'It’s time for a change,' says four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome

Tour de France star Chris Froome has emerged as a leading voice for change among disgruntled pro riders who are demanding more from their riders’ association.

The usually discreet Froome has lent his star power and voice to a budding movement among discontented factions of the peloton that are calling for better representation at the CPA (Cyclistes Professionales Associés) as well as more input at the highest levels of the sport.

“It’s time for a change,” Froome told VeloNews. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Speaking to VeloNews via telephone Thursday, Froome said riders are insisting that the CPA creates a more open and representative system. And there is even the threat of a splinter group separate and independent from the CPA if the riders are not satisfied.

“There is a lot of talking going on behind the scenes,” Froome said. “There is talk of potential of a new union or trying to work with the CPA. The ball is in their court.”

Riders across the peloton are fuming over the latest election process to select the CPA’s new president. The election — scheduled as part of the Innsbruck road world cycling championships — has kicked off a firestorm of discontent among the biggest stars of the peloton. Incumbent Gianni Bugno defeated fellow retired pro David Millar on Thursday.

The contested election seems to be just the tip of the iceberg. Froome and other top riders in the peloton have taken to social media to raise the battle cry for better representation and a stronger voice for the racers.

“This election is an awakening to a lot of riders of what the situation currently is,” Froome said. “It’s made riders aware of what needs to change going forward.”

Tensions have been ratcheting up over the past several weeks as two-time CPA president Bugno faced a challenge from Millar.

The ex-pro quickly saw riders back his renegade bid for the top spot. The CPA — cycling’s only officially UCI-recognized riders’ group — has never seen a contested presidential election. Millar’s final-hour challenge has revealed deep fractures within the group that is the closest thing that professional cycling has to a formal riders’ union.

When Millar cried foul over the voting process — which works under a delegate system meaning that Bugno was all but sure to win with confirmed backing from blocks of votes from Italy, Spain, and France — riders spoke out in indignation in their apparent inability to have much of an influence in their own riders’ association.

The only way for individual riders to vote — specifically, those not from nations voting as a block — was to travel to Innsbruck on Thursday and cast the vote in person. Calls to create some sort of electronic balloting system were blocked by the CPA. Realizing his vote would have little impact, Froome stayed at home Thursday with his family.

The voting rules and the CPA’s apparent disinterest to change them provoked outrage from among many of the top pros, many of whom took to social media to express their displeasure and frustration.

The usually diplomatic Froome was front and center in a high-profile protest letter sent to the CPA last week. Froome and fellow Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas were headline signatories among 27 top pros who were demanding changes within the CPA and calls for a more representative voting system.

“The CPA were getting upset that riders were speaking out publicly and not directly to them,” Froome explained. “So we said, let’s get something together between a group of some quite influential riders, riders with a name and voice in the sport, and send a collective message to them that’s not necessarily just British or American riders, but from a cross-section of riders from a lot of different nations.

“We wanted to tell them how we are feeling and what we’d like to see happening in the CPA,” Froome said. “It seems that e-mail was completely ignored and they will keep on doing what they want to do anyway.”

That growing sense of frustration and of powerlessness could see more pressure mounted on the CPA in the coming weeks and months. Millar hinted he might call for a second ballot if he lost Thursday and vowed to continue working to shake up the CPA.

CPA negotiates in the name of the peloton, but riders like Froome say most of the riders in the peloton have little or no influence among the group that is supposedly acting in their collective interests.

Froome, a four-time Tour de France winner, said he spoke to Bugno for the first time by telephone only last week.

“I find it very confusing to see statements from [UCI president David] Lappartient that it’s great that all the stakeholders are all on board when not a single rider was actually brought into these discussions,” Froome said. “It’s not his fault, it’s the fault of the CPA. As it stands now, it is not an organization that truly represents the riders. I have never seen Bugno face to face and I only spoke to him for the first time a few days ago, and I’ve been a pro for more than 10 years. That’s horrendous and that actually says a lot about the CPA.”

Riders are becoming more agitated over their collective dissatisfaction with the CPA and its apparent lack of relevance among many of today’s contemporary stars. Froome seems ready to lead the charge.

“If someone is going to go into these important meetings on behalf of the riders, at the very least, the riders should be informed and kept up to date about what decisions need to be taken and what changes are in the sport,” Froome said. “I was surprised to see the ‘2020 Reform’ was agreed to, but no one single rider has ever been asked about these reforms.”

The tension comes just as the teams have recently been fighting behind the scenes with the UCI and race organizers. Though all parties agreed to Lappartient’s 2020 Reform package earlier this week, there is a growing call among some teams and riders for a more active role in a sport long dominated by race organizers and the cycling federation.

“As it stands now, the CPA will do what the CPA wants to do,” Froome concluded. “They do not seem really concerned about what the riders want to do. This will be a big test for them. Will there be a new election, as the riders have requested, or will they carry on planning on what they want to do? The ball is in their court.”