Cyclists Riding for Whom? Mutations of a Labour Market (1950-1990)

Athletes' Working Conditions
By Nicolas Lefèvre


The professional cycling market began to take shape in the late nineteenth century within a network of interests between the industrial world and the press. Until the Second World War, the working conditions and pay of bicycle racers were largely subject to the rationales imposed by these two sectors. The post-War economic transformation changed employment conditions by contributing to a liberalisation of professional cycling. Beginning in the 1950s, the arrival of sponsors from business sectors outside the bicycle sector increased the competition between organisers and deregulated market practices. This led to inflation in the pricing framework and the contracts offered to racers. Then, in the 1980s, the massive capital inflows from industrial bosses seeking high media visibility transformed the pay practices and configuration of the employment market. Although racers benefited from this liberalisation of employment, it also brought to bear new constraints. Thus, this article shows that the business practices of the new players in cycling beginning in the 1950s did not really improve professional cyclists’ employment conditions (i.e. employment status, contracts, etc.), and even introduced new forms of domination and precariousness.
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