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Lappartient hits back at 'destabilising force' of AIGCP in leaked letter to teams

UCI president David Lappartient speaks at the 2019 UCI Cycling Gala in Guilin, China
UCI president David Lappartient speaks at the 2019 UCI Cycling Gala in Guilin, China
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In the latest development in the long-running power struggle between the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the sport's professional teams, represented by the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels (AIGCP), UCI president David Lappartient has written a letter to the teams accusing the group of seeking to "destabilise the UCI and promote other interests".

The letter, sent on Thursday and seen by Cyclingnews, was addressed to all WorldTour and Professional Continental teams, with the AIGCP, Professional Cyclists Association (CPA), the Association of International Cycling Race Organisers (AIOCC), plus members of the UCI Management Committee, the Professional Cycling Council and the UCI Road Commission all CC'd in.

In it, Lappartient accused the AIGCP of misrepresenting the teams on a number of issues, as well as refusing to work with the UCI. Lappartient wrote that "any trust in the representatives of the AIGCP is now broken".

He adds that "an unprecedented crisis" lies in wait for the sport, unless stakeholders such as the UCI, riders, teams and organisers are able to work directly with one another. Later, he goes on to say that future discussions should bypass the AIGCP altogether in order to assuage the concerns of the sport's main rights buyers.

"I met with some of you at the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire, and you drew my attention to the erroneous information received from those charged with the task of representing you," Lappartient wrote.

"I have also taken note of the AIGCP's press release outlining its opposition to the creation of the UCI Classics Series, which it had approved, although none of the aspects of the unanimous agreement of September 2018 have since been disputed or amended.

"This inexplicable change in their stance can only be explained as a deliberate attempt to make you party to a bid to destabilise the UCI and promote other interests that everyone is well aware of."

The UCI vs the AIGCP: another battle in the long war

The letter comes almost exactly a month after one issued by the AIGCP to the UCI, in which the team's association expressed "serious concerns about the current level and execution of men's professional road cycling by the UCI".

Among the main points brought up in the AIGCP's letter was that decisions were being made unilaterally by the UCI, something they called "taxation without representation", echoing a slogan among the colonial grievances that led to the American Revolution.

Other complaints included inconsistent rulings by UCI judges, races being given multi-year licences without controls to guarantee safe race conditions, and decisions being taken to burden teams with an expanded race calendar at the teams' expense.

October's move by Velon, the business group that represents 11 WorldTour teams, to submit an anti-trust complaint against the UCI to the European Commission was another battle in the cold war between the teams and the governing body.

That complaint revolves around a claim that the UCI has hampered the development of Velon's burgeoning Hammer race series, and that it has attempted to use its regulatory powers for its own commercial benefit, namely involving the ownership of on-bike data.

In his letter, Lappartient cites the anti-trust complaint as confirmation of the bid to destabilise the UCI. He then continues with a list of 31 positive advances the governing body has made on behalf of the teams in recent years, essentially challenging teams to choose a side. 

Such a move would ultimately cut the AIGCP out of future discussions, with Lappartient stating that, despite all the progress the UCI has made, "nothing we do at the UCI finds favour with the AIGCP and its President".

After listing a number of actions that the AIGCP has taken against the UCI, including "the almost systematic rejection of all proposals submitted by the UCI" and "actions taken by AIGCP representatives primarily in the sole interest of Velon", Lappartient calls the situation "untenable".

'Cycling's status hinges on the unity of all its families'

The battle between the AIGCP and the UCI also threatens to draw in outside stakeholders – namely the sport's television rights holders. Referring to them, Lappartient described the AIGCP's actions as akin to an existential threat to professional cycling, saying that rights holders would not remain involved in a sport where the balance of power lies fractured among various competing factions.

"I have met with our sport's main rights buyers, even though the UCI is well aware that most of these rights do not belong to it… They have assured me of their great interest in cycling. This is an issue, however, that requires unity and support for the UCI, the only body capable of pooling all the different interests of the sport's stakeholders.

