So... You want to be a pro cyclist?
You’ve always wanted to be a pro cyclist.
Unfortunately, that’s not a program you can register in at school. There is also very little guidance available in the path of a future pro athlete.
13440 doctors graduated in 2015 in Canada. +-2 new pro cyclist graduate every year in Canada. And you thought getting into med school was hard…
There are no guidebooks, no school program, no direct route and not a single simple success recipe to become a pro athlete, but those who succeeded in the tough world of cycling do have some things in common. Wanna know a bit more ? Wanna know some funny truths and grab some advices to ease your way to the pro leagues? Keep reading
Pro Cycling is not professional. A lot of the things that happen in the pro cycling world would never be accepted in the corporate world. Keep an open mind because everything you think would never happen, might just do so.
Pro does not mean paid. UCI world tour Neo Pro minimum salary is +-29 000 Euro$, Pro Continental: +-25 000 Euro$. That is the only minimum wage in cycling. No minimum for MTB,CX and any teams under PRO continental level on the road. Any contract that is not a UCI WORLD TOUR or PRO continental contract does not guarantee you a salary. Even if you do get a small salary on your contract, don’t spend that money before it’s in your account. It’s not uncommon to have « delays » and « complications » when it’s time to get paid. If you are under 25 years old, in North America and your salary has 5 digits, you are really well paid. Anything in the 6 digits, no matter your age, sex or geographic location is extremely well paid.
You don’t need the best equipment available on the market to perform at the highest level. But you do need equipment that's in perfect working order. A friend of mine was 12th at the road race at the Olympics with a bike built with mid level components and aluminium parts. Maghalie Rochette knocked a top 10 at U23 worlds with a 4 year old MTB.
Adam Roberge won Canadian junior road national championship on a 4 year old bike with aluminium wheels. Save your money for more important stuff (we’ll get to that later). When a company will give you the best, lightest shiniest components and pay you to ride it, only then it makes sense to use it. Otherwise, stick to well maintained & reliable components.
Will you sleep in 5 stars hotels all the time? Well, actually, sometimes you may not even sleep at hotels. Be ready to sleep on floors, couches, airport benches, 19.99$ a night hotels, car floors, camping, etc. Even at the highest level of the sport (Tour de France, MTB and CX world cup, etc.) some teams still sleep in cheap hotels or host houses. If you are lucky, maybe on a trip someday you will have a room for yourself. Otherwise, be ready to share your space. Yes. Most of the time you will share a room.
Will you make friends for life? Yes. And create deeper relations with a lot of those friends. There are not a lot of things in life that create solid bonds like suffering. And suffering with your teammates will make that relation really special. You might be teammate for a year or two, but chances are you will be friends for life. You may even find your better half during those fun years!
Will you have fun? Ohhh you will have the time of your life. And that’s a big part of the reasons why you will keep doing it for a tiny amount of money ;)
Your health needs to come first. Nobody races until they are 70 years old but most of us will live until 70. Health first. Performance Second.
Take care of your body. You only have one chance. Right now it’s your main source of potential income & work. It's also the only one you have in this life. Physical, mental and emotional health comes first. Then performance. Be careful, sometimes in the performance world, the line between healthy and poisonous is really thin, even blurry sometimes.
Build a strong support team around you, you will need them. Share your goals, your progress and your dreams with them. Sharing is Caring. They will help you a lot more if they feel involved in your quest.
The basic that you need : A coach, a mentor, a physiotherapist, a massage therapist, a nutritionist, a sports psychologist, a strength&conditioning specialist and a couple of friends from outside the sport world.
Build that crew around you. It’s your #1 priority. It’s not when you are in need or in an extreme emergency that it’s time to start looking for specialists. You are much more vulnerable and ready to trust anyone when you are in "panic mode". It’s easier to add good, competent people to your support crew when you are doing well. People like to be around successful people.
READ. You will have a lot of waiting time (airplane/car/train/bus/hotel/etc.) Reading will keep your brain active and make you an overall better person. It’s also a great way to learn things outside the world of sport.
Keep Smiling. Even when things don’t go the way you want, keep smiling. We’re all lucky to be part of the big cycling community. Its a fragile boat we all float on. Make sure you do your part to keep the boat from sinking.
You will race against dopers. Some will beat you, some you will beat.
Some will dope to recover better / Some will dope to race faster
Some will dope to gain weight / Some will dope to loose weight
Some will dope to sleep better / Some will dope to stay alert
But YOU WILL NOT DOPE.
I personally know world champions and Olympic medalists who don’t dope. If they did it on water and Clif Bars, you can do it too.
Are you going to get injured? Yes you will. It’s not a question of if, but more when. Will that stop you from having a great season or career ? No. When Catharine Pendrel won the MTB world championships in 2014, she broke her collarbone in April. Lea Davison was also on the podium that same year. In April, she was still off the bike and doing rehab exercises from a hip surgery. Look for solutions. There are two aspects of every crisis: Danger and Opportunity. If you have the right mindset, you can make the crisis work for you.
Don’t do sacrifices. MAKE CHOICES. You will miss a lot of birthdays, weddings and other special occasions. But you will also experience things and live a life that not a lot of people have the chance to live. Don’t make sacrifices, make choices. Choices come with responsibility. Sacrifices come with regrets.
