Reid Be­tween The Lines

For ev­ery Nino Schurter there are 100 other rid­ers work­ing hard... IS IT FAIR THAT OUR AS­PIR­ING CY­CLING PROS HAVE TO FUND THEIR OWN TRIPS? DEF­I­NITELY MAYBE.

Bicycling (South Africa) - - INSIDE! - BY JAMES REID

Is it fair that our lo­cal elite rac­ers have to pay their own way to World Champs? James Reid weighs in on the mat­ter.

TThe MTB World Cham­pi­onships took place in Septem­ber, in Cairns, Aus­tralia. While it was a cel­e­bra­tion of cy­cling for those in­volved, SA rac­ers faced a daunt­ing challenge – find­ing the funds to get there.

Cy­cling is ex­pen­sive, and the devel­op­ment of tech­nol­ogy in the in­dus­try drives consumer spend­ing, cre­at­ing a healthy mar­ket for par­tic­i­pants. Ac­cord­ing to con­sul­tants OC&C, the global mar­ket for cy­cling para­pher­na­lia is es­ti­mated to be worth $47bn – five times that of golf. Cy­cling is no longer re­garded as a cheap means of trans­port; a bi­cy­cle is now a life­style ac­ces­sory.

With this in mind, com­pe­ti­tion at the high­est level is fol­lowed with in­ter­est, and sup­ported, by brands des­per­ate to mar­ket and sell to the au­di­ence who ea­gerly watch the best of the best do bat­tle. The top ath­letes are spon­sored by global su­per-brands; but for the ath­lete try­ing to break into the sport, it can be a dif­fi­cult (and ex­pen­sive) ex­er­cise.

For ev­ery Nino Schurter winning a world ti­tle, there are 100 other rid­ers work­ing hard try­ing to take his place… and they’re do­ing it with­out job se­cu­rity, or a large pay cheque! Pro­fes­sional cy­cling has large con­tracts and big en­dorse­ments for a se­lect few, and rel­a­tively lit­tle for rid­ers out­side the top 10.

This year, ath­letes from South Africa se­lected for the World Cham­pi­onships were pay their own way there.

I ac­knowl­edge that a lack of fund­ing is ex­clu­sion­ary, but per­haps we could use a hy­brid model to fund ath­letes. De­serv­ing rid­ers could get at least part of their trav­el­ling ex­penses paid by CSA or told they would need to fund their own trav­els. While it’s easy to com­plain about Cy­cling South Africa (CSA), I don’t think self-fund­ing is such a bad idea. We must keep in mind that cy­cling is a lux­ury sport for many, and I’m not sur­prised that there’s no fund­ing from pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions.

In my pro years, I took paid fund­ing as an un­ex­pected bonus. I al­ways planned my year around find­ing fund­ing to sup­port a trip, just in case I had to fund it my­self, and of­ten had a part-time job. I be­lieve self-fund­ing cre­ates a stronger sense of agency and ur­gency for ath­letes. I would even sug­gest that the ath­letes who ‘make it hap­pen’ are hun­grier on race day, and per­haps more mo­ti­vated, be­cause they had to an­other spon­sor.

Swiss Cy­cling and Bri­tish Cy­cling have ver­sions of these pro­grammes, with spe­cific classes re­lat­ing to spe­cific lev­els of fund­ing. But as de­vel­oped na­tions, they do have the lux­ury of se­cured fund­ing, and there­fore are able to think in longer time frames.

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