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CPA defends role against demands from riders

Officials from UCI-sanctioned group insist they provide independent voice for peloton just as riders organize petition drive.

Officials from the CPA are strongly defending their organization against an unprecedented number of pro riders pressing for changes.

The CPA — Cyclistes Professionnel Associés — is holding its general assembly Monday against the backdrop of a new push among some of the biggest names in the elite men’s peloton. On Friday, VeloNews reported that 325 riders — representing more than half of the WorldTour — have signed a petition urging reform from within the riders’ association.

Speaking to VeloNews, the CPA’s general secretary Laura Mora denied suggestions by some critics the CPA is out of touch with today’s peloton.

“Maybe you speak with the wrong riders,” Mora told VeloNews. “There are many riders who participate [in] our group, and there are many who appreciate what we do.

“I am sure we are not perfect, and there are things to improve, but we are doing our best to do things in the interest of the riders all the time,” she continued. “We are trying to have the riders involved, and we ask them to talk to us. We write to them in emails and ‘Telegram’ groups. We are there with our delegates. If you don’t take time to read the email or talk to us, it’s not fair to criticize us.”

A long-running spat between the CPA and dissatisfied riders is heating up, however. Riders have taken advantage of the COVID-19 race stoppage to organize, and they’re trying to promote their agenda to the CPA management this week.

Several riders representing the riders’ group were sitting in on the general assembly meeting Monday evening, held via a series of conference calls.

The CPA — created by the UCI in 1999 — is the closest thing the peloton has to a riders’ union. The group added a women’s association in 2017, but a breakaway group called The Cyclists’ Alliance is also working as a stand-alone voice for women’s cycling.

On the men’s side, there’s always been some complaints that the CPA and how it’s structured does not offer a true representation for the peloton’s ever-changing face. One of the major talking points of the new rider organization is the concept of “one rider, one vote” within the CPA.

That cuts against the CPA’s current bylaws and how the association is organized. Though every top pro rider is automatically a member, voting rights and representation at key stakeholder meetings come via the rider’s respective national associations. Under the CPA, registered as a non-profit group in Switzerland, riders are represented via a network of national associations, which in turn vote to represent the opinion of riders within that nation.

Original members such as France, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy were widely represented, but as the peloton become more international, more than half of the peloton did not have a national association within the CPA rules.

Mora said the CPA helped new rider associations to form by loosening requirements and assisting in legal paperwork, including riders from Canada and the United States, who joined in 2015. This week, rider groups representing Australia, Belgium, and Poland will be introduced to the CPA. Efforts to organize rider groups from Germany and Great Britain, however, both recently stalled.

“If there are riders who want to be involved, we will help them to organize and help finance them to help them to come in,” Mora said. “Saying that we do not want them to be in the CPA is an excuse to work against us.”

Riders pushing for new voting rights

The voting issue came to a head in 2018, when ex-pro David Millar posed a late-hour challenge to standing president Gianni Bugno. Riders were frustrated that they were not allowed to vote via email, and the CPA’s established national associations backed ex-pro Bugno for another four-year term.

Mora said changes could be coming for the next round of elections, but said it was unrealistic to try to change the group’s bylaws and set up an electronic voting system when Millar presented his candidacy just three weeks before the election, which coincided with the 2018 world championships.

“We will discuss about reviewing our bylaws in the next years,” Mora said. “That’s why we have started this discussion, of changing the voting system as requested for the next election. There are some things in our statutes that need to be updated.”

One of the key functions of the CPA is to provide a voice for the peloton, especially at the Pro Cycling Council, the influential UCI committee where most of the most important decisions are made. CPA and the representative of the Riders’ Commission (currently ex-pro Bernie Eisel) each have one vote on the 12-member board. Teams and race organizers have four votes split between their groups, and the UCI controls six.

‘We are independent’

Critics of the CPA said the group is too cozy to the UCI, and too often sides with the international governing body.

Mora defended the CPA’s relationship with the UCI, and said the UCI is often an important buffer between teams and race organizers.

“It doesn’t mean that we always say yes to UCI,” Mora said. “We are independent, and we are not managed by them. We are happy (the UCI) is there, when there are problems with other stakeholders, and in general to have their support in protecting the athletes.”

Other issues grating riders include questions about payments out of the CPA’s solidarity fund — about $13,000 in a one-time payment for riders who have raced a certain number of years at the top level — as well as the CPA’s support of a controversial move by the UCI to take $1 million out of the WorldTour reserve fund (a separate fund underwritten by fees to organizers and teams) to use in part to fight legal challenges from Velon and Italian racing consortium. The UCI said parts of that transfer are also being used to fight against technological fraud, working on a Tramadol ban, as well as promoting road races.

Mora declined to comment about the $1 million, but confirmed the solidarity fund — funded by a percentage of prize money from across the calendar — is struggling to meet promised payments for riders retiring in 2019. She insisted the group has done its part to pressure race organizers to pay owed prize money that funds the solidarity fund and said that an increasing number of riders requesting money from the fund means that new funding sources or an increase in percentages need to be considered. She added that the CPA has used money from its general budget in the past to help cover payments to the solidarity fund.

One of the demands of the riders’ group is an independent audit of the CPA’s books.

“We are very transparent,” Mora said. “We are here to answer to riders to answer questions, and give them as much information as possible. There is nothing to hide, and you will find all the numbers on the site.”

The CPA and the ever-growing riders’ group are at loggerheads. Monday’s meeting could help ease the way for more dialogue, or if things don’t go well, there could be more pressure to try to create a stand-alone rider’s union.