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Labor action brewing as top pros rally to press CPA for change

Retired pro Stef Clement leading new organizational push among men's elite peloton.

Professional racers have long envisioned a rider’s union strong enough to stand up for their interests and be an equal voice among cycling’s key stakeholders.

That dream might be coming closer to reality.

VeloNews has learned that some of the biggest names in the elite men’s peloton are working behind the scenes to push for reforms within the CPA, the rider’s association recognized by the UCI.

Things are moving quickly. Long-simmering resentment that the CPA — known as the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés — does not fully represent the interests of today’s peloton is translating into action.

Ex-pro Stef Clement is leading a loose coalition of riders, agents, and experts in governance that’s come together over the past few months. VeloNews learned that Clement’s group reached out to the CPA late last week asking for a meeting before the group’s next general assembly scheduled for late June.

“We are trying hard to have a meeting before the general assembly, and we feel things need to be changed,” Clement told VeloNews. “There is new momentum from our side.”

Marquee names involved

Clement said the group hopes to forge a wider dialogue to press its demands and concerns with the CPA, which is the closest thing cycling has to a rider’s union.

Though names were not revealed, VeloNews could confirm that the movement includes riders from major WorldTour and ProTour teams, who have either been directly involved or been informed by a rider representative from each team. Rider agents, lawyers, and others with legal, finance and governance expertise are also included.

The latest effort marks a milestone for riders, who have long complained that their collective voice is under-represented, but have rarely organized into such a unified and independent front across such a wide swath of the peloton.

“This represents a large number of the peloton. There is new momentum,” Clement said in a telephone interview. “Having three months at home during the COVID-19 crisis made everything different.”

Ironically enough, the three-month race stoppage due to the coronavirus pandemic gave racers — usually on the move for months on end — more time to take a fresh look at the CPA. Riders started to reach out to one another, and tapped Clement, who often spoke out on rider issues before retiring in 2018, to take the lead.

“Before that, everyone is busy racing, and everything was moving along and the future seemed bright,” said Clement, a four-time Dutch national time trial champion. “But COVID gave people a chance to look at things, and consider the current situation. We want a more sustainable future, and a better position for the riders.”

Though Clement downplayed the latest push as little more than a first step for wider dialogue, frustration has been building for years among riders that the CPA, created by the UCI in 1999, does not fairly represent the entire peloton.

The group is pressing for a meeting before the CPA’s annual meeting, scheduled via teleconference June 29. Clement refused to speculate if there is a larger end game, stating flatly that the group is simply trying to press its demands in a more direct and organized way.

“We communicated with the CPA last week,” Clement said. “We are at step one. We want to make things better in the bigger picture.”

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The CPA wants to strengthen riders’ voting rights and representation Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

What’s the beef?

So what’s driving all this? Some of the riders’ complaints are structural while other concerns are more philosophical. Others express worry that the CPA is not independent enough from the UCI, cycling’s governing body, and many have complained that riders, as the main “actors” in professional cycling, have long remained fragmented and divided against cycling’s other major stakeholders.

“There is an accumulation of things that have happened over the past few years,” Clement said. “And it caught fire when pro racing stopped at Paris-Nice.”

One issue on the front burner is voting rights. The question came to a head in 2018 when David Millar unsuccessfully challenged current CPA president ex-pro Gianni Bugno. Riders said they were blocked from voting electronically, and could only vote if they showed up in person in the election that coincided with the Innsbruck worlds that year, something impractical with riders living all over the world.

Under the way the CPA is organized as a non-profit registered in Switzerland, the issue of direct representation has been simmering for a few years, and continues to grate riders in the peloton.

According to the CPA’s bylaws, riders are currently represented via national umbrella groups. Though every pro male and female rider at the WorldTour, ProTour and Continental levels is automatically a member of the group, voting rights are granted via national associations, which in turn represent their members to the CPA and its steering committee, where most of the decisions are made. In its early years, only riders from established cycling nations such as France, Italy, Spain, or Switzerland had formal groups.

In 2014, riders from the United States and Canada pressed to loosen requirements to create national associations, and since then, a handful of new groups entered the CPA. In fact, later this month, new associations representing riders from Australia, Belgium and Poland will be added.

Despite those steps, riders still grumble that their collective voice remains muted, and say that less than half of the peloton is represented via national associations linked to the CPA. In 2018, a group representing Dutch riders exited the CPA.

“We want to bring all the riders together with equal input, and have a better balance within the stakeholder’s debate,” said Clement, who raced from 2003 to 2018. “We want a stronger position for the riders.”

Officials from the CPA did not respond to an e-mail request Thursday from VeloNews to comment on this story.

Riders also contend they are rarely consulted before major decisions are made on their behalf by the CPA, and complain they have little input before key votes on the UCI’s powerful Pro Cycling Council. The PCC, a panel deep within the UCI’s management structure, is where most of the important decisions are hammered out about the WorldTour. Riders, via the CPA and a rider representative from the UCI’s Athlete’s Commission (currently ex-pro Bernie Eisel), have two out of 12 votes. Race organizers and teams have two votes each, and the UCI has six.

Clement said the riders are pressing to have a stronger and clearer voice at the PCC and in other key decisions on issues that impact them directly.

“The CPA is the UCI-recognized body and it has a place on the PCC, so this is the logical place to start,” Clement said. “We are trying to do it in a correct way, and we want to have a meeting to present our plans and demands.”

Clement last raced with LottoNL-Jumbo before retiring. Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Riders demand more accountability

There are other, more specific gripes, including how the CPA runs the rider solidarity fund via prize money that’s driving this latest organizational effort. Questions about rider health and salary reductions, especially in the wake of Paris-Nice and the coronavirus pandemic, remain pressing concerns.

Right now, the CPA is funded by a two percent slice of prize money as well as money from WorldTour fees. In addition to representing riders during negotiations, the CPA also backs a retirement fund, supported by another portion of prize money, which underwrites a “transition” payment of about $13,000 for retiring pros, depending on the number of years in the peloton. The CPA also signs off on a “joint agreement” every two years that is a working contract between teams and riders that outlines details like minimum wages, work conditions, and insurance. Riders have pressed for an independent audit of CPA’s books.

UCI and CPA officials have long defended the existing structure. Due to sometimes-complex legal structures, especially within Europe, supporters of the CPA insist the formal organization is the best way to have a structured voice for riders.

The UCI, under the leadership of president David Lappartient, bristles at the suggestion that the system does not fully represent riders’ interests. Racers already have a vote on several of the UCI’s most important commissions, and the UCI recently introduced the extreme weather protocol to deal with adverse race conditions, as well as taking steps to improve race-course safety.

Over the past few years, the CPA has worked to improve communication, including speaking out on issues such as disc brakes, and its website, available in French and English, has more detailed information than before.

The CPA created a women’s group in 2017 — CPA Women — to better represent the growing women’s peloton. In that same year, a group branched off to create their own advocacy group — the Cyclists’ Alliance — after sharing some of the same frustrations as their male counterparts.

It remains to be seen if the latest effort spearheaded by Clement can thaw relations between riders and the CPA.

“We hope to have a respectful discussion,” he said. “It’s possible they think they are doing a good job, but we believe things can be done in a better way. They have all the reasons to listen and consider these suggested improvements.”

No matter what happens, this new coalition is a significant new chapter in how riders in the elite male peloton are trying to organize. How far that effort goes remains to be seen.