I had many discussions with friends about the the UCI’s newest “series of measures for rider safety”. The critics of the UCI are very vocal and various complaints are being brought forward. I do not believe all of them are fair and that the issues are as black and white as the cycling Twittersphere likes to think. I started typing out my thoughts and realised there is a lot of issues in cycling and decided to split my ramblings – This is a first set-up about the various groups and organisations that want to have a say in cyclings future.
Many say Belgium is the heartland of Cycling, and few could flat-out disagree with that statement. One thing cycling has adapted from Belgium, is the stability and unity of politics. Renowned for the fragmentation of parties and the resulting difficulties of forming lasting majorities has been part of Belgian and cycling history. Following is a look (back) at the various interest groups and our currently fragmented cycling world:
Teams have been organised in the AIGCP for most of the past 20 years. Currently Astana is the only exception among the World and Pro-Continental Teams that is not a member. In the 2000s the AIGCP was stuck in between the battle of the UCI and ASO; as Ex-Gerolsteiner Manager and ex-AIGCP treasurer Holczer once said: “We have the choice between the pest and cholera.” Since then various spin-offs have formed out of the AIGCP:
The International Professionnal Cycling Teams (IPTC) was created in 2008, because the former UCI Pro Tour Teams didn’t feel represented well enough in the AIGCP – According to Lefevere, the former AIGCP chairman, the needs of Pro Tour teams and lower-level teams were too far apart to be represented in the AIGCP. Quick Step even left the AIGCP for a time.
Even before the short-lived IPTC, another creation was spun out of the AIGCP – the Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible. The MPPC was created after various teams in the AIGCP did not sign a Code of Ethics before the start of the 2007 Tour de France. Members of the MPPC bound themselves to a higher anti-doping standard to fight agains the image of cycling as a doping infested sport, but the organisation has since been viewed as a lame duck by many fans.
Even though the UCI and ASO managed to mediate their issues, many team owners still believe that cycling teams have the worst deal in the grand scheme of professional cycling. Specifically, ASO and RCS Sports are fighting against any version of revenue share which could help long-term sustainability of cycling teams. The teams answer to this issue in 2014 was Velon. 11 teams joined together and founded Velon with the aim to drive a new financial model for a more sustainable future. Among the ideas were the monetisation of rider data and additional image rights as well as a new race event: The Hammer series. It is Velon that has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the UCI in 2019 at the European Commission. This case is not expected to resolve soon.
Among all this iterations und subgroups there have been overlaps in memberships, goals or sometimes – lack off focus. The final and probably not last development was the creation of the UNIO Association. This is a group of Women’s cycling teams that have come together to promote their side of the sport, that the existing organisations have so far ignored. Sounds similar to Belgian politics so far?
I could start this segment with a lot of set phrases, but I want to start it with a book recommendation from Benjo Maso: “The sweat of the gods” is a great book that starts at the very beginning of cycling history in 1868. It is a tale of heroes, but also a tale of everlasting structural issues within cycling. This sport has evolved so much, but the riders have always been at the centre of the legends told. But how have the riders fought for their rights? It was 1925, when the Pélissier brothers founded CIRC – the first riders union. Their goal was to force the teams and bike manufactures to share their large profits with the riders – and they were successful at that.
It took till 1978 for riders to feel the need of a international riders union. After the war these tended to be solely national affairs and did not care about the slow globalisation of the sports. The reasons back then: bad accommodations, long transfers and early starting times. Some also point towards other less inspiring reasons for the strike at the ’78 Tour de France.
To understand the current situation however, we look to the year 1999. It was then that the CPA, one of the current riders’ unions, was founded. For a long time, the CPA was focused on the traditional cycling countries and acted as an umbrella organisation for the local unions of these countries. It has only been this past 10 years that new cycling federations have been admitted into the CPA with voting rights equal to the traditional cycling nations.
Since 2011 the CPA has been headed by Gianni Bugno, who has been reappointed unopposed and without elections every two years. The exception being 2018, when he won a special election against David Millar. This victory was thanks to large voting blocks of the established national federations. At the time multiple riders such as Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas or Tom Dumoulin criticized that riders did not have a direct vote in the CPA elections. In late 2020 a various number of riders has announced the creation of The Riders Union (TRU) as a new opposing riders union to the CPA. As far as I could find so far 150 riders (of over 3000 professionals) have joined the TRU.
One thing Teams and Rider unions have in common though is the fact, that women’s cycling is not being supported adequately. What UNIO is to the AIGCP, The Cyclists’ Alliance (TCA) is for the CPA. The TCA split from the CPA in February 2017, and even though the TCA applauded the creation of the TRU they have said to announced to stay separate, since “the male and female athletes have different battles to fight”. Does my Belgian analogy still make sense?
Lastly there is the AIOCC, it “groups together the biggest organisers of cycling races on the world calendar including the three Grands Tours, 24 UCI WorldTour races and 10 women’s races.”The AIOCC under the current leadership of Christian Prudhomme has managed what the other pillars have not – widespread unity in their public voice towards the UCI. The battles between ASO und RCS Sports about calendar spots has noticeably died down in the past five years. The mud bowl of the decade before when Unipublic (since purchased by ASO) was part of the ring, practically forgotten.
One should not forget however the large amount of local, grass-root race organisers that are the base of this great sport. These organisers that have to practically beg for every Euro to put on a race in ever more restricted municipal regulations. These organisers are far away from the lucrative business that is run by the ASO.
My analogy broke down on the final pillar for the time being, but I will pick it up again – I promise. I hope you enjoyed this overview and maybe it has helped you gain some insights into the current situation of cycling. I will follow up with my opinion piece tonight, or tomorrow (It won’t be 3,5 years between posts :D), so as to have something to show to my wife to justify the yearly expense to keep this site running.