In the 1980s, Greg LeMond was the first pro cyclist to get paid a million dollars by his team, paving the way for a development that hasn’t stopped ever since, turning many of the top men’s riders into millionaires.
Recent reports say that Tour de France Femmes winner Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime) was approached by UAE Team ADQ with the offer of €1 million per year, and Cyclingnews asked Vollering’s teammate Lorena Wiebes about her thoughts on the matter at the press conference after her UAE Tour Women stage 1 victory on Thursday.
“It’s crazy,” Wiebes was straightforward. “When I started at Parkhotel Valkenburg, I was happy to turn my hobby into my work, but absolutely nothing like that. For me, it’s not all about the money, because you also need to be in a team where you feel good,” she looked back on her own beginnings as a young rider and emphasised that money isn’t everything.
She made the point that the distribution of the money within the peloton is just as important – arguably more important, even – than the growth of the top riders’ salaries.
“It is good that salaries are going up, but we also need to think about the other riders, not just the top. I would say that Demi is worth it, but it’s also important that the support riders have a good salary; they are really important in the races.”
This is a widespread opinion in the women’s peloton, with riders taking the chance, again and again, to call for higher salaries across the board or better TV coverage. They also view, e.g. more prize money, as a less important step to take at this point in the development of women’s cycling.
While the 15 Women’s WorldTeams are required to pay their riders a minimum of €35,000 (employed) or €57,400 (self-employed) in 2024, there is no minimum wage for riders on Women’s Continental Teams yet. While the top stars easily earn six figures, other riders in the same peloton race for free – and like last year’s case with the Zaaf Cycling Team showed, it still happens that riders don’t even get their expenses covered.
“There are still riders in the peloton who don’t earn anything. It’s really important that they earn at least something for racing and aren’t doing it only for a bib and a shirt,” Wiebes said on the matter.
Although Vollering hasn’t signed the rumoured contract, it is only a matter of time before she or another star rider will follow in LeMond’s footsteps and become the first women’s cyclist to earn a million a year.
This development is to be welcomed as another step on the way to equality with the men’s sport. But at the same time, it is important that the sport doesn’t outgrow itself by only focusing on the big names – even the best rider in the world could not achieve anything without her team.