The root of all evil is not enough money

People wonder why masters racers have hijacked SoCal amateur bike racing, as shown by the incredible explosion of anger over the burning question of the day:

  1. Should masters categories be 35/45/55? OR
  2. Should masters categories be 40/50/60?

Wrinkly trinket-hungry cyclists went ballistic over this life-or-death issue and forced the opaque, shifty-eyed, self-serving SCNCA board to hold an emergency late night telephone conference, reverse their earlier vote, and then come up with a new vote that satisfied the angriest of the old people who, by the way, were angry indeed.

So now bike racing has been saved. Horrible declines in participation, non-attendance by anyone other than angry S/O’s and resentful children, fewer races, and a smaller pie to squabble over are all going to be remedied because the needs of several hundred greedy trinket hunters have been shifted down five years. Riiiiiiight.

Showing how inane the whole thing is, one upset fellow posted that since he’s going to soon be thirty, “WHAT ABOUT ME?” This perspective perfectly defines the modern masters racer: The unfairness of it all! 30-year-olds having to race with 20-somethings! Pretty soon the 12-year-olds will be outraged that they’re racing with the thirteen-ers, and so on down to swaddling diaper pre-racers.

None of this is surprising because the only thing on offer in bicycle racing nowadays is  the faux glory of a few seconds on an ugly podium, hands raised in a stupid salute, a quick posting of the photo on ‘Bag and ‘Gram, and a 5,000-lb. bag of entitlement.

No one’s fighting for money because there is none. The best racer in America, Daniel Holloway, goes from year to year without any long term security even though he wins more big races in a season than any other elite US pro will win their entire career. What would Rahsaan Bahati’s pro career have looked like if he’d made six figures as a bike racer? Why is Hilton Clarke looking for work?

If there were money on offer for actual bike racers, cycling would be a different game. People who could make a living at bike racing would throw the dice and try it as a career, the pool of athletes would grow, and the ripple effect of more races, more spectators, more sponsors, more fans, and more junior racers would grow the sport. It would take several years, but a million dollars on offer in prize money each year in SoCal would turn the region into a global center of cycling.

“A million dollars????” I can hear the screeching laughter now. What a ridiculous idea! What an absurd amount of money? For prizes that go to actual BIKE RACERS? ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY?

Yes, but that will never happen of course. The people who have a million dollars to invest aren’t about to put it into the checking accounts of cardboard box-dwelling bike racers because it’s not an investment, at least in the sense that they’ll ever get their money back. It’s more of a Bernie Madoff type investment, and they’d rather have a new beautiful second home, a new airplane, a new boat, or a new investment vehicle that will turn the million into multiples of a million. And no group of ten affluent cyclists would dream of kicking in $100k each to revolutionize the sport. It’s not for a shortage of dollars, though, you can be sure of that. We ride with stock brokers, real estate moguls, millionaire lawyers, independently wealthy businessmen, super rich doctors, and a variety of people for whom a hundred thousand bucks would mean absolutely nothing at all to their big picture or even their small one.

As a case in point, the suckers who dumped $19 million into the USA Pro Challenge wound up with the same raw assholes of everyone else who tries to fund the sport through the well oiled USAC graft machine. The money goes everywhere except to the one place that matters most: The hands of the men and women who turn the pedals. As soon as you pump money into an event or a team, it gets hoovered up immediately by everyone except the riders, who are expected to ride for free or close to it, and be damned glad of it.

The sad thing is that the donor/investor always has good intentions; he wants the sport to prosper. But as long as the employees who make the show happen are starved, insecure, broke, living at home, and paying for health insurance through Medi-Cal, it never ever will. There may be a sucker born every minute, but they play the lottery or go to Vegas. Hardly anyone is a big enough gambler to stake a career on bikes.

And why should donors pour money into the sport they profess to love? What has cycling as an organized activity ever done for anybody? Because of USA Cycling’s pervasive and long-term support of doping, cheating, and shunting rider funds to programs run from Colorado Springs, the governing body is toothless, stupid, greedy, lazy, and mean. It hates grass roots wankers with big bellies (the guys who fill the lower ranks and pay the salaries in ‘Springs), and it thumbs its nose at any pretend racer who doesn’t hit “the right numbers.”

And that’s why Strava is so devastating. It provides competition and it provides value; USAC provides limited competition, and does so at ridiculous cost with zero financial reward. Our recent survey showed that, surprise, people are afraid of crashing. No fucking shit? You mean people are afraid of falling off their bike at 30 and getting their balls run over by ten other riders? Who’d be afraid of that? Worst that can happen is that you die, dude. Man up.

By choking development, ignoring obvious problems, and by creating a culture that makes any potential investor loathe them, USAC is now having the rotten, digested fruits of its corrupt labor shoved down its throat in the form of lower numbers, lower license revenue, lower salaries for the staff who grew up living on Lance and who are now finding out that in addition to being petty and greedy, the masters racers now calling the shot are all that’s left and they happen to be the cheapest most cantankerous bastards alive. I know I am.

