Novo Nordisk Team CEO and founder Phil Southerland and head mechanic Andy Stone took time from their preparation for the USA Pro Challenge to chat with High Gear about the costs and challenges involved in running a pro cycling team.
They put it all out there, from describing the kind of reinforcements they carry in their race-support vehicle to the cost of replacing a broken frame, should misfortune fall on one of their riders in a wreck. The average pro team has a veritable arsenal on hand to account for any situation.
With the USA Pro Challenge this week, it seemed more than appropriate to talk a little bit about the gear that the pros have at their disposal.
The pro rider’s quiver
It’s extensive and expensive. Southerland said that the average pro cyclist has five bikes at the ready. Each pro rider on his team has two race bikes, a training bike (generally kept at home), a spare and a time trial-specific bike. That would be impressive for the average person if they had that many Walmart bikes, but at $10,000 to $12,000 a pop, well, that’s a good year’s salary for most of America.
And that’s not even maxing out. Southerland said he was given a bike worth $17,000 by team sponsor and bike manufacturer Colnago. For those keeping track at home, that’s about the MSRP of a Jeep Compass.
By the numbers: costs
It adds up quick, and the Internet tells us that Southerland’s estimates for his team member’s bike costs might even be on the conservative side. He and Stone also broke down the costs piece by piece.
It starts with the lightweight, top-of-the-line Colnago frame, valued between $5,000 and $6,000. Now let’s add some parts. You can’t have a bike without wheels. Southerland said its about $1,000 per wheel. The tires alone run between $50 and $80 per tire.
Now for the stuff that makes the bike run. Stone said components packages, or mechanical group — shifters, derailers, brakes etc. — come in a bundle at between $3,000 and $4000. They use Shimano’s Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical group.
With a team of eight competing in the Pro Challenge, that adds up to a big bill. And that’s not considering additional costs: food, apparel, team chefs, support crews — the list goes on.
The ‘box truck,’ for when the team needs reinforcements
On race day, teams have their support vehicles stacked to the gills with all the necessities to keep their riders going and account for every scenario. Stone said replacing flats is the most common on-course fix.
So that doesn’t mean fumbling with replacing a tube; it means grabbing another $1,000 tire from the van.
“We have a whole fleet of spare tires for riders,” Southerland said.
Now, should the rider be in a bigger crash, it could mean replacing the big parts.
“It’s inevitable that there will be some crashes,” Southerland said. “We might break a frame.”
Wether it’s a broken frame, bent rims or a busted derailleur, the support crew needs to be prepared for it. It could also mean tending to a damaged rider. Everything they need is in the “box truck,” Stone said. Each team member will have a race bike, spare and specialty bike for the time trial at the ready for the Pro Challenge, and the team will likely have some additional frames along, just in case. The racers’ other two bikes stay at home. In addition to the three bikes per rider, the support crew will have extra wheels, a mechanic’s shop worth of spare parts and the soft goods needed for race support — extra apparel, food, etc.
Stone said the team will have 50 pairs of wheels on hand in the support vehicle.
“Most teams will carry that amount of equipment” he said.
Other typical mechanical replacements include brake pads and chains. Stone said the frequency of switching break pads depends on how technical the terrain is. He also said he anticipates the average racer will use one chain for a race like the Pro Challenge. Longer races such as the Tour de France would require more chain replacements.
Racer wages and sponsorship: You can live on it, as long as you’re good
“Our business runs solely on sponsorship,” Southerland said. “Professional teams change names regularly. For smaller teams, it’s a struggle to get going.”
How do pro teams get sponsors?
“Media is big,” he said. “It’s important to get the visibility of the riders.”
The biggest challenge, Southerland said, is fighting “cycling’s past,” a struggle he said that cycling world is recovering from.
Each team has major sponsors that do everything from fund athletes to supply gear and equipment. Southerland’s team, for example, has three primary sponsors that fund the team: Novo Nordisk, a diabetes research and health care company; Colnago cycles and Shimano. Some pro cyclists get by on rider contracts and individual sponsorships; some do a little more than get by.
On the low end, “there’s guys that are racing for $1,000 dollars a month,” aspiring to make it as pros, Southerland said.
From there, the salary range, like other pro sports, has a wide range. On a pro continental team, the minimum salary is around $60,000, according to Southerland. The big-time Tour de France cyclists can earn up in the $5 million range, he said.
Team Novo Nordisk
Southerland’s team is unique, in that his funding is pretty reliable on account of its message.
“Our team is well supported,” he said.
Team Novo Nordisk is a team of diabetic athletes who help promote healthy living, cycling and diabetes research.
“We don’t race to win races,” Southerland said.
Because of their message, their sponsorship may be more stable than other pro teams, but the costs remain an accurate representation of any high level pro cycling team. Southerland is a former pro competitor and also a diabetic