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Tips on how to Become a Professional Cyclist


by Russel

In this post, I’ll describe the process for turning pro as a cyclist, and why despite my good (but not great) results, it would be difficult for me to do so.  Like every successful cyclist out there, I have always had a dream of being a pro.  This year with my upcoming job change, I even sent out a few requests but not surprisingly all I have received so far are rejection letters.

This is the generic career path for a racer:  After getting a racing license, a young cyclist wins a few races.  They upgrade past the early categories quickly, taking a season or two to become Category 2.  A regional elite amateur team takes notice and they’re now racing for a team at larger events and learning ‘race craft’.  After a few good results at national level events (i.e. top placed amateur at major or National Racing Calendar races), pro teams start to notice. 

The results, combined with networking while traveling to these national level events will lead to contacts that will eventually yield a neo-pro contract.

Sounds easy enough right?  Personally I have a few barriers regarding the above.  I only traveled to one National Racing Calendar race last year, and finished a decent 22nd, but the top amateur (Colorado local Jesse Goodrich) was 7th.  Also, notice I said “young cyclist”; I’ll get to this in a moment.  First, I’ll go into some details of the neo-pro lifestyle for the lowest (UCI Continental) ranked pro teams.

It is good to know how much a pro cyclist makes.  Cycling Tips Blog has a detailed on this topic across all levels of the sport, but I’ll stick to the lower levels.  Basically for a first year pro on a low level team (where almost all start), the teams do not want to part with cash.  They will likely pay for all racing related expenses (travel, equipment, food, etc), and bikes/equipment.  The salary itself is likely to be $0/year.

Imagine yourself as a 22 year old.  While becoming rich, famous, and racing the Tour de France may be the big dream, the low level pro team lifestyle is actually a dream in itself.  Traveling the country for free to race your bike.  You don’t make any money, so you’ve got an easy part time job back home to pay for the $400/mo room you rent, but hardly ever stay there due to so much time on the road.  For someone like myself with family, this is obviously not as attractive.

Next, and most importantly for me, I’ll get to the age issue.  USA Cycling has a dual mission to support amateur racing while also promoting the elite (professional and olympic) level of the sport.  There is a rule stipulating that the majority of the riders on a low level pro team must be under the age of 28.  This may seem strange, but I’ll explain.

Imagine your a team director with a small budget.  Would you rather hire an unknown 22 year old coming up through the ranks (you may get lucky, but also might not), or a 33 year old pro in the twilight of their career (with tons of foreign racing experience and an established reputation).  They will probably both race as fast, but there are advantages to hiring older riders.  If this were to occur, the young talent would have difficulty finding an entry into the sport, thus hindering development at the elite level.

Since I’m 30 now, I would have to be exceptional to find myself in one of the ‘over 28′ slots on a pro team.  The requirement is only on the lowest level pro teams, but it is very uncommon for a rider to bypass the lowest ranks of the sport.

Finally, I’ll mention contacts within the sport.  Like many things in life, it is who you know that matters most.  Pez Cycling News has a with a team director describing what he is looking for in a rider, and it makes for great reading if you’d like to go pro.  Of course, he mentions he would like to know who you are, or have a referral from someone he knows.

Fortunately, team race directors aren’t too hard to find.  USA Cycling has a page dedicated to the lowest ranking ‘Continental’ teams.  The page has a link to a spreadsheet with contacts for all the team directors, along with the documents governing the teams.  These are the contacts I used to ‘cold call’ the team directors but as you can see from what I described above, I’m not too shocked that I’ll still need a real job next year.

Pro Cycling on $10 a Day

From Fat Kid to Euro Pro

Phil Gaimon

Plump, grumpy, slumped on the couch, and going nowhere fast at age 16, Phil Gaimon began riding a bicycle with the grand ambition of shedding a few pounds before going off to college. He soon fell into racing and discovered he was a natural, riding his way into a pro contract after just one season despite utter ignorance of a century of cycling etiquette. Now, in his book Pro Cycling on $10 a Day, Phil brings the full powers of his wit to tell his unlikely story.

Presented here as a guide—and a warning—to aspiring racers who dream of joining the professional racing circus, Phil’s adventures in road rash serve as a hilarious and cautionary tale of frustrating team directors and broken promises. Phil’s education in the ways of the peloton, his discouraging negotiations for a better contract, his endless miles crisscrossing America in pursuit of race wins, and his conviction that somewhere just around the corner lies the ticket to the big time fuel this tale of hope and ambition from one of cycling’s best story-tellers.

Pro Cycling on $10 a Day chronicles the racer’s daily lot of blood-soaked bandages, sleazy motels, cheap food, and overflowing toilets. But it also celebrates the true beauty of the sport and the worth of the journey, proving in the end that even among the narrow ranks of world-class professional cycling, there will always be room for a hard-working outsider.

Paperback with photographs throughout.
6″ x 9″, 320 pp., $18.95, 9781937715243
Order autographed copies at PhiltheThrill.net!