The Tour de France’s biggest prize isn’t heading to the likely race-winner, Alberto Contador. It will go to the Amaury family.
Contador, who is leading at the end of yesterday’s 108-mile mountain stage, would earn 50,000 euros ($64,600) after sharing the winner’s 450,000-euro paycheck with his eight teammates, a tradition in cycling, his Astana team general manager Yvon Sanquer said.
That compares with the 136.6 million euros of dividends paid between 2004 and 2008 by the family’s Amaury Sport Organisation, which runs cycling’s biggest event, to its shareholders, the Paris-based company’s latest published accounts show. The payout to riders hasn’t changed since the first of Contador’s three victories in 2007. The ASO blames the stagnant funds on doping in the sport cutting into sponsorship income.
“When you compare it to other sports the prize money is not high,” Sanquer said in an interview. “It should be increased if possible. The riders deserve it.”
This year’s Tour ends in Paris in two days. Even after scandals involving blood doping in recent years, the event remains the biggest asset of the Amaury family, according to Conor O’Shea, a media analyst at Kepler Capital Markets in Paris. The family and Lagardere SCA get dividends from ASO.
Jean-Etienne Amaury is president, and his mother, Marie- Odile, is on the board of the company, which also manages smaller races such as the Dakar rally and the Paris half- marathon. Lagardere, which owns Elle and Paris Match magazines, holds a 25 percent stake in the family’s group of companies.
The family has controlled the race since the 1940s, and it is more profitable than their publishing interests, including Le Parisien newspaper.
“The value of sports rights is strong and the Tour de France is a huge global brand,” O’Shea said. It could be worth 1 billion euros, five times more than Le Parisien, in which the Amaurys may sell a stake, O’Shea said.
The Tour, first run in 1903, attracts millions of spectators and is broadcast in 186 countries. It gets as much as 60 percent of sales from television rights, with about 30 percent coming from sponsorship and much of the rest coming from fees from the towns that host stages of the race, according to ASO marketing director Laurent Lachaux. ASO had sales of 158.6 million euros in 2008. Lachaux declined to say how much came from the Tour. Members of the family weren’t made available for interview.
Overall, the Tour hands out about 3.3 million euros in prize money. Even if 27-year-old Contador was to bank the whole first prize, he would be pulling in less than half the 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) that compatriot Rafael Nadal got from winning the Wimbledon tennis championship earlier this month.
“They could double the prizes without any problem,” said Daniel Malbranque, general secretary of the international union of riders for a decade until March.
To be sure, Contador earns “millions” of euros a year from Kazakhstan-backed Astana, Sanquer said, without being more specific. He gets a salary of 5 million euros, L’Equipe newspaper reported on July 20.
Race organizers froze prize money the last few years after doping by riders threatened sponsorship contracts, ASO director Lachaux said. Floyd Landis was stripped of his 2006 title for doping and one of the 2007 race favorites, Alexandre Vinokourov, was thrown out when tests showed he had two different groups of red blood cells, indicating he’d injected someone else’s blood to boost his stamina.
“There wouldn’t have been any basis for them to ask for a 10 percent rise,” Lachaux said of Tour riders. “It would have been absurd.”
No positive doping tests have yet emerged from this year’s three-week race, which covers 2,264 miles. Contador leads Team Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck by 8 seconds with the most difficult mountain stages finished.
Contador gets almost all his earnings from the team, although he has minor deals with fashion brand Hugo Boss AG and Specialized Bicycle Components Inc., his spokesman Jacinto Vidarte said. He said Contador was satisfied with the amount of Tour prize money.
“It’s just a bit of extra money,” Vidarte said.
Pedro Horrillo, a former rider who retired after a crash that left him hospitalized last year, said in an interview that cyclists regard race prize money as a perk and not part of their regular income.
“The mentality of the rider is to negotiate with the team” not race organizers, Horrillo said. “You get your reward with extra salary or bonuses.”
The Amaurys have controlled the Tour de France since buying L’Auto magazine, which had set up the race as a promotional stunt. The title became known as L’Equipe, which the family still owns, Lachaux said.
While it plans to keep L’Equipe, an Amaury group executive who declined to be identified confirmed reports last month that it is considering selling a stake in Le Parisien, which it also owned since the 1940s.
“Newspapers are trophy buys that don’t make any money,” O’Shea said. “The value of sports rights is much higher.”