The Secret Rider is a monthly column from an unnamed WorldTour rider. Its aim is to bring you inside the world of a professional cyclist to let you know what they talk about, what’s important to them, and what the word is on the street. Take it for what it is …
Hello Escapees! It’s been a couple months since I last checked in – I had a little Grand Tour to race – but it’s great to be doing this column regularly again.
It’s a strange feeling coming out of the Tour de France bubble, or any Grand Tour for that matter. Let me take you through it.
Life on Tour
Grand Tours usually start on a Saturday, so we’ll travel to the race on the Wednesday before. Then comes a few agonizing days of just waiting for it all to start. But after years of seeing this play out I’ve learned to cherish these days a lot more. Everything leading up to a race like the Tour is such a big rush, you’re always on the backfoot, and it’s not very common to just get a couple days of calmness and rest. And knowing what’s coming up, I also know that every day that follows I’m going to feel so much worse, so I appreciate it while I can.
Once the Tour starts you’re immersed in this bubble and nothing in the outside world gets in. Every day is so structured – one minute you’re being served breakfast, and the next thing you know you’re laying on your bed with your stomach full as a boot, you go to sleep, and then you do it all over again. It might seem like there’s lots of free time, but every minute you’re on the clock needing to be somewhere or doing something.
You don’t need to do a single thing for yourself except ride your bike. Many teams are very structured with our meals, down to each rider having their own set food menu. You just turn up at the table and eat what’s in front of you. No choice, no substitutions. In fact, the team nutritionist prescribes the exact meals for each rider that day based on his power file, calories burned, what he ate during the stage, and then the nutritionist will send you a list of what snacks you need to eat after the stage, serving size, and everything else. There’s no more sneaking snacks from the soigneur’s suitcase these days.
The days of riders starving themselves eating shredded carrots just to look committed to the sport are well and truly done. In fact, we almost never even eat vegetables. Just pasta and other calorie-dense foods to get as many carbs in as the body can absorb. There’s not many fats in the food because they’re not a great source of energy during the race, and you get proteins for recovery from shakes, and pre-sleep recovery drinks.
Nutrition has changed a lot during my time in the sport. At one time you wouldn’t really think much about what you were eating during the race. When you were hungry or feeling flat you’d eat something. Now the golden rule for everyone in the peloton is 90 grams per hour while racing, no matter what your size. That’s a lot to consume. Usually a bar will have 30 grams, a gel will have 30 grams, an energy drink will have 30 grams. That’s how I like it anyway. Some riders will just get the entire 90 grams from their fluids.
Whatever it is, you need to also do this in training so that you learn to constantly eat on the bike, and to condition your stomach to take that much sugar without getting sick. It’s just not natural. Team Uno-X were consuming 130 grams of carbs per hour during the Tour which is mind-boggling. But it didn’t seem to do much for them …
SIS and Maurten are seen to be on the top of their game in terms of nutrition products and stuff like the Beta Fuel allows you to have a decent-tasting bidon with 90 g of carbs in it. It’s like a bomb. On one of the scorching-hot days of the Tour a mate from another team gave me his bidon as a treat and they were spoiled with Beta Fuel slushies in thermal bottles. That’s a game-changer in terms of keeping your core body temperature down. It’s also next-level in terms of logistics for the soigneurs (keeping them cold, multiple machines, different bottles, etc).
It used to be that natural foods like rice cakes, tarts, and bananas were seen as the best source of fuel but nobody eats that stuff anymore while racing. Funny story: On stage 6 of this year’s Tour a guy on a French team grabbed a creamy pastry from a bunch of his friends who were cheering him the Tourmalet. It was a blisteringly hot day and that pastry probably spent ten hours in the bottom of a backpack. The poor guy spent the next four or five days on the toilet and barely scraped by. I’ll let you figure who this was by looking at the bottom of the results sheet.
There are still a lot of nutrition fads that sweep through the peloton and the current one is ketones. I don’t know if they work or not, I don’t use them, but some guys can’t even go on a training ride without them these days. There’s got to be psychological addiction to them.
Each team seems to have a different way of using them. Sometimes guys will take them after the race and before they go to bed. Other guys use them in the middle of a race. I always see these little nondescript bottles being chucked out in the middle of the peloton and pinging off our wheels. Many guys say they don’t do anything, but many guys take them anyway just in case.
