A million. The women’s branch of UAE Team Emirates made an offer of 1 million euros for Demi Vollering at the end of last season, it is whispered in the peloton. I heard the story from different sides in recent months. My ears were popping. A million! The most recent amounts circulated for female cyclists at the absolute top in the world were about half of that. Perhaps what surprised me most was that no one really seemed surprised. And honestly, it doesn’t surprise me either.
The women’s branch of cycling is going like a jet fighter. Five years ago, women still rode at the highest level for pants, a shirt and an expense allowance. Most riders worked on the side, studied, or lived with their parents. In 2020, a mandatory minimum salary of 15,000 euros per year was introduced. This has now risen to 35,000 euros, but many of the riders are well above that. Annual salaries between 100,000 and 200,000 euros are no longer an exception.
The Tour de France Femmes, which is experiencing its third edition this summer – starting in Rotterdam – is the absolute game changer been in. More visibility worldwide, and therefore more sponsors and more money. The level of the peloton is rising rapidly, the races are becoming more and more interesting. Women’s cycling is growing so fast that it is impossible to keep up. The influx of talented riders is not large, and there is still too little investment in training to do anything about it. Where there are now stories of a million for the best classification rider in the world, races and teams will soon also be destroyed. The extremes are great, and it will take some time before women’s cycling matures.
Vollering’s manager also emphasizes that investments are needed at the grassroots level now and that television airtime remains extremely important. I called him about that million. He neither confirms nor denies: “I simply cannot say anything about the salaries of riders,” he says, “but don’t believe everything that is said, do you.” No, of course I don’t believe everything. But even if UAE offered €200,000 less, that would mean a sensational new standard.
A logical new standard nonetheless. The global sports marketing agency Wasserman recently conducted research in the United States among 1,800 sports fans, men and women. This shows that 86 percent of them are not only interested in men’s sports, but also in women’s sports. More importantly, female athletes are seen as more inspiring than their male counterparts. They are stronger role models: in what they eat, how they dress, what they do outside their sport and how they show themselves socially involved. Both male and female fans are much more likely to be influenced by the behavior of sports heroines than sports heroes.
That knowledge is gold if you are a sponsor, organizer or team boss. In fact, with these figures in hand, you won’t be in a good position if you don’t get into women’s sports now. It is cynical that they see this so well in a not exactly female-friendly country like the United Arab Emirates.
Marijn de Vries is a former professional cyclist and journalist.
Email the editor