Teams organisation rails against UCI for 'taxation without representation'

New UCI president David Lappartient with 2014 Worlds winner Michał Kwiatkowski on the start line
(Image credit: Tim de Waele/

The Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels (AIGCP) teams' organisation issued a scathing letter denouncing the UCI's management of pro cycling on Monday, complaining of decisions being made without stakeholder input that amount to a situation like the American Revolution's 'taxation without representation'.

Addressed to UCI president David Lappartient and copied to the UCI Professional Cycling Council and UCI Road Commission, the letter expresses "serious concerns about the current level and execution of governance of men’s professional road cycling by the UCI".

The major complaints include 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.

At the end of a detailed list of major complaints, two points were given special mention: "UCI provides no formal accountability whatsoever to its biggest stakeholders in men’s professional road cycling: the teams with their riders" and "UCI’s most important role, to be a consistent and fair arbiter of the sport and guardian of its safety, is not being performed to any requisite standard."

At the UCI Road World Championships in September, a major controversy erupted after the judges disqualified winner Nils Eekhoff for excessive drafting in the first half of the men's U23 road race, with the rider's agent threatening legal action and Eekhoff appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to have the decision reversed with the support of the Dutch federation.

After years of debate, negotiation and planning, the UCI finally began rolling out reforms to the top of pro cycling this year. In 2020 it will launch the UCI Classic Series encapsulating most of the one-day WorldTour races and the UCI ProSeries which combines many of the second tier events, previously 1.1 or 1.HC one-day races or 2.1 or 2.HC stage races. 

The AIGCP already rejected the Classic Series in a previous statement, and goes further in criticizing the ProSeries in the current letter, saying increases the number of days teams are obligated to race from 154 per season to 180.

In Monday's letter, the AIGCP goes further to accuse the UCI of interfering in the commercial domain and too often at the expense of UCI’s own stakeholders and marketing teams and riders' assets without their input.

The full text of the AIGCP letter can be read below.

Full Text

Mr David Lappartient (President of the UCI)

Members of the UCI Management Committee


28 October 2019

Dear President,

Dear Members of the UCI Management Committee,

The purpose of this letter is to formally notify you that men’s professional road teams (AIGCP) have serious concerns about the current level and execution of governance of men’s professional road cycling by the UCI.

AIGCP expects urgent action and invites the UCI to a dialogue to work out a governance structure which would have the consent of teams and their riders and which will better serve the growth of men’s professional road cycling.

A summary of our concerns is as follows:

1. UCI’s core task in regard to men’s professional road cycling not being performed at the required level

The level of fair and consistent race refereeing and the management of riders’ safety is below the level it should be. Professional teams and professional riders, as well as many organisers, operate at a high level and in a professional manner. Such a high level is also to be expected from the UCI in regard to race safety and fair and consistent race refereeing, which should have the highest priority for the UCI in its governance of the sport. The UCI’s activities in men’s professional road cycling must focus on this and it should not be distracted from these priorities by other activities which are not the mandated role of a governing body.

Professional road cycling requires a governing body which spends its time and efforts operating professionally in order to ensure a high level of refereeing and in a consistent manner throughout the season, and to no longer grant multiple year licenses to race organisers without thorough prior assessment (and compliance checks during the license term) if race organisers have the quality, the resources, safety measures, the financial guarantees, the budget and sufficient qualified and licensed staff in place to be able to decide if such organisers should be granted the right to host a race in the first place. Safe race conditions should have been UCI’s absolute priority.

2. No Stakeholder Rights: “taxation without representation”

The majority share of the investment into men’s professional road cycling is held by the teams, including their major financial contributions into the UCI. At the same time, the UCI has chosen to structure the governance of men’s professional road cycling in such a way that teams and their riders have no meaningful say at all. In the Professional Cycling Council (governing the UCI WorldTour) the teams only hold two seats out of twelve, with the UCI itself holding half of the seats (6).

Furthermore, the only real power lies in the UCI’s Management Committee, which can introduce and change rules as it sees fit in total isolation and without consultation with the stakeholders including the regulations about men’s professional road cycling. All seats in the Management Committee are occupied by the UCI itself.

As a result, there is no effective representation of the sport’s stakeholders and the UCI has no accountability whatsoever towards the teams and their riders. In reality, the UCI governs men’s professional cycling as it wants. For the teams and riders this amounts to being taxed by a system in which they have absolutely no effective representation.

