Hungry to maintain their qualifications for pro cycling’s highest level of racing, the WorldTour, some teams have turned to hiring riders for their cache of UCI points as much as for their cycling talent. For riders from non-cycling strongholds outside Europe, this is a new path to the highest level of the sport. Yet the phenomenon can also be seen as an exploitative consequence of the murky WorldTour qualifying process, a shadowy ordeal that also leaves cycling’s bedrock players, domestiques, in an untenable position: the more effectively they do their work, the less likely they are to stay employed.
The UCI breaks pro racing into three levels of competition, each with its own schedule of events: a UCI WorldTour calendar, a continental calendar, and a national calendar. As the name suggests, the continental calendar amasses points from races that take place within five separate continental regions: Asia, Americas, Europe, Africa, and Oceana.
Iranian rider Mehdi Sohrabi won the Asia Tour in 2010 and 2011. In October 2011, he signed for Lotto-Belisol, which had seen the strength of its 2012 WorldTour license application deflate with the loss of Philippe Gilbert’s 718 points to BMC Racing.
Writer-photographer Mark Johnson's work has been published in titles including VeloNews in the United States, Cycling Weekly in the UK, Vélo in France, and Ride Cycling Review in Australia as well as general-interest publications including The Wall Street Journal and the San Diego Union-Tribune. His book on the Garmin pro team, Argyle Armada, was published by VeloPress in 2012. A Cat. 2 road cyclist, Mark has bicycled across the United States twice and completed an Ironman triathlon. He graduated from UC San Diego and has a Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University. His other passion is surfing, which he does frequently from his home in Del Mar, California. Follow him on Twitter @ironstringmark.