And now the new godfather of USAC has declared that the organization will never hire another doper, but he’s silent about what really matters: How is he going to put money into the hands of the people who race bikes? How is he going to make any rational person want to take a chance on the sport? No answers there, sorry.

So it’s left to a handful of leathernecked race promoters to develop a profitable system with no support, no investment, no safety net, and no incentive to hang onto the few races we do have. The reward from USAC? Paying more fees, of course. Bet you didn’t know that the bigger your prize list, the more the promoter pays USAC, did you?

The other reward is having their paying customers, the cranky and greedy and perennially dissatisfied old farts, clamor and complain when races are set up that don’t revolve around them. Young racers are filled with loathing at the actions of us, their elders, and they either smarten up and go back to school (always the best choice, by the way), or they wait to age-grade up and become the overlords.

Sane parents on the sidelines shake their heads in disbelief and encourage their children to chase his dreams anywhere but in cycling. All of the junior summits and SCNCA board deliberations and age category machinations won’t mean shit until there’s enough money in the sport for athletes to make a living at it. Until then the economic engine will be retail sales of high-end bikes to mid-40-ish people who can afford them, and as long as that demographic powers the engine, USAC and race promoters will do as they’re told.

This bankrupt policy is why so few new riders are coming up. The day’s not far off when the fight over how to split the tiny little masters pie will be a fight over who’s going to promote the three races left on the calendar.

Half of any given masters race has people who make their living through “the industry.” We know where they stand on age categories. What about the same level of activism, backed with money, when it comes to putting dollars into the hands of the young men and women who actually have something called a future?


35 thoughts on “The root of all evil is not enough money”

  1. Hey, I saw a mention the other $ of a race where the entry fee was “only $40”. Wow. A bargain. USAC probably only gets $15 or so of that, right?
    What were those guys-and-girls’ yearly salaries, again?
    Or, as we did long ago in a land far away– go on good long hard rides with your local-race-winning cohort, make your determinations out in the countryside where there were only a few fewer spectators, ride your brains out safely (for by far the most part), get a great workout, come home thoroughly used-up but safe & unbroken, and the only profiteers were the Quickie-Mart operators who were usually glad to see the group roll in and spend at least a few bucks each on calories even if if they ran the water bill up a little. There were a couple of owner-operators who let us go stand in the beer cooler on hot days as long as we kept the door closed. Now there’s providing a service to your paying customers…

    (You keep adding to The Short List, Mr. W. Paypal says you got the latest dribble. Thank you.)

  2. The same could be said about motorcycle racing in this country, the difference being it’s a lot more expensive and you have to drive hours to the middle of the desert to get to a race track where there are less people racing and even less watching all while frying in the sun.

    At the grass roots level, the sport is mostly well to do old guys, with the occasional up and coming youngster with a future and no day job to be at on Monday to show them how tiny and shriveled their balls actually are.

    Worldwide, the MotoGP championship is third most watched behind Soccer and Formula One. Americans dominated the sport in the 80s to mid 90s. Now the pro national series has only 6 races for the entire season, and only two factory teams, Suzuki and Yamaha.

    Fact is, if it’s not a sport like Football, Baseball, Basketball, or Hockey, people in this country don’t give a shit. Especially if it’s not a sport anyone can be good at with practice, like golf or bowling.

    Personally all the sports where a 6’1″ 225lb guy like me can physically dominate at like football or hockey are for young guys. All the sports for old guys are for skinny fuckers like you. 😀

    That in mind, Americans are big and fat, and few want to be best at exercising, they’d rather play “real sports”. Much easier to walk around a park hitting a tiny ball or rolling a big heavy ball inside and drinking all day.


      1. Yes, with a caveat.

        The caveat being, the sport needs a large participation base to generate advertising revenue. The federation has had no interest in developing a large participation base for decades.

        In a perfect world, that then translates to some better renumeration of athletes.

        I think most agree, the federation/USACDF is set up to siphon off those advertising dollars from promoters and athletes alike.

    1. Arik Kadosh, that’s an Irish name, right? BTW, do your riding buddies know your last name means Holy?

  3. Nice rant, oh and it’s great that you are doing something about this and putting up the cash for the juniors.

  4. “Half of any given masters race has people who make their living through “the industry.” We know where they stand on age categories.”

    It is hard to have any desire to compete against old wrinkly herds who train like pros, eat like pros, works in ‘the industry’, and races once or twice a week for trinkets and bragging rights. Talk about baby seals!

  5. Football, basketball and baseball suck so much oxygen out of second and third tier youth sports. In HS, you can be a celebrity if you are good at one of the major sports. The incentives are enormous. Moving onto college, if you are a great athlete, you can have your tuition paid and be given all kinds of non-monetary incentives – particularly TV exposure for football and basketball athletes. And the money is so big if you make it as a pro – it is, perhaps, worth the attempt for a kid with legit athleticism.

