The UCI has confirmed to Cyclingnews that it has initiated proceedings against Rainbow Pro Cycling, the payment agent for the Nippo Delko One Provence team, in relation to releasing the squad's UCI bank guarantee after the sport's governing body received several complaints from riders owed money for 2020.
Cyclingnews has learned that at least two riders with contracts for 2021 – Atsushi Oka and José Gonçalves – have also been told by team manager Philippe Lannes that they have no place on the squad for next year, although the Frenchman has denied this.
One source has told Cyclingnews that, at present, there are multiple claims over a lack of wages. The UCI would not confirm the exact number but Cyclingnews has spoken to two riders who have claimed that the team still owe them missing wages and that there are more riders in a similar position.
"The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has received requests for seizure of the team's bank guarantee and these procedures are underway," a spokesperson for the UCI told Cyclingnews before later coming back and confirming: "UCI has initiated proceedings with a view to calling up the bank guarantee of the team in relation to several requests."
When contacted by Cyclingnews, the team’s press officer provided responses from Lannes, with the Frenchman denying any knowledge of the UCI’s action over the bank guarantee.
"Our bank guarantee is made until March 2022, the UCI has not initiated any proceedings against the team and I have no information from them," the response read.
"Free to one or more riders to claim unjustified additional remuneration, to my knowledge none has done so."
The response from Lannes also stated that he had paid all salaries as obliged under French law but that salaries were briefly lowered during the first European lockdown back in March and April.
"The salaries of all riders and staff have been paid within the contractual deadlines since I took over the company on February 15th, 2020. Only the period of the 1st lockdown gave place to some adjustments for the biggest salaries in accordance with the laws of partial unemployment and we paid 100% of the salaries up to 3 000€ net monthly, always in accordance with the law."
Cyclingnews has seen two separate sets of complaints from Japanese rider Atsushi Oka and Portugal’s José Gonçalves, who have both contacted the UCI over issues of either missing payments, contracts not being honored, and threatening behavior in terms of their futures on the team.
Cyclingnews understands Oka and fellow Japanese rider Masahiro Ishigami have both been told that they are not part of Lannes’ initial plans for 2021, despite both having contracts for next year. Lannes’ frustration with the Japanese riders on the team appears to stem from the fact that Nippo has decided to leave at the end of this year and has been heavily linked with a sponsorship deal with EF Pro Cycling. The American team have already announced that current Nippo Delko One Provence rider Hideto Nakane will ride for them in 2021.
In a particular instance, Oka has sent a report to the UCI informing them that he was evicted from the team’s house in France with little notice and that he was threatened that if he stayed on the team in 2021 – even though he had a contract – he would receive no support and would only race four times during the year.
Lannes denied that there was a campaign against the Japanese riders on the team. However, he did admit that the Oka and Ishigami, in his opinion, were not good enough to ride the team’s race calendar in 2021, even though they both have contracts for next season.
"There is no sanction against the Japanese riders. There are still 2 Japanese riders in the staff in 2021, Atsushi Oka and Masahiro Ishigami. The staff and myself note that their level is insufficient to ride our calendar. I proposed to them to start a negotiation of breach of contract," Lannes wrote.
"If they wish to stay, with their 2020 level, they will have a minimum schedule, while remaining within the framework of the laws of the UCI. Yes Atsushi Oka will no longer be housed for free (we had an agreement with NIPPO for 2020) and we never told the rider that he would be housed for free again."
Cyclingnews understands that Lannes has also told another rider on the team, Dušan Rajović, that he must break his contract with his agent in order to receive an improved contract. This allegation has been reported to the UCI by Rajović’s agent, Robbie Hunter.
The CPA, which acts as a union for pro riders, has also written to Lannes in relation to his treatment of riders, while Lannes has denied to Cyclingnwews that he has asked riders to break their contracts with rider agents in order to have improved contracts on the team.
Cyclingnews has seen rider contracts for both Gonçalves and Oka, plus several documents relating to the complaints they made.
Gonçalves joined the team from Katusha at the start of 2020 and signed a two-year contract. However, he has notified the UCI that he is still waiting for his salary for March and April of this year. When contacted by Cyclingnews, the Portuguese rider told the website that problems with the team did not stop at just payment issues.
According to Gonçalves, Lannes took issue with him as soon as he took over from Frederic Rostaing as the team manager in April.
"Absolutely there were other problems," Gonçalves wrote in a follow-up email after talking to Cyclingnews on the phone.