"These buyers do not understand our divisions and pointless infighting at a time when there is a growing interest in cycling. They will not support a sport without the solid governance provided by a body that is a member of the Olympic movement."

In an apparent escalation of the battle between the two factions, Lappartient signalled his readiness to push forward with the governance and reform of professional cycling, even if it means that certain groups – apparently the AIGCP – are left by the wayside.

The UCI "will never be dictated to by a single stakeholder", he said, before drawing the letter to a close by issuing a direct call for teams to work together and support the UCI going forward.

"If we have to move forward in the interest of cycling without some actors or families, we will do so, because our sport can wait no longer. We have already wasted too much time.

"I am also counting on your support to help me promote this vision and implement this new model. 

"Cycling needs a strong UCI, one that listens to the concerns of its stakeholders, among them, the teams. Cycling's status as a major global sport hinges on the unity of all its families and not on an individual venture embarked on by one of these families, whoever they are.

"You can count on my determination and that of my colleagues on the UCI Management Committee, who are united behind this vision, to work to bring everyone together, without succumbing to the ceaseless and reiterated provocation directed at us," he wrote.

The text in full

For the attention of:

UCI WorldTeams

UCI Professional Continental Teams

Dear teams,

I feel it necessary to address you directly and update you on the reform of men’s professional road cycling, which will begin to take effect in the 2020 season and, in more general terms, about relations between the UCI and the teams.

I met with some of you at the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire, and you drew my attention to the erroneous information received from those charged with the task of representing you. I have also taken note of the AIGCP’s press release outlining its opposition to the creation of the UCI Classics Series, which it had approved, although none of the aspects of the unanimous agreement of September 2018 have since been disputed or amended. This inexplicable change in their stance can only be explained as a deliberate attempt to make you party to a bid to destabilise the UCI and promote other interests that everyone is well aware of.

Confirmation of that came recently when some of you, as members of the Velon group, filed an anti-trust complaint with the European Commission against the UCI. It is clear that the actions engaged in by the same group of people are concerted in nature and form part of an overall strategy to challenge the UCI’s authority as the governing body of professional cycling. The UCI has thus been criticised by these teams for using its regulatory and political power to undermine the teams’ commercial interests.

You must decide if you agree with this strategy and the extent to which the people overseeing it legitimately represent you as a whole. In writing this letter I simply wish to draw your attention to the position of conflict of interest in which some of your representatives find themselves with regard to Velon and to show you that the reality is, happily, very different. Since being elected I have never ceased to defend the interest of teams whose commitment and professionalism I have seen on a daily basis, all with the aim of allowing you to compete in the best possible conditions. Though there has occasionally been tension between the UCI and some organisers, we have made progress in the last two years to enable us to move towards a model that strikes a balance for all stakeholders. These advances include the following:

1. Approval of the reform of men’s professional road cycling with the provision of a three-year licence for teams, despite the initial reticence of the organisers, with a view to guaranteeing stability for you and in response to your wishes;

2. The creation of a three-year ranking to assess sporting criteria, without automatic promotion/relegation every year, to offer more stability in the event of a “poor season”, once again in accordance with your wishes;

3. The creation of automatic qualification places for UCI WorldTour events for UCI ProTeams, at the expense of the wild cards handed out by organisers on a discretionary basis;

4. Changes to the advertisements on the UCI World Champions jersey, with the approval of a colour that better promotes your partners, just as you had requested;

5. Freezing the number of UCI WorldTeams at 18 instead of the 16 previously approved and maintaining of rights for the existing 18 UCI WorldTeams (with the possibility of adding a 19th or 20th team for the 2020-2022 period);

6. The creation of a regulatory framework for development teams (with these teams being able to exchange riders at certain events during the season);

