The Explainer: A gift recommendation and problems with a dead-beat team

Dear Readers,
I am going to use this week’s column as a chance to catch up on some questions that have been sitting in my in-box for too long, since I’ve been either writing about doping or missed a couple of weeks for other reasons.

As for doping, as one reader pointed out, I kept promising to change the subject, but didn’t. Of course, the events of the last month made that difficult and I’m sure we’ll find ourselves mired in the muck again soon. For one thing, I have to assume that we’ll be hearing more about the “reforms” the UCI hopes to adopt and that they will be more than mere window dressing. We’ll see.

So, this week, I’d like to offer short answers to a couple of readers’ letters.

My favorite question of the week, arrived in my in-box just yesterday. I have a special affinity, I guess, since the guy in question is in my exact demographic.

Dear Explainer,
I know you’ve been caught up in the Lance/Doping/UCI/USADA thing for a while. You also said you want to change the subject … although, admit it, you haven’t.

So, here’s a softball for you:

My father is 54 and I think was a Cat.2 back in the ‘80s and ‘90s and still rides quite a bit, but not competitively anymore. I want to buy him a nice gift for Christmas, but I can’t think of anything he doesn’t have. He’s got a garage full of bikes, has more wheels, tools and clothing than the bike shop down the street. I’m still paying off student loans, so I don’t have a lot of money.

Any suggestions?
– Elaine

Dear Elaine,
Actually, I do.

Former Merckx lieutenant Rini Wagtmans, jersey collector Henk Theuns and Bill ‘Bikeguy’ Humphreys.

Like your dad, I’m an old roadie and even the same age as he. Last year, when I was off my bike because of that damn cancer and chemo thing, I received a gift in the mail from one of the original “Raleigh Boys,” Bill Humphreys. A couple of years ago, while on a trip to Europe, Humphreys ran across a book produced by Henk Theuns, a Dutch collector of cycling jerseys. No mere hobbyist, Theuns has built what may well be the world’s most complete cycling jersey collection. He then put in a serious effort to catalogue the best of that collection and, with the help of writer, John Van Ierland, released that work in a book called “Koerstrui!” (The Racing Jersey).

Humphreys, known to many in the cycling industry as the “BikeGuy,” fell in love with the book and saw an opportunity. While Theuns’ collection is formidable, you might suspect that it has a distinctly European emphasis. Humphreys, meanwhile, had his own collection – and access to those assembled by others – and decided to remedy that oversight with an English version of the book, that includes a nod to the rise of American cycling, might be worth pursuing.

I’m glad he did. Humphreys’ “The Jersey Project” combines the work in “Koerstrui!” with a whole new section on American jerseys. I’m a sucker for this stuff and last year, when I had little energy to do much else, I spent hours lingering over photos of jerseys from back in the day. I fondly remember seeing many of those same jerseys (well, at least at the starting line) with some of the best belonging to riders who have since become friends.

It’s special to see the racing jerseys of American pioneers like Mike Neel, whose 1974 G.S. Siapa Antiparassitari jersey is on display, or Andy Hampsten, who’s represented not by the maglia rosa he won in 1988, but a 1979 jersey from the small Kretschmer Wheat Germ team. That alone may be the most beautiful aspect of this book, in that it reminds you that the greats of this sport got their start grinding it out with the rest of us on shoe-string budgets, racing small races in remote corners of the world.

Just part of Henk Theuns’ impressive collection.

In addition to the jerseys, Humphreys contribution includes some terrific photos from the era, including those of a young LeMond and shots of the one guy who seemed to know everyone back in the day, that mechanic extraordinaire, the late Bill Woodul.

Humphreys even includes Kevin Costner’s very Coors-Classic-like leader’s jersey from that mythic race “The Hell of the West” in “American Flyers.” (I am sad to say that it does not include a shot of Alexandra Paul in her “Res Firma Mitescere Nescitt-shirt, but, alas, I digress.) Back in the day, several of my buddies were hired as pack fodder in the racing scenes, with some even being paid a “bonus” to crash at a pre-arranged point. (Thankfully, I was never that good … or that desperate.)

There’s way too much to list here, even if one were to limit the discussion to Humphreys’ part of the book. Add to that the extraordinary collection of Henk Theuns and you have a coffee-table book that won’t just decorate your coffee table. Have a look.

Elaine, your dad’s my age. His garage sounds just like mine. I have to assume he’s an old bike geek, just like me. If he doesn’t already have the book, I would suggest you consider getting him one. Then buy one for yourself. I loved it and find myself reaching for “The Jersey Project,” even now that I’ve gone through it many, many times.

