Velon, the business group that represents 11 WorldTour teams, including Deceuninck–QuickStep, Team Ineos and Jumbo-Visma, has submitted an anti-trust complaint to the European Commission against the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), alleging that the UCI has "implemented existing regulations and sought to introduce new ones that are designed to favour the UCI’s business interests to the detriment of the teams".
In a statement, Velon claimed the UCI has hampered the development of its Hammer race series and tried to take control of on-bike rider data by changing the rules.
"The UCI today believes that it should not only be the regulator for the sport but also take new business creation from its stakeholders without their consent. The UCI feels entitled to use its regulatory powers for its own commercial benefit and to take the rights of the teams and riders without consultation or permission," the Velon statement read.
"In the past year the UCI has tried to stop what Velon and the teams have pioneered in their joint business on new races (the team v team “Hammer Series”) and technology. Velon and its shareholder and partner teams hoped and expected that its initiatives would be supported by the UCI, as had been the case in previous years.
"However, in the past 12 months the UCI has used its regulatory power and political leverage to seek to block the business activities of Velon and the teams in an incorrect and unlawful manner.
"Consequently, Velon and its teams have been left with no alternative but to submit the Complaint to the European Commission with the objective of having an external authority’s assessment as to whether the conduct of the UCI in regard to the above matters (in particular its use of its regulatory power and political leverage) infringes EU competition rules."
Cyclingnews understands the European Commission will take several months to decide if it will even hear the case, with any final verdict likely to take several years.
The UCI told Cyclingnews it had not yet been notified of the complaint but that when it is, any necessary steps according to appropriate procedure would be taken.
An escalation in the power struggle
The anti-trust complaint to the European Commission escalates the eternal power struggle between the Velon teams, the UCI and major race organisers.
The Velon teams and many others teams believe the existing business model of professional cycling is precarious and so holding back the development of the sport.
During the recent World Championships in Yorkshire, the AIGCP (the association of men’s professional road cycling teams) came out against the UCI's planned 'Classics Series', which is set to be implemented next season after the UCI failed to create a new business model for the series that included television rights. The major one-day Classics are now likely to stay as part of the current WorldTour calendar with a special ranking, prizes and promotion by the teams and riders.
Velon was created in 2014 as the leading teams became more and more frustrated about the business model of professional cycling. Velon includes 11 of the current 18 WorldTour teams: Bora-Hansgrohe, CCC Team, Deceuninck–QuickStep, EF Education First, Lotto Soudal, Mitchelton-Scott, Team Ineos, Team Jumbo-Visma, Team Sunweb, Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates.
Tour de France organiser ASO dominates the sport. Meanwhile, different UCI presidents have tried to introduce different reforms, but little has changed. Velon has created a business around the use of on-bike data and video content but the UCI and race organisers have often fought them for ownership of the data.
Velon decided to organise its own races by creating the Hammer Series, but the team-based events have struggled to gain momentum. Four Hammer events have been announced for 2020 but Cyclingnews understands a Hammer race in Colombia planned for February 2020 will not be held after the Colombian Cycling Federation pushed back against the event, citing a clash of dates.
Due to the continued protests in Hong Kong, a final decision on the running of this year's one-day Hammer Series Hong Kong race will be made later this week.
UCI president David Lappartient has since praised the Colombian Federation for its work and promised to attend the Colombia 2.1 race in February 2020.
Velon claims that professional cycling teams invest more than €400 million per year in the sport – more than 50 per cent of the total investment in professional road cycling – but are almost totally dependent on sponsorship revenue. Velon claims it supports many of the races on the UCI calendar by attending the races but is critical of the lack of a clear narrative and a solid business model.
"It is accepted by almost everyone in the sport, including the UCI, that this model needs to be radically changed in order to make it more stable and to attract new investment, to teams and to races," the Velon statement issued by CEO Graham Bartlett read.
"The strategy was not to fight for redistribution of the existing money, but to generate new revenues from new business through innovation and greater fan engagement.
"Our desire is for a stable, predictable and fair regulatory environment for the sport that treats the teams, riders and race organisers in equal manner. Velon, its shareholders and partners, want the development of new ideas, to attract new investment and to create a better business model so that professional road cycling continues to strengthen and develop for the fans and everyone involved in the sport."