I question that I wonder is why does amateur cycling races pay out decent money for top place finishers but other amateur races like running and triathlons pay out relatively little. I know the time spent planning and all the costs associated with putting on any amateur event is much larger than one would think and there isn’t much margin to award a lot of money to winners. Bike races, runs, and triathlons all have entry fees that in most cases they aren’t cheap,(at least not to a college student) why is it that bike races pay out prize money with a purse usually in the thousands of dollars range while other events pay out a prize purse of a few hundred dollars to usually only the top 3 men and women finishers overall and some pay out nothing at all.
So far I have a few reasons why bike races pay out money. 1) is that having prize money will attract elite racers who would otherwise be unwilling to travel to the race and that in turn provides the local spectators a reason to come out rather than just see the people from around the area race. More spectators also attract sponsors who will pay race organizers money to have their logo displayed, and sponsorship money can be the difference between losing money and breaking even. Running races and triathlons might not want elite athletes from out of the area to come and instead give the locals a chance to compete. For example the 5 mile Red Rose run in Lancaster County used to pay out somewhere around $1000 dollars to first place men and women but locals had the odds of winning against them because instead professional runners from major cities like Philly came in and won the prize money.
2) Is that cycling is a big investment to those who compete. While no amateur racer really expects to recoup what they spent on their bike, equipment, and training much less make a livable profit on racing, it at least can help reduce the cost. Running requires only a pair of sneakers and a watch maybe, which is pennies in comparison what cyclists spend. Triathlons have equipment costs that somewhat resembles what cyclists spend but have nowhere near the prize money. My sister came in 1st place at out of 200 or so females at a local tri and all she got was a trophy. Her discounted early entry fee was around $75 too. And unlike most elite cyclists who have a team pay for entry fees, the money came out of her pocket.
3) Most running races like the Saturday morning 5k have a charity benefit and the goal is to donate as much money as possible. So you would feel pretty guilty if you got a big check for winning when a charity probably needs the money more. Also most running races and tri’s will give each participant regardless of finishing place a goody bag filled with a t-shirt printed with the sponsor logo soup, water bottle, some coupons, and other little things. So everyone walks away with something rather than just the top finishers. I have never seen that at a bike race. Bike races sometimes have a charity benefit, but often are put on by for profit companies or local clubs looking to break even.
I have a lot of respect for runners and triathletes who do local races just for personal goals or bragging rights and not for prize money. While I am not saying there is anything wrong with the amount of prize money given out in cycling or think it should be changed, but I think there are some benefits of having a reduced payout. 1) Maybe more races? Having to pay out less money would make less of a financial risk of breaking even to anyone putting on a race. 2) Lower entry fees especially for cat 4 and 5’s who often have to pay the same as the 1/2/3 race to help subsidize the substantially bigger elite category payout. 3) Less aggressive riding especially during the final sprint. Maybe everyone can learn how to just have fun racing instead of getting all worked up over who attacked during the feed zone or sat in for the sprint.