7. Awareness of the reality of paying agents owning several teams (UCI Women’s Teams, UCI WorldTeams and UCI Professional Continental Teams) by permitting just such a possibility and therewith allowing a single legal entity to register several teams;

8. Support for your teams during key phases such as the arrival of a new partner or during a buyout or change of owner or main sponsor;

9. Review and modernisation of team registration processes with the creation of the UCI DataRide platform, which reduces the administrative burden on teams;

10. Freezing of the team registration fee to avoid an increase in costs;

11. Changes to the rankings to create a non-rolling team ranking that is easier to follow, as requested by team representatives;

12. The introduction of a limit on the number of Grand Tour stage starts in a non-adjacent country and support for teams for the start of the Giro d’Italia in Israel to ensure that they were properly compensated;

13. Support for your demands for a better response to your accommodation needs at the Tour de France, in terms of the number of rooms;

14. Implementation of a programme combatting technological fraud (X-rays and research with CEA Tech {French Atomic and Alternative Energies Commission}) with a view to removing any suspicion, to the benefit of teams and their sponsors;

15. Strengthening of the anti-doping programme of UCI Continental Teams taking part in UCI ProSeries events to ensure a level playing field;

16. Thanks to our collective efforts under the impetus of the UCI, the image and reputation of cycling has clearly improved, in everyone’s benefit, although we must continue with our efforts. This allows all stakeholders to better attract partners;

17. Introduction of a ban on tramadol on 1 March 2019;

18. Authorisation of disc brakes, at the request of some teams;

19. Relaxing of the rules regarding rain jackets, at the request of the teams;

20. Clarification of the rules relating to equipment (bicycles, clothing, etc) to guarantee a level playing field for teams;

21. Proposal made in a meeting to amend the wording of Article 2.15.142 relating to the UCI Classics Series and to recognise the potential rights of the various stakeholders, in addition to those already recognised for organisers. Proposal strangely declined by team representatives.

22. Individual meetings with teams, if they so wished, as part of the reform process. We will continue with these meetings, particularly during your team training camps;

23. Introduction of a table of sanctions for organisers, already applied three times in 2019;

24. Organisers required to contribute to the development of cycling, along the same lines as the requirement made of teams;

25. Creation of a UCI Classics Series with the aim of increasing visibility and enabling new revenue to be shared among all stakeholders;

26. Setting up of a UCI WorldTour seminar with updated content and providing a platform for discussions with the teams;

27. Removal of the trade team time trial from UCI Road World Championships following an official request from the AIGCP, thus alleviating the financial burden on teams;

28. Setting up of the centralised race prize money management system (freeing the teams of some responsibility regarding the management of prize money and ensuring that the payment of prize money is monitored);

29. Introduction of a regulatory framework permitting sponsorship by betting companies;

30. Creation of a specific participation fee for UCI Professional Continental Teams at UCI WorldTour races;

31. Creation of a support/TV Commissaire to improve decision-making by race officials.

Though this is not an exhaustive list, it clearly shows that the UCI has made a number of improvements for teams over a period of only two years, and we will continue to follow this path and work for you. Unfortunately, nothing we do at the UCI finds favour with the AIGCP and its President. It is clear, therefore, that the only possible reason for pursuing this sterile and confrontational policy of systematic obstruction is to promote a system other than the one approved by all cycling’s stakeholders.

The following is proof of this and I invite you to reflect on it:

- The drafting of a “Mission Statement” put before your General Assembly in Milan on 16 March 2018 and fortunately rejected by you, which said: “Point II: We want that the governance of Men’s Road Professional Cycling be exercised directly by the stakeholders. Professional cycling’s “stakeholders” are here understood as race organisers and the actors (riders & teams).” The desire to exclude the UCI from the governance of cycling is clear to see here;

- The almost systematic rejection of all proposals submitted by the UCI;

- Visible isolation of the two team representatives at various Professional Cycling Council (PCC) meetings, resulting in a breach of trust and loss of credibility with other PCC members;