    It is not just cycling. Many other non-major sports are suffering similar fates: track and field, swimming, gymnastics – to name a few. I am not sure there is a solution… except for a massive cultural shift.

    1. You can only fix one thing at a time. Put cash into the athletes’ hands and they will race. Keep the money tied up in organizers, sponsors, and promoters, and the fields will dwindle.

  6. When you rant about investment in cycling here is the you ess of eh, I am reminded of the dividends that have been paid to Australian road and trackies, and then to Great Britain road and trackies after there was a strong commitment to put real money into the sport and develop a base of cyclists that would bring medals, and victories to their respective countries. Those two countries put a lot of money forward, and well, I think we know well the results.

  7. Cycling isn’t alone in being a dead-end financially. The vast majority of Olympic sports don’t pay the bills for athletes, yet have expensive sanctioning bodies that are blessed by the IOC. Most of these organizations would not stand on their own outside of the Olympic system.
    These sports depend heavily on parents bearing the brunt of the costs of the organization during the development stage, then the majority of the resources are directed at a handful of elite athletes. That’s the model, and it has nothing to do with making the sport a viable career path. It isn’t unique, and it isn’t going to change.

    Parents will always foot the bill in the development stage in any sport, and cycling is cheaper than a lot of other sports. No sport is a sound career plan.

    The problem is that kids don’t want to ride bikes competitively and would rather do something else. Why would a parent want to spend a bunch of money on something their kid doesn’t want to do in the first place? Figure out how to motivate lots of kids to race bikes. Maybe they’ll drop it in high school or college, then perhaps pick it up again when their financial situation is comfortable. The key is making it a viable activity for them when they’re young. Bike racing as a recreational activity doesn’t even cross the mind of 99.999% of the population (I’m being generous). Figure out how to change that, and you have a sustainable model for a healthy amateur sport.

    1. Olympic sports don’t pay the bills for athletes, yet have expensive sanctioning bodies that are blessed by the IOC

      The charter IOC federations is to operate a worldwide monopoly on a sport, own media rights to all events,
      and siphon off the money the sport makes in creative ways. Notice the athletes who provide the entertainment are not mentioned once in their objectives.

      The Colorado event was perfect. Money was made and rights secured. Everyone in the cycling federation made money and some of the athletes work for free, or nearly so. They will wait for another sucker.

      The bottom line for cycling is that there is no confidence any of the races are fairly contested. After that, there are fundamental problems with the format of the races that discourage attendance. These are very basic problems no one in the federation cares to solve.

  8. paying anybody but the P12’s is STUPID, STUPID, STUPID.

    we put on a “world championship” once a year and the profits to go local high school MTB, which IMHO is doing more for the future of the support than USAC. get involved with your local high school… in SoCal there are lots of teams and they could ALL use the experience we have.

    cycling has been shot so far out the back of mass participation endurance sports by running and triathlon it’s ridiculous… the stewardship of USAC seems to ignore what those kindred sports do so well.

    strava is the Uber/AirBNB of cycling, and it will continue to erode USAC, especially if the fight it instead of getting in front of it. however, as more people are traveling and taxiing because of Uber and AirBNB more people should/could be joining the ranks of cycling… i just hoodwinked my best friend into buying a bike and showed him the app and how he could measure his progress – he freakin’ loved that.

    lastly… paying anybody but the P12’s is STUPID, STUPID, STUPID.

    1. “strava is the Uber/AirBNB of cycling”

      I’d say that Uber/AirBNB are the Strava of taxis and hotels!

      Great comment–

  9. I’ll circle back, promise, but not to mention tens of thousands of college athletes every year who toil, often toward lifelong injury, (football), for zero pay, and worse, zero insurance (!). A few college employees/execs and “friends” making zillions off broken kids, the gate and TV deals. When you follow American sports money somehow it’s always mostly sad unless you are the rare big-4-sports pro athlete, but even that’s not a guarantee, ask Lamar Odom. We know all too well bike racing is a number of rungs down any remotely similar ladder. The remarkable National backing @sibex9591 mentions is as unlikely in the US as Madison Square Garden reverting to a track racing venue. Hats off to Seth for the Junior prize purse – a cool thing that will hopefully build momentum.

  10. Cost of racing is the real limiter, not payouts. Most old guys aren’t racing for the cash anyway, they just want to race and compete. But when each race costs $40, jeez, you can’t do that much, and still have a $5000 bike or two, travel to races, gear and kit, etc, etc, and maybe have a family. It’s EASY to pay $150 for a weekend of races. You just can’t do that much, and that’s just the racing, not gas and hotel.

  11. A 10 year age range is not near restrictive enough. We need Zip Code categories… I know I could win then!

    1. Zip codes subdivided into “renter” and “owner,” then further subcategorized by the amount of your rent or property tax bill. And finally subcategorized by type of pet. Then I’m gonna finally WIN.

  12. I wonder, are other sports like bike racing? Do 50-year-old beach volleyball players dominate the tournament daily schedules?

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