up to a higher level, whether he can command a higher pay cheque, or whether he has to draw curtains on his career. Cycling can be a fickle sport, and despite performances, good or bad, a rider might have had earlier in the season or in previous years, condition and results during late summer are often a decisive factor in where he or she will be riding the following year. However, in the same way you can’t sprint for the win at Flanders without negotiating the 18 preceding climbs at the front, you can’t expect to sign a contract without having been prominent throughout the year, too. This is a final lunge for the line after a season long race.
Take this hypothetical situation: A strong early season will almost certainly put a rider on the radar; everyone is motivated, everyone is racing to win, the world is watching and waiting for results. With all this scrutiny, those who perform will inevitably draw attention from the media, from riders, and of course from teams and managers. Talks could open. Contracts could be written, but left unsigned. The rider loses a bit of form, and slips off the radar during the season. The contract still isn’t signed… Like I said, this is purely hypothetical, but it’s a common situation, and it’s during the current few weeks that a strong result (on top of a strong season), could lead to a signature on that dotted line, instead of “hmmm, actually we’re full”.
Juniors aiming to get onto one of the big U23/amateur teams, current U23s aiming to move on to a team with better prospects of turning pro out of, or amateurs who are on the brink of getting their first professional contract, the same prospect faces all of them; get a result now and seal the deal. On a professional level, the problem doesn’t go away, but as I mentioned earlier it’s also their livelihood and income that is in the balance. They are racing for their job, not just the glory, and with this in mind I’m sure you can appreciate there will be some worried Vacansoleil and Euskaltel riders in the peloton at the moment. Indeed, in the fight for places with other teams it is inevitable that some will face the prospect of hanging up the wheels…maybe even at the hands of the young riders synonymous with Jong Peloton gaining their first professional contract.
At this point in the season, the legs and heads of many riders are gradually begging to falter; maybe they have already signed with a team for next year, maybe they are in the middle of a multi-year contract…the list of reasons for a lack of motivation is endless, but many will also be desperate to perform. Hopefully as many of them as possible get what they want.
Note: This article was written after reading “The Inner Ring”s last few pieces involving similar topics. Links to both here:
“The Story of the Season” http://inrng.com/2013/08/small-races-and-storylines/
“The Back Door” http://inrng.com/2013/08/the-back-door/.