Les Woodland retro: The birth of the cyclist's agent

After World War II, cycling was the most popular sport in the world, with hundreds of star riders....

After World War II, cycling was the most popular sport in the world, with hundreds of star riders. With the constant demand for the stars at events hundreds of miles apart, a new breed of businessman evolved; the sports agent. In an ideal world, the agent is an employee of an athlete, working to secure the best terms for an athlete and guide them through a career. In its first form though, as Cyclingnews' Les Woodland reports, the agent-cyclist relationship looked more like indentured servitude:

A friend of mine is a policewoman. It was a job she liked but talking about it was a conversation-stopper. People rarely care to find they're talking to an off-duty copper.

She couldn't say she was a surgeon or a plumber or a traveller in pills for sick horses because it might just be that the other person was as well. So she hit on a solution.

"You know those machines in public lavatories, the ones that sell condoms?" she'd ask brightly. And her new companion would agree, somewhat suspiciously that, yes, he knew what she was talking about.

"Well," my friend would say, "I'm the woman who restocks them."

It was an even better conversation-stopper than saying she was a policeman.

Some jobs are inherently less popular than others. And ten years ago this year, there died a man whose job made him the most unpopular of all. He was a bike rider's agent. And by the time he died in 1997, he and his colleague Roger Piel had tied up so much of professional racing for decades that riders were, in the words of the writer William Fotheringham, "in a form of tied labour".

For the complete Les Woodland retro feature, click here.

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