9 reasons being a pro cyclist isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be

Posted on: September 27th, 2017

reasons being professional cyclist hard

It’s not all fun and games being a pro rider. There’s no blood subs or half times in this arena.


9 reasons why being a professional cyclist is hard


Pro cyclists look like they have a very glamorous lifestyle, right? They have tanned and lean bodies. And they jet all over the world to pit themselves against their peers.

It all plays out before huge TV audiences on the hardest climbs in the most beautiful countries. What’s not to love?

The fans adore them and they earn national debt level wages. Don’t they? Well, not quite.

We’ve put together 9 things you should probably know before you set your sights on life as a pro rider.

 1. You crash and get very badly injured. A lot

reasons being professional cyclist hard

Professional cyclists race around 100 days a year, some do as many as 120. That’s an average of once every three days.

Aside from criterium races, they’ll each take between two and seven hours to complete so you’re going to crash sooner or later.

And when you do, it’s going to hurt. The most common cycling injury is road rash – which is where the skin is literally ripped off you as you slide across the tarmac.

Though you can usually ride on afterwards, you won’t sleep well for a few days. Broken fingers, ribs, wrists and collar bones are common while smashed elbows, legs, pelvises and ankles are not uncommon either.


2. You’ll not earn enough money to retire on

Even some of the sport’s big stars have to plan for life after professional cycling.

Most pro riders decide to hang up their wheels in their late 30s or early 40s.

And while they will have enjoyed a good career financially while it lasted, only a relatively small group will walk away financially secure for the rest of their days.

Many go back to university or work in the media. Some become sports directors, coaches or advisers to teams.

And some even go back to doing what they did prior to becoming a cyclist; carpentry in the case of Australian Trent Lowe who retired aged 24 years.



3. You could lose your job in an instant

Teams rise and fall every year. One minute a squad is on top of the world after taking a major win, the next minute it announces it’s folding at the end of the season.

In those scenarios, which are becoming more common in these tough times, riders must all look for new teams.

Sponsors sometimes pull the plug due to doping and the UCI has collapsed teams occasionally by revoking their pro licence.


4. You will spend a lot of time alone

reasons being professional cyclist hard

The life of a pro cyclist is lonely and most live away from the area of their birth for a number of reasons; being close to great training roads being the number one reason.

So being away from family and friends becomes the norm while the many hours spent out training is far less glamorous than it appears.

Riders train for up to eight hours, often up to 30 hours a week. That’s a lot of time to ponder whether all the suffering and discipline is worth it.


5. You will race against doped rivals

You could be in the form of your life and be hitting numbers in training that are off the charts.

You could be sent to a race as the team’s protected rider and on the last climb before you were going to launch that race-winning attack.

And then some guy you never heard of darts off ahead of the peloton and into the distance, winning by a scarcely believable margin.

Your big moment, your big chance of landing a major win, is gone.

The winner later tests positive and though you’re awarded the victory after finishing second on the day, it’s really not the same.


6. You’ll do an insane amount of travelling

reasons being professional cyclist hard

You’ll do around 120 days travelling – if you’re lucky (or unlucky!) – all over the world.

You could start the season at the Tour Down Under in Australia or Tour de San Luis in Argentina.

Then you might be on a flight to the tours of Oman and Qatar, Paris-Nice in March, all over Belgium for the Classics in April, the Giro in Italy in May, or Romandie, or the Tour de Suisse, the Tour de France in July, Poland in August, the Vuelta in Spain, the World Championships, Beijing, Japan….

Better order a new passport, and a Kindle, and some earphones, and a foam roller….


7. You might never win a pro race

The sad reality is many riders don’t, even if they have been hugely talented amateurs. Even very, very good riders rarely win. Look at Nicolas Roche.

Consistently one of the best riders of the last six or seven years, he’s always in the mix and has a string of really strong Grand Tour general classification results to his name.

But how many wins are on his palmares?

A national title, a Tour of Beijing win, two stages of the Vuelta and the Route du Sud overall.

Philip Deignan is in the same position. He’s a hugely talented rider who has had to sacrifice his own chances with Team Sky and ride for others.

Even for riders as good as these it’s very hard to win many races. And if you win a couple you’re doing well.

With 200 guys riding most races, unless you are a top sprinter or world class climber, you will win very little.


8. You suffer more than in any other pro sport

reasons being professional cyclist hard

This will be argued by non-cyclists, of course, but for sheer hours clocked up in training it’s hard to see how any other sport demands as much as cycling.

Even amateurs have been known to do 30 hours in a week.

And training as a pro cyclist is not just the hours spent pedalling; it’s the stretching, the massages, the foam rolling, the absence of a social life, the diet.


9. You’ll get sick frequently

Riders push themselves to the absolute limits. Coming up to big races they’ll have gotten their body fat percentage well down to single digits.

Riders are gaunt-looking and can become sick very, very quickly.

The air conditioning in a hotel will do it, a window left open at night or germs picked up from anywhere will break the body down.

And you’ll go from being super-fit to barely able to turn the pedals.

Or maybe you’ll be one of the chosen few who’ll stay clean, win all around you and walk away on your own terms?