Merry Christmas.
Charles

Now for a question that may disabuse many of us of the notion that the life of a full-time racer is always glamorous and exciting. Sometimes, it just sucks.

Dear Explainer,
This year, I got my first-ever chance to ride on a team that actually paid my expenses and promised to provide a small salary. The deal was that I would do races – even one in Europe – and submit my receipts and the team would pay me back.

Starting in May, I got my first check for my really tiny salary and, in June, I got my first expense check. All seemed fine until July, when a check for $1937 worth of expenses bounced and my salary disappeared.

The manager of the team insists that everything will be caught up, but it’s now October, my credit cards are maxed-out, my rent is due in a week and I have no money. The problem is that we are all “friends” and most of this stuff was done with a handshake. I don’t actually have a contract and I’m not even sure I was considered to be an employee of the team.

I am not sure I want to bring the police in on this bad check, but I am feeling desperate at this point. What can I do?
– Zach

Dear Zach,
You wrote this last month and we had a chance to speak by phone a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure our readers will be pleased to know that we’ve managed to resolve the bad check issue and you got your rent covered.

I’m not sure that in this case, bringing the police in would have helped anyway. That reimbursement for expenses may be classified as an “antecedent debt,” or “a legally enforceable obligation, which has been in existence prior to the time in question, to reimburse another with money or property.”

Most states – including your state of Maryland – actually make a distinction between bad checks written for “the immediate exchange of goods or services” and those written to cover payments to fulfill an obligation or debt. In Maryland that includes checks written for car payments, rent and even utilities.

Oddly enough, bad checks in those cases are not necessarily considered to be criminal violations. So absent the option to pursue the matter through your local prosecutor, you would have been forced to turn to civil court and treat this thing like you would any other debt owed to you. Fortunately, the team managed to correct the problem and at least that one is taken care of.

Now, according to you, the team still owes you about $3400 in expenses and $5000 in missed “salary” payments.

There is where things may get tougher. From the sounds of it, you were not considered to be an employee of the team – or its sponsor – but rather viewed as an independent contractor. That said, Maryland is one of several states that has tightened up the definition of “independent contractor” in recent years, given the propensity of some employers to try and skirt state and federal workplace and labor laws by claiming that their employees are not actually employees.

Being an athlete also puts in a unique category, but you still have rights that the state is obligated to protect. Since 1995, the duty to oversee athletes’ contracts in the state has fallen to the Maryland Secretary of Labor. That’s handy, since that’s where you’d go even if you were an employee.

If yours is an accurate accounting of the situation, you have an agreement with the team, whether it’s written or not. Sure, it can be a problem enforcing that non-written, verbal, handshake agreement, but it’s not impossible. You may have to enlist the services of an attorney on this one, but it could be worth it. I know. I know. Lawyers can be expensive, but there are options out there. Legal aid groups often help out workers in wage claims. Some states also require the employer to pay legal fees for both sides in the event that you win the case. It’s worth looking into.

Even without a contract, you probably have plenty of documentation to show that you did, in fact, perform the services for which you were to have been paid. You may need witnesses – like other members of the team – to show that you and they were promised payment.

Make sure you have all of your receipts, race results and a list of possible witnesses organized before you go see your attorney.

It’s likely that the state has the usual requirement that you need to exhaust all of the available administrative remedies before you can file suit, should you choose to go that route.

Obviously, if you are still “friends” with the team, you may want to take a more subtle route, so try to remedy the situation without involving the state or filing a complaint for now. Failing that, you might also consider contacting USACycling about the problem. I have to assume that the team’s current financial situation doesn’t bode well for its return to racing next season, but teams are under an obligation to live up to promises to pay riders and failure to do so can put the team’s future plans at risk. At the top tier of the sport, ProTeams have to actually put money in escrow in order to guarantee wages. That, unfortunately, doesn’t happen further down the cycling food chain, but it is worth a shot asking for help from the national governing body.

However, it is important to keep one thing in mind. Most states have a time limit within which you need to file a complaint. Make sure you check with your attorney about how much time is left on the clock. It would really suck if there was a six-month window and you filed at seven months.
– Charles

The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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5 comments

  1. R. Cipollini

    Charles,
    “The Jersey Project” is a great gift idea! I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy from Bill Humphreys, in the first printing….the ink was still damp. While a great gift for anyone, I think that any rider or fan from the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s will enjoy the ride down memory lane. The reader won’t put it down until each page has been examined. Brought lots of smiles to me……..

    Ray

  2. Pingback: The Explainer: Warmest thanks, deepest sympathies and some follow-up : Red Kite Prayer

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