How do you become a professional cyclist?
In the old days you moved to Belgium, linked up with a sketchy pro/am team, and then let the Kermesse circuit bludgeon you into a hardened pro.
These days the answer is more complicated. You can join a national development program and then network your way onto a team. You can race in college and pray that your natural talents earn you a guest spot on a regional squad. Or you can mail your resume to Jonathan Vaughters and Jim Ochowitz in an envelope stuffed with purple glitter.
I recommend doing that.
Now, there’s another option. Retired Canadian cyclist Zach Bell recently launched a cycling camp called the Parcours Institute, which he says prepares young up-and-coming riders for the pro ranks.
During the five-week camp, Bell and his instructors teach the basics (racing tactics, training methods) as well as some not-so-obvious skills, such as media training, sponsor representation, and contract negotiation. They also discuss the inner workings of a pro team, from budgets to hiring methods.
Bell said his concept is based off of Canada’s hockey academy system, which pumps a steady stream of talented youngsters into the professional ranks. The goal, Bell said, is to place the Parcours Institute’s top graduates into Continental teams.
“There are all of these pieces of being a pro cyclist that nobody ever talks about,” Bell. “You have to be a good rep for your sponsor, be good in front of a camera, network, market yourself … nobody teaches that.”
Let’s pause for a moment and envision a future scenario in which Bell’s program has evolved into a prestigious cycling graduate school that awards Master’s degrees in pro cycling. Fresh-faced youngsters busily take notes as Prof. Voigt lectures on how to build a fan base by saying ridiculous things with a thick German accent. Next door, Prof. Cancellara scratches his head as he attempts to spell “attendance.”
Down the hall, the school’s Dean, Zach Bell, furrows his eyebrows as he peruses the proposed curriculum for the upcoming term. Various characters from pro cycling’s past repeatedly pitch him on class ideas. You see, there are so many skills required to be a professional cyclist. But alas, there are simply too many classes on Dean Bell’s list, and he must trim down the schedule.
Of the 10 classes below, which ones should Dean Bell cut?
Personal Brand Enhancement Through Social Media, Prof. Tinkov
Mid-Race Negotiation Strategies, Prof. Vinokourov
Team Car Packing, Dos and Don’ts, Prof. Willy Voet
Interoffice Conflict Resolution, Prof. Barredo
Spectator Engagement 101, Prof. Hinault
Media Relationship Management, Prof. Evans
Pooping in a Hat, Prof. Lemond
Dean Bell will undoubtedly face some tough future decisions with this project.