Don’t travel in your pyjamas. Don’t travel in your dirty sweat pants. If you are travelling to train or to race, wear team or sponsor clothing. You are going to work. Not to a sleepover at a friend’s house. Chances are other riders, managers, directors and industry people are also travelling to that event.. You never know when opportunity might knock on the door. You never know when you will meet your next boss. Read that link. If you dress sharp, you will feel sharp.
See your family, spend time with them, they are the only ones that will still be there if everything falls apart.
Respect your progression and your position in the team/industry/world. It's a lot less frustrating that way. Be patient. You can't buy experience. Learn, keep an open mind, keep your ears and eyes wide open and take notes. Your coach, your family and your friends know how good you are. You just need more experience. It's hard to understand, when you don't have much of it.... ;)
Will you choose your races and be excited for every event? No you will not. Choosing your races is a privilege reserved for the amateurs. You want to make it to the pro level ? Use that advantage to make a good impression. Pick-Plan-Prepare-Perform-Pause. If no one pays you to race all over the world, don’t start running around and waste all your money doing so. Pick your battles. Go to the races where the teams are and prepare as well as you can to use that Pick-Plan-Prepare-Perform-Pause advantage that you have over the pros who are expected to perform all the time, often in not optimal conditions.
Be involved in your community.
Be loyal. In the end you will always win if you are loyal. With sponsors, airlines, hotel chains, etc. Sometimes the hotel chain you book with might be 10% more expensive than a competitor at a certain location, but the day you reach their privileged member status, you will be rewarded with cheaper and better rooms all the time. Same goes for airlines. Maybe sometimes you’ll pay a little bit more for an Air Canada flight versus another company, but when you reach their minimum status and stop paying for bikes and luggages and get access to the lounge, you realize it was well worth it. Get a travel credit card. It will cover you with insurances for your health, luggages, car rental and you will earn points faster.
If you're in Canada and flying with Air Canada/Star Alliance often, I strongly suggest this card.
Don’t swear at your gear. Don’t throw your bikes and/or gear. Show up to races/trainings/events with a clean bike and make your sponsor proud. You don’t really need explanations why, do you ?
If you want to party, do it outside the cycling world. Especially when you are an up and comer, or looking for a new contract. I personally know two riders who lost their spot on pro teams because they acted poorly at an official world championship party. The sad part is that they don’t even know they missed their chance. Party with your friends, at home, in private locations or in bars where you may not run into industry people. Once you made it to the big league, it’s a different story.
Show up to races where teams are. Local heros usually end up being just that, local heros.
Look at what the pros do. Question/copy/adapt to your reality.
Always be ready and organized. Every once in a while ask yourself that question : « If I get a call to go race on the other side of the planet and leave tomorrow, I am ready to go ? ». Do you have clean cycling clothes ? Are all your bikes working properly, all the time ? Do you have spare parts at home ? Is your room clean ? Bills paid ? Passport, licenses and all paperwork up to date, Sports CV? You may only have one chance in this industry. Make sure you are ready when that chance shows up.
Do other stuff- Find hobbies which are not cycling related. It could be music, arts, cooking, knitting, whatever. It’s good to take a break from cycling from time to time and you may have a little bit of free time when on the road or during training camps so try to choose a hobby that is easy to do on the road.
Want to get to a certain level? Graduate to the continental level? Try to spend as much time as possible with the guys/girls who are working/involved at that level. Become a familiar face at this level. If there’s an opportunity, it’s usually the familiar faces who gets it first.
Planning is progression. But opportunities sometimes lies off the plan. Be open to opportunities. Sometimes it’s worth switching what’s on the plan to jump on opportunities. You may make a big jump in that progression by jumping on an opportunity.
Will you have to quit school? Maybe, Maybe not. Part time? Full time? Only the winter sessions? summer school? Those are all possibilities. You may only have one chance to make it in pro cycling. If that chance shows up and that’s what you want, take it. School will always be there. You can go to school when you turn 40 if you want. You will not get your first pro cyclist contract at 40.
Use the extra money you make from your first small contracts and prize money to give you better training/racing conditions. Until you make it to a level where the income is enough to get a mortgage. Then, get a house :)
Are you going to win a lot of races? You are really, really good if you win 1 or 2 races a year. Don’t judge or value yourself with podiums and wins. There are a lot of pro cyclist who will make a successful career without winning a single race, or by making the podium in 1 big race every once in a while.
Last but not least-
Will a pro team hire you because of your 7th place on stage four of Tour de l’Alberta or your top 20 in a MTB or CX world cup ? No. Will they hire you for your 4th place at TT, road, MTB or CX nationals ? No. In fact, they may not even hire you if you win nationals!
They are looking for the whole package. You can spend up to 200 days a year on the road with the team. Your personality, your easiness to deal with, your appreciation and gratefulness will go a long way. More than your 7th place at the GC of a UCI 2.1 tour. Be fun, be reliable, be on time, be professional, be ready to turn yourself inside out for the team. Sometimes it can help if you can bring a sponsor on board, take care of social media, be the comic relief of the team, be the cook or sous-chef of the group. Anything that will make you an important player on the team is as important as the racing itself. It’s a big family.
The world of Pro Cycling is a tough one, but trying to make it to the top leagues is one the of the most fun and fulfilling journey one could embark on.
Have fun and enjoy the ride
Now get off your computer, surround yourself with good people and make it happen!!