Demi Vollering’s one million euro contract offer: a wholly positive step for women’s cycling?

It’s a big moment for the sport, but also highlights the growing gap between what riders are earning in the women’s professional peloton

Rumours have been circulating in the Dutch media throughout the past few months that Tour de France Femmes winner, Demi Vollering, has been offered a contract of one million euros to sign for UAE Team ADQ. While the reports have not been substantiated, the discussion of these sorts of numbers in relation to contract negotiations in women’s cycling is a clear sign that the sport is developing at an unprecedented rate. But is the sort of money being offered to Vollering trickling down to the grassroots of women’s cycling? Or does it highlight a widening gap between the top and the bottom of the sport, simply helping the strong get stronger?

A report by The Cyclists’ Alliance (TCA) released at the end of last season showed that out of 140 female professional cyclists from 31 different countries, 25% of riders still receive no salary or income. It was also discovered that outside the Women’s WorldTour, more than 70% of riders earn less than €10,000 a year. It’s a well known fact that, as there is no minimum salary requirement implemented by the UCI at Continental level in the women’s peloton, many riders signed for Conti teams count themselves fortunate if they are even given a bike to ride on for the season. The same TCA survey showed that the main issue female cyclists want to be addressed is that all riders earn a minimum salary. It is widely believed within the women’s peloton that this is the most important step to take to develop the sport – far greater than issues such as adding more women’s races to the calendar, for example.

Just last year, there were still instances in professional women’s cycling where riders had to ask for the UCI’s help to ensure that their salaries were being paid as promised by their teams. Perhaps the most high-profile case was that of Zaaf Cycling, whereby riders like Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Maggie Coles-Lyster were forced to leave the team amidst accusations of unpaid wages that eventually lead to Zaaf’s UCI licence being revoked by the midway through the season. These situations are proof that women’s cycling still has a long way to go to achieve professionalism, even if some of its biggest stars could earn salaries of up to one million euros.Image: Thomas Maheux/ASO

Of course, a rider like Vollering being offered such a large sum for her signature isn’t without its benefits for women’s cycling. It could be that with one rider earning such a big wage, the average overall salaries within the sport are raised too. For example, Greg LeMond made history in 1984 by signing a $1 million contract over three years with La Vie Claire, a French-based team. At that time, the biggest stars in the sport were making about $150,000 a year, as was LeMond himself with the Renault team. Since then, riders like Pedro Delgado, Sean Kelly and Steven Roche, climbed to the $750,000 level.

Vollering’s contract offer from UAE Team ADQ is also indicative of the value she has as a figure within a wider sporting context. The SD Worx rider has worked hard at successfully creating a brand from her success on the bike – she is active on all her social media platforms, amassing a following of almost a quarter of a million on Instagram. Vollering was also recently on the cover of Women’s Health magazine in the Netherlands, showing her appeal as an athlete outside of the cycling sphere –something that could raise the profile of her sport as a whole and be beneficial to all involved.

In addition, the fact that UAE Team ADQ has the financial means to allegedly offer such a large sum for a rider like Vollering might eventually help to break the iron fist that SD Worx has over women’s cycling currently. The Dutch team have dominated the sport over the last few seasons, often monopolising the podiums in races and occasionally making things predictable by having all of the strongest riders in their ranks. With the likes of Lotte Kopecky, Lorena Wiebes and Marlen Reusser also on SD Worx’s roster, the team is currently unbeatable on a lot of terrain.Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix

Before she retired, a key rider who would constantly challenge SD Worx was Annemiek van Vleuten, who notably was one of the few Dutch riders who opted not to sign for SD Worx during her career, something she has said that she decided on for good of women’s cycling as a whole and to improve the racing dynamic. If teams such as UAE Team ADQ can attract bigger stars to their ranks with big money contracts, this could mean that the talent is eventually spread more widely at the top which would lead to more exciting racing.

Whether the rumours of Vollering’s offer from UAE Team ADQ are true or not – and if she decides to act on it – this is still a big moment in the history of women’s cycling. In many ways, it can be seen as a positive step for the sport, but it’s important to remember that it certainly doesn’t resolve burning issues that still remain in order to make women's cycling more professional for all. Hypothetically, if that one million euros was split among those currently earning less than a liveable wage at Continental level, it could seriously change the racing dynamic and bring even more riders up to the standard of someone like Vollering. That’s not how the sport works, of course, but it’s important to raise awareness of the best place money should be spent in women’s cycling. That change likely won’t come from the teams themselves until the UCI introduce more legislation to ensure proper working conditions for all, and more teams and sponsors step up to provide this.

Cover image: Thomas Maheux/ASO

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