"Since the management was changed in the team Mr. Lannes don't approve my contract, for him I received too much and his goal was put me out the team, I raced 22 days in this whole year (that's really nothing) and even after 12 race days he already said that's next year the team don't count on me to ride."
On October 20, Gianni Bugno, the head of the CPA, wrote directly to Lannes, stating that the Frenchman was being tracked over his treatment of Gonçalves after the rider emailed the CPA on October 13. Bugno’s email threatened Lannes with possible legal action.
"Dear Mr. Lannes, we have been informed of the current situation between your team and the rider José Gonçalves who has a regular contract with you until December 31, 2021," Bugno wrote.
"We will remain vigilant on the treatment you reserve for him, hoping that you will honor his contract under the best conditions, as planned. Otherwise, we will be obliged to follow the procedures provided by law. Thanking you for your attention, we send you our best greetings."
According to Gonçalves, part of his written statement includes a conversation he had with his agent, in which Gonçalves was told that Lannes had said: "I will destroy his career." The former Katusha rider believes that it was Lannes’ intention to always push him out of the team.
"He accused me to be a bad rider, not in good shape, not a good example for the young riders and said that I don’t take the training serious. All these things after 12 race days in the beginning of the year, without reason because I did exactly opposite way, being myself always respecting everybody, always being professional in the work, races and training."
Lannes states in his response to Cyclingnews that: "José Gonçalves was not paid in full in April and May according to the rules of partial unemployment and in full before and after."
It seems that the UCI and possibly the French counts will decide whether Lannes still owes Gonçalves money but he also stated that the rider was 'not satisfactory'.
"The results of José Gonçalves our leader for the general classification and his involvement in training are not satisfactory, we have warned him several times and today we are discussing an anticipated breach of contract. If he wishes it, he will remain in the team in 2021 with a calendar adapted to his physical condition and in accordance with the UCI rules."
Gonçalves was not invited to the team’s recent training camp ahead of the 2021 season.
Oka & Rajović
In the case of Rajović, according to his agent Robbie Hunter, Lannes has tried on several occasions to push the athlete into signing an agreement that ends his relationship with Hunter in return for a new and improved rider contract. Hunter raised a complaint with the UCI over this on October 29.
Cyclingnews has also seen Oka’s statement in relation to Lannes. In the short one-page document, the Japanese rider claims that he was "unjustly threatened by team owner Philippe Lannes".
The rider goes on to write: "On October 17th, Philippe Lannes told me: If you continue with my team, you only have 4 races in a next year. And we don't provide daily training, airline tickets, travel expenses, all support. He was very angry that this year's main sponsor NIPPO would not sign a 2021 contract.
"So he told me to get out because I'm Japanese. Finally, I lived in the team's house, so he yelled me to ‘get out now!’ Then he kicked me out. His actions are an outburst of anger and I don’t understand because I have nothing to do with it. Normally I have a contract for next year, so I will not revoke the 2021 contract. I ask for help."
Oka has since returned to Japan with no certainty over his future.
'He tried to destroy my career'
Cyclingnews also spoke to another rider on the team who wished to remain anonymous for fear of not receiving money still owed to him. The rider claims that he is still owed several thousand Euros in wages but he did not want to include the exact amount for fear of it being matched to his name.
"There’s been a big problem inside the team since the management change in March," the rider said.
"There have been a lot of problems with the payments for riders who haven’t received their total salary. Because of COVID the government is meant to pay some of the salary earlier in the year but not all of it. Normally the manager should pay the difference but he’s never paid the difference and it’s a bigger problem for the riders from outside of France."
According to the rider, he tried to talked to Lannes at the start of the summer but the Frenchman was not willing to talk and instead told the rider that if there was a problem he could take it to a tribunal.
"He didn’t want to speak. We spoke about a race programme for the rest of the year and I was down to do some big races but in June all the big races were removed and I was never told where I was racing. He gave me the minimum amount of legal racing allowed per month.
"He tried to break me and he tried it with a lot of riders that he didn’t want to keep. He destroyed my programme and he tried to destroy my career. Some riders have two-year contracts that he now wants to break. Naturally the riders don’t want to have their contracts broken but Lannes fights and then he says 'if you want to stay in the team then you’ll race the minimum and I’ll break you'."
Cyclingnews has asked Lannes whether, away from the two Japanese riders that currently have contracts for next year, he has actively tried to force riders out of the team or limit their racing days due to disputes relating to payments and whether he has pulled riders from races simply because of these disputes.
He denied both accusations.
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