€1 million offers ‘not good for long term sustainability’ of women’s cycling, says FDJ-SUEZ boss

Stephen Delcourt reflects on Demi Vollering rumours and economic state of women’s sport

Clock15:55, Wednesday 21st February 2024
Rumours around an offer for Demi Vollering have garnered reactions from around the cycling world

© Alex Broadway / Velo Collection via Getty Images

Rumours around an offer for Demi Vollering have garnered reactions from around the cycling world

FDJ-SUEZ general manager Stephen Delcourt has called into question the viability of big financial offers, and emphasised the need for women’s cycling to develop at a more even pace.

Recently, rumours arose that UAE Team ADQ had offered a €1 million salary to sign SD Worx-Protime’s Demi Vollering, who is out of contract at the end of 2024, in what would be a record-high salary in women’s cycling. Whilst no riders or teams make their salaries public, the highest in the women’s peloton are believed to be around the half a million mark.

In response to this, rival team boss Delcourt gave his view on the potential situation and its wider implication for women’s cycling.

“We need to be more clever about the money,” he said at a recent team press conference. “The visibility of our sport is not at the same speed as our teams’ budgets. We have visibility like this and it’s good for the women on one side, but it’s not good for the long term sustainability of the sport.”

Read more: 'Winning is different' – Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig aiming at more than just consistency in 2024

More specifically on the reported offer for Vollering, the Frenchman did not mince his words, and made it clear that the €1 million figure was not on par with the rest of the sport’s budget.

“If UAE is crazy and wants to offer one million for Demi, she can go, it [would be] good if every rider on SD Worx was on a separate team, but it’s not the normal price if we compare with the visibility of our sport. But I’m sure of one thing: Demi with UAE is not the same Demi.”

With a salary of a million euros in line to be a record salary in the sport, even Vollering’s team SD Worx-Protime have admitted it would not be within their budget, and therefore unlikely attainable for any team other than the UAE-backed outfit either.

“That’s how the world is going and we have our own budget,” SD Worx sports manager Danny Stam recently told GCN. “We need to see what fits in our budget. We want to keep our best riders but not against any price.”

Read more: SD Worx-Protime: We want to keep Demi Vollering but not for a blank cheque

The topic of economic development is always a conversation point in women’s cycling, where the gap between the big-name riders and those at the bottom of the pyramid is dramatic and growing, and Delcourt pointed to a mismatch in the speed of development as a reason for problems.

“Maybe it’s too fast, because before there was nothing, we started at zero, and now the speed [of development] is really high. All teams in this sport want to be the best, or one of the best, and we need to have the same speed as each other, we push everyone. Now the visibility of the sport is not on the same level as the budget, but step by step it’s getting better, that is important.

“We also need to use energy to save the pyramid, to inspire younger girls and educate young boys. That is key for a good future. But the economic model of our whole sport is not perfect.”

Read more: Lotte Kopecky extends with SD Worx-Protime until 2028

Despite the precarities still present in women’s cycling, Delcourt praised the sport’s governing body, the UCI, who consult with a number of teams and have made active moves to improve women’s cycling in recent years, through things like the set up of the Women’s WorldTour as well as minimum wages and maternity leave policies.

“We work really closely with the UCI on that, for the next plan to have the best reforms, the best calendar, to maybe change rules about transfers and to include maybe more rules about transfers, ends of contract,” he said.

“We have a lot of confidence from the UCI. They work on the reforms and work on the best future for women. We have many examples, it’s really good to have men’s and women’s races on the same day, like Flèche Wallonne changed the schedule for example. But on the other hand, we need to keep historic races like [Trofeo Alfredo] Binda, which is a special race for women’s cycling and we need to push on that.”

Though FDJ-SUEZ may not be able to compete with teams like SD Worx-Protime or UAE Team ADQ financially, Delcourt was clear that for 2024 they hope to continue to challenge the dominance of SD Worx, which at times in 2023 seemed unfaltering.

“The plan is really clear: to make them go nuts,” he said about SD Worx. “The last stage of the UAE Tour was the best example, with Amber [Kraak]. We played and Amber won, but we played and other teams started to help SD Worx. That’s they key, it’s not a finality, they are really strong but we are also strong and we want to push everything we have in our legs and in our purse, to play every time.”

For more of the latest from the women's peloton, visit our women's racing page.

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