Even within the flawed attempt at a limited form of democracy which the PCC embodies, the processes are also inconsistent and do not function in the correct manner. The UCI decides what is on the agenda and what is not. Even when it has been previously agreed that certain subjects shall be part of the agenda, the UCI can decide to simply leave them out. And if subjects are raised by the teams, the UCI President (who is not even a member of the PCC) can decline the idea/request without further discussion. The PCC is supposed to be a forum for discussion amongst teams, riders, organisers and the UCI but the manner in which it now functions is the opposite, as the official PCC members cannot discuss a matter if a certain guest of the PCC turns down the motion, a guest who does not have any formal role or voting right in that forum - as is officially the UCI President’s position in the PCC.

Further, in the event that a UCI proposal in the PCC does not obtain the support of the teams, it is not uncommon that the teams’ representatives are denigrated in the meeting. Such proceedings do not offer a safe environment for open discussions and the opportunity to safely disagree, let alone comply with the UCI’s own regulations.

The Professional Cycling Council is an attempt to create the illusion of stakeholder engagement in order to cover the reality that teams and their riders actually have no say at all. And despite the fact that the teams and their riders have no effective say, the teams are still obliged to make a large financial contribution to the UCI.

3. Interfering in the commercial domain

UCI’s role in men’s professional road cycling is to be the arbiter, managing the (control of) riders’ safety, and executing the license procedures for both teams and organisers. However, the UCI is using its regulatory powers in many ways and forms to, directly and indirectly, interfere in the commercial domain and too often at the expense of UCI’s own stakeholders: the teams with their riders. This is happening more and more, and against the explicit will of the teams and their riders. Some examples of this are as follows:

a) Balance teams (riders) and organisers.

The original balance between teams and organisers consisted of 4-year licenses including Tour de France participation, for which in return the teams were obliged to race a total of 154 racing days in UCI’s WorldTour. This has been unbalanced by the UCI at the expense of the teams and their riders. The number of racing days has now reached 180 days, and the sporting criterion for teams’ licenses (through a points system which includes all races) has heavily unbalanced the teams-organisers parity and has heavily impacted the teams’ key right to freely decide its strategy of where to race, which (national) races to support, and under which terms (beyond the original 154 WorldTour days).

In addition, the UCI has obvious conflicts of interest in this area: the UCI’s own income of license fees grows with an ever-expanding WorldTour calendar, and the UCI is providing WorldTour licenses to races for political benefits (in regards to the federations or organisers concerned) and/or for commercial benefits (putting another race of the UCI World Championships organiser into the WorldTour, explicitly against the will of teams and their riders).

The UCI announced in 2018 its ambition to elevate the level and prestige of second-tier races, currently called HC (Hors Category) races. A more select number of races would form that second tier of races directly beneath the WorldTour races and the qualification HC would be replaced by a more appealing name, the “ProSeries”. Those races would have to meet high standards, especially with regard to safety, and be appealing to teams.

With the announcement of the 2020 ProSeries it became clear that the reality turned out to be the opposite of those ambitions. Instead of a prestigious, selective and appealing category, this second tier of races is set to grow in 2020 by 28.5% (!) in terms of number of races.

With all respect to the event itself, the race in the President’s hometown, the GP Plumelec, has even been promoted to this second tier despite the fact that this race has, in the last 3 years, never been able to attract even a single foreign WorldTeam.

Races have not been registered as ProSeries races on the basis of objective criteria but rather for political reasons and/or personal preferences. Such an expanded second tier of races is one thing, but combining this expansion with the “sporting criterion” procedure (which is part of the process that determines the teams’ licenses and consequently the teams’ future), which operates over the complete calendar rather than over the WorldTour races alone, is clearly greatly prejudicial to the teams. The combination of the expanded calendar of first and second tier races plus the sporting criterion to be determined over the complete calendar further disrupts the commercial balance between race organisers and teams, and heavily undermines the teams’ key right to freely decide their strategies of where to race, which (national) races to support, and under which terms.

Further, it creates the undesirable situation that pressure is put on teams and riders to race ever more days in a season. For these reasons the combination of such expanded first and second tier calendars with the current sporting criterion is not agreed upon by the teams.

