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Martijn Berkhout: Disc brake debate gives riders a big opportunity

Martijn Berkhout

Martijn Berkhout (Image credit: SEG)

Like many of you, I have been intensely following the disc brake discussion. A lot has already been said on the subject and I think that there is a sense of truth in any argument from whatever side on this topic. I'm totally on the riders' side when it concerns testing and safety.

In recent months, I have fought some battles on this topic to help the riders I work with, but always with respect for the teams and industry. Because I'm also realistic. Professional cycling is just the top of a pyramid called the 'cycling industry'. Everyone involved in professional cycling should realise – especially in 2017 – this business exists thanks to the consumers in the cycling market. And the industry always gravitates towards consumer needs, with professional cycling as the ultimate marketing tool. The disc brake is no exception, there is demand for it and so it will be produced. That is innovation.

Innovation brings changes and that is where problems start. A lot of people are afraid of change without thinking about the consequences. And that is where my concerns about this discussion start. I have been surprised by the way the Cycliste Professionnels Associés (CPA) has positioned itself in the name of riders on this topic. It has placed itself on the opposite side of the cycling industry, which eventually is the paying agent of all of their members.

I have a lot of respect for the people who are working for the CPA. Except for some small fees, almost everyone is working there on a voluntary basis. But the riders have no idea about this. In case they are looking for support there is no office to go to. When they check the website the latest article is from August, 2016. The president [Gianni Bugno - ed.] is legendary thanks to his World titles, but so far he hasn't explained in any speech how this sport should evolve from a rider perspective. That is exactly the problem: It is a hobby or a way to stay in cycling for the people involved. I don't blame anyone. They help and do what they can, but we just see more and more problems arising from that situation.

The younger generation of cyclists doesn't have a clue about what the CPA is or what they are able to do for the riders. The only thing they have heard about is that it's an organisation that makes sure you get 'some money' after your career. More experienced riders have more interest in issues on the agenda, but they have no time, energy or motivation to get into the discussion. This is understandable. At the end of the day, you are a rider; not an official.

Because our agency acknowledges the problem and also see the importance of an organisation that represents riders in discussions with other government bodies, we tried to attend some meetings with the CPA in the name of our clients. We are working full-time in professional cycling and therefore it is normal that we can represent our riders during CPA meetings they are never able to attend. However, we weren't welcome to attend a meeting because we are not part of the CPA. No matter what argument we put on the table.

In the meantime, teams remain silent on the disc brake discussion, because they realise the industry is deciding about their future. The AIGCP (organisation that represents the teams) just looks to what the CPA is doing and stays out of the fight, while the industry is pointing fingers to the riders.

Don't they realise at the CPA that this is a unique chance to strengthen the riders' position? You can't stop innovation, but you can ask things in return. Starting with safety regulations. But there is plenty more there to ask for. Organisations such as Velon are trying to create more value for teams, using the real actors (the riders) for new concepts. It is a great initiative and I see nothing wrong with that. Nevertheless, the riders are once again not represented.

The industry is the main stakeholder and that is exactly the group that officials representing riders need to sit down with. To ask for example for a rider representation seat at Velon; to get the necessary backing to run an organisation professionally; to ask for influence on many topics. The industry would be more than happy to sit down and create a suitable situation for every stakeholder in cycling, including the riders. They want their products, like disc brakes, to be approved by the professional rider association. That is the ultimate quality mark towards consumers. Don't position the riders opposite the industry, nor place them besides the constructors. Work together.

Professional cycling needs a professional governing body representing pro riders. Full-timers instead of part-timers. Sport business and labour union professionals surrounded by ex-riders who can advise them with all their experience on and off the bike. A real, powerful union, one that fights for well-structured teams, safe and clean environments to ride your bike, good regulations, pension plans, insurances, realistic minimum wages, etc. A powerful force instead of a voluntary club. The current model of country-focused unions, all having a seat at the CPA, is outdated. The sport is too small for that. We just need one organisation for all, with some country representatives.

Who will be the one setting this up? I would like to advise the current pros to appoint Michael Carcaise, the executive director of the ANAPRC (North American Rider Union), to take up a role as president of any new professional rider representation agency. With the support of former and current USA pros, Carcaise created the most professional rider union out there. Carcaise has the ambition, age, quality, political skills and – very important – a neutral position in cycling to create such an organisation that can continue CPA's work in a modern setting or replace it.

The next CPA meeting is taking place on April 8. Disc brakes come in point 7 on the agenda. I would say to all pro riders out there: move that point to first place, rename the topic into 'how can we benefit from this situation', hand over the tasks to Michael Carcaise and thank everyone who was involved in the CPA for their work. In favour of all the professional cyclists out there, it is time to move on.

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Together with his brother, Martijn Berkhout is owner of the management company SEG Cycling, which also owns and runs the SEG Racing Academy and is co-founder of the new cycling community JOIN.