The sight of only 23 riders at the start of Sunday's Hotondcross in Ronse has sparked a debate about start money in professional cyclo-cross races, with one organiser suggesting that only Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel deserve start fees of several thousand Euro, while other riders should be paid based on performance.
Belgian cyclo-cross races pack the calendar, with local organisers often competing for the best riders for their races. However interest and attendances at cyclo-cross races has waned since the retirement of Sven Nys, with only the battle between Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel drawing big crowds to the races.
Ronse organiser Erwin Vervecken is a former rider, who benefitted from the start money agreements during his own career, but he was happy to see a smaller field. Ranking points play a factor, with some riders preferring to chase points in races outside of Belgium, but the cost of paying riders has increased significantly in recent years. Vervecken agrees that better prize money based on performance would be better for the organisers.
Koen Monu, the organizer of the SuperPrestige race in Boom and the World Cup in Zolder, revealed that a major race costs approximately €150,000 to put, with approximately €50,000 of that going to the riders, mostly to the Elite men. He pointed out that riders are not paid start money for the UCI World Cup races.
"That's a big amount. It's not easy to keep your head above water." Monu told Het Nieuwsblad.
"Only the big names are worth their money. Wout gets €9,000 per race, Mathieu rides for €8,000. The others? They can also earn a fair amount but they have to ride for it."
Monu wants lesser-known riders to be paid for their performance on the day, not because of their UCI ranking or perceived status based on previous seasons.
"We should work out a bonus system and set aside an amount of money. The principle would be simple: if you are good, you earn well," Monu argued.
"The system of start money is not fair to the riders. The amount is determined based on the performance of the past few years. With a bonus system, you pay riders based on their performance on the day. Now, sometimes, especially in smaller crosses, you see riders taking their start money only to do a well-paid training session. That's a slap in the face of that organizer."