They’re apparently quite cheap now, but a few years ago I know riders who were spending $10,000 just to get a month’s worth. They sourced them from this guy in the US who was the only place you could get them from.
Ketones are no secret in the peloton, but it’s also not hugely talked about either. I’ve got mixed feelings about their use. It doesn’t seem like a very natural way of deriving energy, but more than that nobody knows the long-term effects of using them. They’re not banned, but the MPCC doesn’t allow them either so I haven’t even thought about going there.
It seems a bit strange having all the disciplines happening all at once, but I quite liked the ‘Super Worlds’. I was watching a lot more disciplines than ever before, because I knew that they’re on, they were being talked about and broadcast in the same timeframe, and I’m enjoying it. I’ve never watched a freestyle BMX world champs before and it was amazing!
For the men’s road race being so close to the Tour de France, I don’t think it was a bad thing. Two weeks is a good amount of time to recover and kick off again. The ones I feel for though are the guys who targeted the World Championships as a big priority this year, and they didn’t get onto the Tour team. They would have been missing a lot of form, and many would have been spat out of the race with 100 km to go.
The Worlds road race course was really unenjoyable. There was only so much room to be at the front and the simple fact was that no matter what your form was like, not everyone could be there. There were a lot of guys who could have been there at the finish given a more open course, and it was a bit of a shame that only 30 were left with 100 km to go. Try eating 90 g of carbs per hour on that circuit and staying in position!
At the end of the day the best man won, but it didn’t look like a suitable course for such a significant race. Same with the mixed relay TTT. That was another super-technical course that didn’t really show the true test of a TTT. [This article was written before the women’s Worlds road race – ed.]
Silly season and rider wages
Will Cav sign next year with Astana again? I know a contract is there if he wants it. Sprinting has changed a lot since his heyday, especially in the Grand Tours with the GC teams mixing in their lead rider up at the front. But I still think he could be winning again. He’s just so crafty.
It’s hard to explain how difficult it is to be in a position to sprint in the final 200m, never mind being fresh enough with the legs to actually contest the sprint. It takes a pretty remarkable person to do this, and we’ve seen all year that he’s been up there in the Giro and Tour. But I can’t help but think that he and his family already have transition plans in place to go into the next chapter of their lives, which would be hard to reverse – for anyone, not just Cav. It’s one thing to be single and change those plans, but he has a whole family to consider.
As you all know, August 1 is when all transfers are official and when announcements happen. But these things are often in the works from the year before, or talks started in February. That’s when you see a lot of rider agents lurking around Spain at the same time all the teams are there for their training camps.
Rider wages are a bit of a black box in this sport, even to those within it. Personally, I couldn’t look at a rider and give you an accurate guess on how much he makes. It’s not like football/soccer where these things are regularly published in the newspaper.
What I can tell you is that the minimum wage has barely changed in the past 10 or 15 years. Minimum wage for a neo-pro employed contract is still about €35,000, and for a self-employed contract it’s €42,000. [Depending on the team, some riders are ‘contractors’ and others are ‘employees’ – ed.]
I’d say that most neo-pros who have a promising future would be on about €50,000 to start with. We’re not talking about a superstar like Remco or Pidcock, but just a good solid rider with potential.
After a few years if that type of rider turns into a reliable domestique, he’ll be on about €100,000-€200,000. Riders with good results and a solid career under their belt but not getting those results much anymore – such as someone like Kwiatkowski – would be on about €1-2 million.
From what I know, the highest-paid rider right now is Pogačar. He’s on around €7 million, with some astronomical buy-out clause.
Ineos and UAE seem to have the highest rider wages, but for the rest of the teams it really depends on the nationality of the rider. For example a pretty average French rider could get €200,000 on Groupama-FDJ, but if they were to go to Jumbo-Visma they might be worth €120,000 or something. It all has to do with sponsors and things of that nature.
Bonus clauses in contracts are highly individual now. It’s really hard for me to give a rule of thumb on what a rider might make out of that. It used to be a lot more standard than it is now.
The only bonus that’s pretty much guaranteed is when a rider wins or does well in a Grand Tour. Often the winner would buy his teammates a nice watch, but now a more common gift these days is a Rocket espresso machine. I can’t wait until we win a Grand Tour one day …
That’s all for this time folks! Can you believe we’re about to start the Vuelta?
What did you think of this story?