In September, David Lappartient called it 'fake news' but, a few months on from those comments, the UCI President will be able to read the very real news that a new union has been set up to represent members of the men's professional road peloton.
Although there are no immediate steps to incorporate riders from then women's peloton, The Riders Union – as it wishes to be called – was launched today and hopes to see over 200 members join by the start of 2021.
The Riders Union is only in its infancy, and bylaws and enrollment forms have yet to be completed, but the new body has set out a manifesto to represent riders' interests in several key areas, including: the financial sustainability of the sport, road safety, security (social security), and transparency in the governance of the sport through direct representation and voting.
Members of The Riders Union will be asked to pay monthly fees, while plans to incorporate riders from the women's peloton are likely to follow in 2021. The idea of The Riders Union came after complaints and frustration stemming from the the CPA (Cyclistes Professionnels Associés) union. The organization has been accused of being a puppet for the UCI and not properly standing up for riders' rights. It has also faced criticism over its structure and internal election system that's based on national association blocks, with riders calling for 'one rider, one vote' protocols to be implemented.
The new group, which does not have a website but has set up social media accounts, is spearheaded by former teams association boss Luuc Eisenga and former Jumbo-Visma rider Stef Clement, who is currently in the role of interim CEO. The rest of the board is made up of Michael Rutherford, Andrew McQuaid, and Thibault Hofer.
"I brought people together and listened to many riders and stakeholders," Clement told Cyclingnews and other members of the cycling media on Monday. "I’m proud and happy that after six months we have looked at having the dialogue with the CPA and the other stakeholders and have drawn the conclusion that there’s enough benefits to create something new.
"One of the complaints that I heard was that riders weren’t being listened to, and that they weren’t being heard by anyone. For many years the riders had that feeling but to become a member of our union you have to be proactive and enroll, whereas with the CPA you are automatically a member. Yes, we need a certain amount of riders to create a base but we also need active riders, those that really want to make a change.
"Our goal for the coming months is get as many members so we can start a riders' union. The first goal is to create a base and platform so that riders, no matter of their background or country, everyone who is a male professional rider can join this union."
'It’s time for a proactive rider association'
Back in June, over 325 professional riders signed a petition calling for reforms to the CPA after a call to arms and the creation of a list of requests for change. The riders reportedly on the list included Chris Froome, Nicolas Roche, Robert Gesink, Matej Mohoric, Jasper Stuyven, Sam Bewley, Jos van Emden and Koen de Kort. Along with frustration over the CPA’s lack of action in a number of areas, including rider safety, riders were also angered by the CPA's backing of the UCI's call to allocate €1 million from the WorldTour emergency fund to cover the costs of their legal battle with the Velon.
During the World Championships in Imola in September, when rumours of a new rider union began to properly surface, Lappartient was dismissive, and went as far as describing information sent to riders as 'fake news', suggesting the attack on the CPA was "part of a global strategy to destabilize the UCI". The UCI President also said: "It’s true there’s a destabilization around the CPA but it's coming as a part of a global strategy to destabilize the UCI, the governing body and the other existing bodies."
According to The Riders Union, a meeting between themselves and the CPA was requested during the World Championships but never materialized.
Their formation throws up several major questions, not least how they will react if the UCI and CPA fail to recognize their authority, but also how riders will react to potentially being members of two organisations that claim to represent their interests, and how the new Riders Union will seek to work alongside the CPA if their membership demand action against the CPA’s close ties with the UCI.
When asked about the relationship with the CPA and the UCI, the leaders of The Riders Union appeared to seek resolution rather than confrontation but their existence is almost certainly going to be seen as an act of aggression, although the CPA has yet to make an official comment on the new association.
It’s unclear as to what The Riders Union would do if the CPA and/or the UCI fail to recognize their status or legitimacy. As is the case with The Cyclists Alliance, which has gained traction as a union for the women's peloton but is not officially recognised by the UCI, The Riders Union would be unlikely to have a seat at the Professional Cycling Council (PCC) meetings that shape the direction of the sport.
"I’m confident that once the word is out and that the riders see that we’ll push this through they will join us," Eisenga said.
"We have good group of riders and what gave us the confidence was the petition that we organized a few months ago, where we had 350 riders from the peloton in just a couple of days. We talked about one rider one vote and having a direct influence and ultimately it’s going to be up to them to decide if they want to join or not. We believe that we have enough interesting points and positive aspects.
"Every athlete has the freedom to join the union that they would like. This morning I was already reaching out to the CPA saying that we would launch today and to keep them informed. For us it’s not about fighting. It’s about defending the interest of the sport and the professional riders. We might end up with two unions defending riders but that’s quite normal in practice.
"It’s time for a proactive riders' association that can defend the interests of the riders and work together with the other stakeholders in the sport. But recognition [ed, with the UCI] is not the first step, it’s the result of work."
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