A lot has been reported on the tough time American domestic riders are having landing employment for the 2008 season. With two major teams closing up shop in Navigators and Kodak-Sierra Nevada, as well as Health Net-Maxxis downsizing and Slipstream-Chipotle replacing half of its team, the fact is that the market, while healthy in terms of quality teams, is just flooded with riders. The depth of talent that remains unsigned this late into the off-season is sadly evident in the fact that the two-time and current USA Criterium National Champion, Kirk O'Bee, still does not have a 2008 ride. Cyclingnews' has a look at what led to O'Bees unemployment and what his options are for 2008.
Sure a sprinter and national champion like O'Bee could get a roster spot on most teams, but not at the rate he was paid this season before winning the jersey. His case is one of bad timing. Health Net downsized its sponsorship budget for the 2008 team and subsequently the number of riders was reduced. Unfortunately for O'Bee he was not considered a key rider and it left him without a contract offer until late in the season, which mostly came as a result of his national championship.
"They knew what their budget was going to be, and they wanted their five or six core riders," O'Bee said. "And they knew who they were by June, and anyone else was an afterthought hoping for additional sponsors to come through. I was one of those riders on the bubble, and they did make me an official offer, but it was literally half of what I was making this year. They felt bad, but I was more upset because by June I had proven myself – and then I went and won the national championship! It's a weird situation because I did enjoy riding with the team but I also felt a little screwed. I don't think that people realize that what Health Net was paying would be such a different next year with their budget."
After this late date, the budgets of most teams were mostly spoken for and O'Bee found himself faced with a tough question – take a huge pay cut in 2008, or forgo racing for a job to provide for his wife and son. "It's mostly a matter of money, I can't ride for free. I have a son and family that I need to support. Even $20,000 a year isn't enough; I can go get a job in construction or cutting down trees for more."
Read the full news feature on O'Bee.