UCI’s focus has turned so much to extracting value from WorldTeams that some basic priorities seem to have been forgotten. One of those basic priorities being that the ProSeries are supposed to be a key element of strengthening the second tier of the cycling pyramid; a strong alliance between second-tier teams and second-tier organisers. Second-tier teams, ProTeams, are crucial for a solid basis of the cycling pyramid. Accordingly, offering ProTeams participation guarantees in the races of “their” second tier, the ProSeries, must be a priority and for these obvious reasons, the teams have been demanding from the UCI the implementation of such a mechanism. However, while the UCI has busied itself to promote more races to this new status and creating a system which puts pressure on WorldTeams to participate in these races (i.e. the “sporting criterion”), the UCI has failed to deliver on the long-standing promise to offer ProTeams participation guarantees in the ProSeries. And, despite failing to offer ProTeams any participation guarantees in the ProSeries, the UCI 2020 Reform imposes additional financial obligations on the ProTeams, resulting in the demise of a number of prominent ProTeams.

The teams’ concerns are not only about the ProSeries. Our letter of 26 September 2019 sets out our concerns regarding the UCI Classics Series. Another example of the UCI pushing ahead with a project for its own interest against the wishes and interests of the teams and riders. The UCI’s written response on 23 October 2019 to the serious concerns raised by the teams, reflects the UCI’s approach generally, which is not to address any of the underlying concerns and to fall back on allegations and insults. It is hugely disappointing to see the UCI not recognising the teams as a “relevant stakeholder” with whom the UCI needs to work for the development of the UCI Classics Series.

b) UCI to market “teams’/riders’ assets” without consultation with teams/riders.

UCI has decided to add another weekend of ‘nation-versus-nation’ racing into the calendar (the first weekend of the World Championships: the Team Relay), which means that the teams lose a weekend of visibility for their sponsors and their recognisable team kits. The riders of the professional teams that pay them can be required for that team relay. The teams had to find out about this via the media, there was no prior consultation with the teams whatsoever despite the fact that the participation of professional riders is the central element of those championships.

The UCI has added Continental Championships to the calendar. Another additional ‘nation-versus-nation’ competition which again takes away visibility from the teams. Again, the teams’ riders may be required to race those races. In addition, the winner of such championships is obliged to wear, for an entire year, the continental championships jersey, which yet again takes away visibility/recognisability from the teams. The UCI should not need to be reminded that all teams are solely funded by the sponsors that appear on their jerseys. Introducing yet another jersey dilutes the value of sponsorship rights and limits the number of sponsors to be presented, even more so because that jersey is worn for an entire year by one of the better riders. So, to weaken such important teams’ rights is a serious matter for all teams.

As in the other examples given, all of this was also decided without any consultation with the teams whilst requiring their professional riders to race at those championships.

The UCI has singlehandedly changed the regulation of on-bike devices in an attempt to hand the teams’ rights to itself and to race organisers, with the potential to cause a major negative impact on the opportunities to commercialise teams and riders business. Yet again, this was done without any consultation with the teams. As before, the UCI has ignored for many months every attempt of the teams/riders to enter into a dialogue about this important subject.

In short.

1. UCI provides no formal accountability whatsoever to its biggest stakeholders in men’s professional road cycling: the teams with their riders.

2. UCI’s most important role, to be a consistent and fair arbiter of the sport and guardian of its safety, is not being performed to any requisite standard.

In regard to the above concerns the AIGCP invites the UCI to enter into a dialogue in order to establish the following in regard to men’s professional road cycling:

1. Increase the level and consistency of the race referees and their decisions.

2. Main focus of UCI as governing body to centre around license procedures, including for race organisers, very strict quality criteria for riders’ safety.

3. Maintain the original balance between (WorldTour) teams and organisers; 4-year licenses including participation in the Tour de France versus an obligation to race in a total of 154 WorldTour days, no further indirect mechanisms to unbalance that and/or to limit the team’s right to choose where to race (beyond the WorldTour).

4. The stakeholders – teams and their riders (together with the race organisers) – to obtain a formal and relevant say in the decision-making process of men’s professional road cycling such that their voice cannot be ignored.

5. The UCI, as a governing body, to not use its regulatory powers to interfere in the commercial domain and/or not to compete with its own stakeholders in the commercial domain.

6. Agreement on what total financial contribution the UCI should require from men’s professional road cycling for its overall functioning as governing body. Then the stakeholders to decide how to fund that amount which is to be paid to the UCI.

We kindly await your response.

Yours sincerely,

AIGCP Management Committee

CC: UCI Professional Cycling Council

UCI Road Commission

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