- The systematic challenging of all points put to debate, including the minutes of each session;

- Actions by AIGCP representatives primarily in the sole interest of Velon;

- The minutes of my meetings with the President of the AIGCP were sent by WhatsApp (without even reflect our discussions) to the Directors of Velon (the Moving Cycling Forward WhatsApp group set up by the AIGCP President and the Directors of Velon), while no report was communicated to the members of the AIGCP. This is a clear conflict of interest;

- The desire of the AIGCP and Velon to avoid any direct discussions between the UCI and the professional teams, as reflected in the email Velon sent to its member teams calling on them to refuse to meet with the UCI President;

- Unfounded accusations against the UCI regarding the sale of your potential rights with the company Racetracker;

- Failure to pass on (and, without doubt, draft) a framework document setting out the AIGCP’s vision for the future of professional cycling, despite our countless reminders. It is evidently easier to criticise than make proposals;

- Resorting to correspondence from lawyers, particularly with regard to the interests of its own team, without having attempted to engage in discussions with the UCI beforehand;

- Publication of a number of press releases and open letters containing false information, all with the sole aim of discrediting the actions of the UCI and resulting solely in the sterile exchange of letters.

This situation is clearly untenable. Any trust in the representatives of the AIGCP is now broken. I believe that we must work together to find a way out of this impasse, which is damaging to all of us. We must find solutions other than discussions with the AIGCP and its President, or risk plunging professional cycling into an unprecedented crisis. I am convinced that cycling has huge potential and that our sport is, in all probability, better able to increase its influence and revenue than any other.

I have met with our sport’s main rights buyers, even though the UCI is well aware that most of these rights do not belong to it, such as TV rights or the riders’ physiological data. They have assured me of their great interest in cycling. This is an issue, however, that requires unity and support for the UCI, the only body capable of pooling all the different interests of the sport’s stakeholders. These buyers do not understand our divisions and this pointless infighting at a time when there is a growing interest in cycling. They will not support a sport without the solid governance provided by a body that is a member of the Olympic movement.

Instead of devoting all our energies to this objective, we are now forced to allocate vital resources in order to defend ourselves against legal action brought before the European Commission for years to come. This will not dissuade me, however, from continuing to work in support of a new model for professional cycling. The only way our sport can take this necessary step is if its stakeholders (UCI, riders, teams, organisers) stick together. I also call on your sense of responsibility to help make this much-needed unity a reality. The UCI will work in favour of it and will never be dictated to by a single stakeholder, thereby guaranteeing a balanced vision. I am convinced that only our International Federation is equipped to achieve this.

The launch of the UCI Classics Series – a competition that the AIGCP believes the UCI should not put its name to – aims to create a new model that is profitable for everyone and even seeks to guarantee increased revenue. It may be extended to other race categories in the future. The aim is to make cycling a more international sport by growing its audience and safeguarding our presence in every region around the world. I promise to report back to you soon with specific proposals and provide you with a progress schedule on this matter. When it comes to the UCI Classics Series, please be assured that the UCI has no intention of taking over anyone’s rights, regardless of what your representatives may say.

If we have to move forward in the interest of cycling without some actors or families, we will do so because our sport can wait no longer. We have already wasted too much time. I am also counting on your support to help me promote this vision and implement this new model.

I am looking forward to meeting you at the UCI WorldTour seminar and to giving you an update on the position professional cycling is currently in, without concealing the many challenges that we must all overcome together. Cycling needs a strong UCI, one that listens to the concerns of its stakeholders, among them, the teams. Cycling’s status as a major global sport hinges on the unity of all its families and not on an individual venture embarked on by one of these families, whoever they are. You can count on my determination and that of my colleagues on the UCI Management Committee, who are united behind this vision to work to bring everyone together, without succumbing to the ceaseless and reiterated provocation directed at us.

Warmest regards,

with my full support,  [handwritten – Ed.]

David Lappartient

President