Nairo Quintana and the rest of his Movistar team are giving the bigger-spending Sky a run for its money at the Tour de France.
The 23-year-old Colombian, who maintained fifth place today ahead of three straight mountain stages, matched Sky’s race leader Chris Froome for all but the final half-mile of a 13-mile climb atop Mont Ventoux last weekend.
Kenyan-born Briton Froome, 28, extended his lead to 4 minutes, 34 seconds by winning a time trial today. Quintana can achieve a top-three finish in the race that ends July 21, teammate Alejandro Valverde said.
“Nairo wants to win almost every single mountain-top finish,” Valverde told reporters. “He almost managed to stay with Froome until the end.”
Movistar spent 5.91 million euros ($7.7 million) on pay in 2011, less than half Sky’s outlay, according to the latest financial data filed by the teams’ parent companies, Abarca Sports SL and Tour Racing Ltd.
Movistar is named after the mobile-phone brand of Telefonica SA, Spain’s biggest phone company and main sponsor of the team. Sky is backed by the U.K.’s biggest pay-television operator British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, News Corp. and Sky Italia.
Team Sky’s salary costs were 11 million pounds ($16.6 million) in 2011, more than nine other squads that disclosed the figures. It had 83 employees that year, compared with 46 for Movistar and more than twice as many as Sojasun, the smallest French team at the race.
Professional cycling is a spending race on a smaller scale than Premier League soccer and Formula One auto racing, according to Ulrich Lacher, a director at Cologne-based sports research consultancy Repucom, which is a consultant to the Omega Pharma team. Cycling teams typically spend 75 percent of their budget on salaries, according to Repucom.
Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters said Sky devotes more money to sports science than any other team as it seeks an edge on everything from bike aerodynamics to nutrition and fitness.
“Sky has an army of trainers, doctors and nutritionists,” Miguel Madariaga, the former manager of the Euskaltel team, said by phone.
To be sure, Sky doesn’t have the highest payroll. BMC Racing spends a “little more” than 15 million euros this year on salaries for 80 staff, team co-owner Andy Rihs said by phone. Much of that goes to four “star” riders including 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans, who each earn between 3 and 4 million euros a year, Rihs said.
Evans finished almost nine minutes behind Froome in the stage to Mount Ventoux. Evans is 18th overall, six places below Valverde, who was second before a mechanical problem last week put him out of contention.
Sky is spending more efficiently than BMC, Vaughters said.
“BMC says ‘That rider has won has a bunch of races, let’s hire him,’” Vaughters said in an interview. “Sky is using quantitative analysis to come up with the best results, including which riders to hire.”
Vaughters said his Garmin-Sharp team has a similar approach to Sky but on a smaller scale because it has less money, with a payroll this year of about $9.5 million that was smaller the last two years. The squad’s best-placed rider, Daniel Martin, is 10th overall.
The smallest teams at the race like Sojasun don’t have enough resources to compete with Sky and so their primary goal is to win a stage, Lacher said. Sojasun’s highest-placed rider is Maxime Mederel in 36th.
“Even if you are a rider on a small team and get the yellow jersey you are probably not going to have a strong enough team to defend you against attacks,” Lacher said. “Cycling is much more of a team sport than most people realize.”
Eleven Tour de France team payrolls in euros, according to the latest published financial statements of their parent companies or estimates from team executives:
BMC Racing 15 million euros (2013 estimate) Team Sky 13.2 million euros (2011) Team Saxo Bank 9.01 million euros (2012) Garmin-Sharp 7.28 million euros (2013 estimate) Omega Pharma 6.55 million euros (2011) Cannondale 6.24 million euros (2012) Francaise des Jeux 6.07 million euros (2012) Movistar 5.91 million euros (2011) Cofidis 4.46 million euros (2011) Europcar 4.08 million euros (2012) Sojasun 2.13 million euros (2011)