Downhill has had a strange couple of years. Whether it’s nearly dominating 29″-wheeled bikes, softer tracks followed by a jolt to more technically demanding circuits, covid-affected racing and double-headers, French dominance or moving on from Red Bull, it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing. It feels like downhill is currently as good, if not better, than ever.
The racing is close, the tracks arguably represent the style of driving most fans enjoy, and the spectacle is hard to fault. That being said, it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect in the world of downhill. This is what we discovered.
In our selection of respondents competing in the UCI Downhill World Cups, 15% are winners and another 21% have achieved podium finishes.
Number of cyclists who choose downhill as their main discipline: 41
Men women: 24/17
Number of World Cup winners: 5
Top 5 Overall Finalists in 2022: 7
Continent of origin:
South America – 1
Oceania – 7
North America – 8
Europe – 25
There are still plenty of downhill riders barely making ends meet
Although it can sometimes be called the Formula One of mountain biking, the similarities certainly don’t translate into profits. Like the first survey, it’s pretty grim reading to know how much your favorite downhill bike can take home.
43% of downhill riders make less than $5,000 USD per year. If we remove juniors from the equation, 25% of elite cyclists surveyed fell into the same group. Enduro is still very much the cash cow of gravity racing and sees a greater number of riders in the higher salary brackets.
Downhill Rider Payment (in USD):
0-5,000: 43% (18)
5,000-10,000: 12% (5)
20,000-30,000: 7% (3)
30,000-40,000: 5% (2)
40,000-50,000: 5% (2)
50,000-100,000: 12% (5)
100,000-250,000: 7% (3)
There is another 12% of riders who earn between $5,000 and $10,000. It seems that in the descent the best ones are well cared for economically, with more than 10% of our surveyed riders earn more than $100,000.
However, there could still be hope of financial security for cyclists, with around 10% of respondents scoring in the top five overall in their category and around 12% scoring in six figures, it may well be that they are the same cyclists. and great results equals a great payday.
Riders don’t want to see a bigger field at finals
In the 2021 survey, it turned out that regardless of gender, riders wanted to see more people make it to the final. In fact, on both questions, the largest share of votes was to increase the men’s field to between 60-80 and the women’s field to 15-20 riders. However, there seems to be a trend away from this.
It should be noted that our uptake is not that large for this survey, so it can skew the data, but it’s also worth noting that the fight in elite relegation field size has gone from fighting to increase to 80 in the category male, to the very real fear that it could be reduced to 30. So the conversation might have evolved on the topic since Discovery’s announcement that it will take over broadcast rights in 2023. It’s also worth thinking about whether a rider in the top 20 would see some advantage. to increase the size of the field when the disadvantages are quite obvious. The fact that riders want to maintain the status quo should be encouraging as it currently strikes a good balance between fairness, competitiveness and opportunity.
How many men should qualify for the Elite World Cup Finals?
20 or less: 0
20-40: 4 (4.8%)
20-60: 4 (4.8%)
It should stay at 60: 29 (34.9%)
60-80: 44 (53%)
80+: 2 (2.4%)
20 or less: 1 (2%)
20-40: 7 (14.3%)
20-60: 3 (6.1%)
It should stay at 60: 24 (49%)
60-80: 13 (26.5%)
80+: 1 (2%)
How many women should qualify for the Elite World Cup Finals? (All the answers)
10 or less: 2 (2.4%)
10-15: 10 (12%)
It should stay at 15: 16 (19.3%)
15-20: 37 (44.6%)
20+: 18 (21.7%)
10 or less: 0
10-15: 7 (14.3%)
It should stay at 15: 18 (36.7%)
15-20: 17 (34.7%)
20+: 7 (14.3%)
30% of runners would prefer to compete in their National Series
Part of the problem with declining wages can be attributed to the lack of smaller, well-established, and prestigious feeder series. The problem is that for some riders hoping to turn their dream into a career, there’s no point in trying to get a top 5 at a national event when sponsors would probably be more impressed with a top 40 at a World Cup.
The problem with this is twofold. First of all, the national series is hungry for talent. This can become a vicious cycle, eventually making a series seem less competitive or worthwhile to elite runners. It also means that riders have a huge responsibility to self-finance an expensive 8-stop world tour. Then, when teams offer support, they can offer low wages or even just a promise to break even.
The World Cup schedule is also exhaustive, especially when budgets are tight. It’s not hard to imagine a world where a smaller World Cup field would improve the level of competition among national riders, and it seems some riders might see the benefit as well. Around 30% of riders say that if their national series were better funded or more prestigious, they would rather attend that than a World Cup race.
Around 80% of riders say they try to compete in their national series when it doesn’t conflict with World Cup racing., and there are rumors of a less extensive schedule in the coming years that will focus on short but intense races, rather than drip-feeding sometimes as few as six races over the course of nearly seven months. This could really help support grassroots racing.
70% of cyclists want more track variety
After a covid-affected 2020 season that featured doubleheaders at the same venue, and only a slight variation between the 2021 and 2022 seasons in the form of an extended stage in North America and a different track in Andorra, the riders seem be crying out for some new tracks. 70% do not feel a venue should hold a race at the same track with virtually no change for years in a row. Sometimes the most substantial variation is which track is the anointed site of the World Championship.
A venue should not run a race on the same track, virtually unchanged, year after year.
Totally agree: 17 (34.7%)
Agree: 17 (34.7%)
Neutral: 11 (22.4%)
Disagree: 3 (6.1%)
Strongly disagree: 1 (2%)
The way World Cup race venues are chosen obviously goes beyond picking a good track, it’s also based on who wants to bid to host the race, but I think there’s a genuine desire among the riders. to see more contributions regarding what they run. In a multiple choice question, 55% said a significant hope they had with Discovery was that they would have more of a say in the races so their views would be heard.. That very thinking was something that was clearly driving downhill riders to unionize, with many expressing what they thought were inappropriate or dangerous track layouts over the course of the year, especially in Andorra.
Racing is considered fair and honest
There is some positive news emerging from the survey. Only 2% of runners think that the races are not fair or honest. That compares to around 15% in enduro and over 20% in freeride and track style tests. The fact that these cyclists feel that their sporting competition has a lot of integrity is no small feat because that’s not something that all sports have, whether in cycling or beyond.
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