Simmering tension between the peloton’s top teams and the UCI could boil over this week as the cycling federation presses forward with its reform agenda.
Representatives from the top teams are waiting anxiously to see what UCI president David Lappartient presents this week in decisive behind-closed-doors meetings.
Speaking to VeloNews, AIGCP vice-president Richard Plugge said the teams do not know what Lappartient will propose this week as part of reforms the cycling governing body wants to introduce by 2020. Plans seem to be in flux but it appears Lappartient has stepped back from an earlier proposal to trim the WorldTour teams from 18 to 15.
“That is not a victory for us,” Plugge said in a telephone interview Sunday. “You just keep what you already have, and on top of that, they are giving an extra burden.”
Plugge, who also is general manager of the LottoNL-Jumbo teams, said the AIGCP is upset that the UCI reform effort appears to be piling on more costs and requirements on the teams without offering much on the upside.
Officials from the UCI said Lappartient will speak to the media this week about the reform effort.
Teams walked away satisfied from a sit-down with the UCI in mid-September, but a phone call Wednesday between Lappartient and two leaders of the AIGCP created a sense of dread among the teams coming into this week’s series of meetings that coincide with the 2018 world road cycling championships in Innsbruck, Austria.
“We were encouraged after our meeting in Madrid, but we were less encouraged after the phone call Wednesday,” Plugge said. “We were disappointed with many things Lappartient was saying. We still have not seen a proposal. Lappartient said the objective of the reform is to create stability for the teams, but now it looks quite the opposite.”
Lappartient promised sweeping reforms of elite men’s road racing when he was elected the cycling’s governing body’s president last year. Following the input of several working groups over the winter and spring, the top WorldTour teams were given a briefing in June of what Lappartient had in mind.
Several key points in the reform, including a rollback of WorldTour teams and a new qualifying system for grand tours under a season-long points system, alarmed teams.
It appears Lappartient has stepped back from his plans to chop the WorldTour league from 18 to 15 and has agreed to maintain three-year licenses. It’s also likely that the UCI will press for an increase of the WorldTour-roster minimum from 23 to 27 riders. That move will likely gain support from the riders’ association ahead of this week’s meetings.
Teams are not too opposed to everything Lappartient wants to do, but Plugge said that the UCI seems to be considering ideas that in their view will tilt the balance of power in favor of the major race organizers and give very little back to teams.
“Instead, there is a shift of more power to some organizers and creating a stronger position for the monopoly of these organizers,” Plugge said. “The financial burden is all on the teams. It seems that the UCI and others are seeing the teams as banks.”
Teams have been raising the alarm this month because Plugge said teams want a larger discussion of cycling’s underlying business model and financial incentives before getting bogged down on details of points and qualifying systems. Teams argue that collectively they pony up more than $450 million a year in budgets and salaries, but have a limited voice in outlining rules of the sport and see little financial benefit under the current business model.
“The teams and riders bring value to the sport, but all the money goes to someone else,” Plugge continued. “We want a larger discussion of a business plan because there are some organizers making all the profit from the WorldTour. It’s not going to the teams and it’s not going to the riders.”
Against the backdrop of growing tension, the UCI reform push hits a critical test this week.
First up is Monday’s Pro Cycling Council meeting. The 12-vote body includes six votes from the UCI and two each from organizers, teams, and riders. If approved by a majority, the reform plan would move for consideration by the UCI management committee later this week. Details are to be worked out in the coming months, but the UCI is pressing for initial approval of its reform package this week.
“It’s the last chance for the UCI to come up with a good plan,” Plugge said. “We made it perfectly clear that we want to have a good economic plan underneath it.”
What happens if the AIGCP is not satisfied? Plugge wouldn’t show his hand.
“The teams are very united on where we want to go. Much more so than 10 years ago when there were similar discussions,” he said. “After this week we will know more, and then we will make our decision.
“We have paid money into the WorldTour in one form or another for 15 years and not one team has ever made money out of the WorldTour,” he said. “They have proved that the UCI is incapable of making money from the WorldTour for all of the stakeholders.”