Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
David Millar fully expects his rebel candidacy to lead the riders’ union to fall short Thursday.
Millar, 41, is taking on the European cycling establishment in his surprise bid to unseat Italian ex-pro Gianni Bugno, who’s led the CPA for two four-year terms. Delegates and riders will vote Thursday in Innsbruck in what will be the first disputed CPA election in the group’s history.
The CPA is largely controlled by French, Italian and Spanish officials who have been taken aback from the vocal outcry of many of today’s professionals suddenly insisting on their right to vote. Riders including Tour de France winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas sent an angry protest letter last week demanding their voices be heard.
Millar says despite having the cards stacked against him in the CPA’s arcane voting structure that he’s just getting started. Even if he loses Thursday as he expects, he vows to remain a voice of change for today’s peloton.
VeloNews caught up with Millar via telephone Tuesday as he prepared to travel to Austria for Thursday’s CPA vote. Here’s what he had to say:
VeloNews: A lot has been building the past few days, what are your expectations for the vote Thursday?
David Millar: If nothing changes, the expectation is that I go to Austria and get beaten. It’s as simple as that really because the French and the Italian block votes alone will put them over the top and plus I expect Spain to go for Bugno. Those three alone will make it impossible for me to win if even if every other pro in the peloton turns up to vote in person.
VN: So the established European nations vote as one via delegates at the CPA meeting?
DM: That’s right. Every single member that carries a pro license from that particular country votes as one block. So it means for France, which has around 150 pro riders, all of those votes are put to one candidate via the delegate. And it’s the same for countries like Spain and Italy. So between those three, they control the CPA. And they don’t even poll the riders to ask who they might want to support. It’s a decision of one and it’s grossly imbalanced.
VN: There is a protest letter about the inability to allow riders to vote electronically, what do you think should be done?
DM: Fair enough, if you cannot create an electronic voting system in time for the election, it’s quite simple — just postpone the election. They talk about their statutes, but the CPA is a Swiss organization and those rules are fairly lax. It’s quite easy to change statutes. It’s another question if they want to. They’re making a big deal out of something that could be changed quite easily. So why not delay the vote and change the statutes to allow all riders to have a voice?
VN: So why don’t they?
DM: I am making all this noise because there are people sitting on the CPA commission who make the rules. Those are the same people who do not want to change. The groups from the bigger nations like Italy, Spain, and France, they like it the way it is. Many of those people think the system works fine as it is. It doesn’t work.
VN: So the only way other riders who are not part of an organized rider association can vote is to do it in person Thursday in Austria?
DM: Yes, and Thursday is the one day there will be the least number of pro riders in Austria. It comes a day after the time trial and many will be leaving that night or Thursday morning. And the ones racing the road race will be arriving Thursday afternoon. And that’s not counting the riders who are not racing the worlds. It will be the least number of possible riders for the vote. It’s not corruption, because it appears there’s been no thought put into it. It’s more a question of incompetence.
VN: Riders from countries like France enjoy the same social safety net with insurance, retirement and other benefits, so it does work for them. But that’s the same for everyone?
DM: The French riders union is a great union. Pascal Chanteur [the French riders’ union president] has done a great job there, but it cannot be replicated all of the world. Because it’s good in France, Chanteur is happy with how things are and his position at the CPA. This is an international organization and France is a minority in an international sport. They have the power and don’t want to change anything. France alone has 150 riders and they can put all those votes to whomever they want. The system in place makes it totally unfair and unjust.
VN: What was the genesis for your idea to challenge Bugno for the CPA presidency?
DM: A couple years ago already I was sitting in on the CPA and I thought this can be improved. I knew Bugno was in second term and he said he was not at the time seeking a third term. I spoke to some of the main protagonists and I expressed that I was interested, and I asked, how does it work? They said normally someone puts their hand up and everyone agrees with it. I put up my hand in 2017 and informally everyone seemed to agree that I would likely take over. The idea is that I would spend some time in 2017 and 2018 alongside Bugno and the others to figure out how things worked. At the end of 2017, I learned through the media that Bugno was going to third term. That was a surprise to me. Bugno said he spoke with [UCI president] Lappartient and Lappartient said he wanted Bugno to stay on for a third term. I said, OK, that is strange.
VN: So what happened next?
DM: Then I asked, what if I still want to run as president? No one even had an idea. No one’s ever run as an adversarial candidate before. Now I was as pissed off, and even more so that the UCI president could influence the riders union in such a manner.
VN: So that set up your decision to present your candidacy?
DM: I saw it as a complete conflict of interest. At first, I said I don’t want to be involved and I stepped back and carried on with my normal life. Then I learned in August that Bugno was going to be re-elected in Austria and I said, you know what, I am going to do this. I had no idea how it would work. They had no idea how it would work. It’s been an absolute mess since I made that call on August 20 to tell them I was going to run.
VN: There has been a lot of public consternation from riders who say they do not have a chance to vote, what’s been the reaction at the CPA?
DM: They are determined not to take into consideration the malcontent of the peloton and the obvious voice for change.
VN: What do you mean?
DM: There are more than 1,000 pro riders in the world and there are six people sitting on this CPA commission are completely out of touch with the interests of the pro riders. One reason I’ve had to do this publicly is to educate the peloton and drum it into them how poorly they are being represented. None of them have ever voted on anything that affects them. Pro riders have never voted for any decision the CPA has ever taken. It’s always a judgment of those few people sitting around the table.
VN: So your renegade candidacy promises to change things?
DM: That’s why it’s come to this. This is an end game. I know for a fact [the UCI] are against this. Modern technology has certainly helped me reach out to people and drum up support.
VN: The CPA is the only riders’ association recognized by the UCI and has acted as the official voice of the riders — do you think it’s too cozy to the UCI to be effective?
DM: It’s a great thing that the CPA is recognized. It facilitates a lot more dialogue, respectability and speeds up the process. At the same time, it does feel like it’s in bed with the UCI. There is a conflict of interest because the UCI funds one-third of the CPA’s budget. But there is no reporting, no accountability, no audits. This has to change. What’s going on with this election process shows the many problems. It’s completely discriminatory that the riders cannot vote. The UCI knows they’re involved in this and they cannot just walk away.
VN: Is there a sense that Lappartient is too close to ASO or do you see him as an independent voice for the UCI?
DM: If you’re French and at the top level of cycling and politics, you’re going to be close to ASO. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. ASO is so powerful in French cycling that anyone coming up will need strong relations with ASO.
VN: So what happens if you lose Thursday as you expect?
DM: This is just the beginning. Whichever way it goes, this is the opening move of a larger effort. We need to reform the CPA and everyone knows that. Whether they can do it themselves or it takes an outsider, we’ll know more Friday. Let’s see what happens. Maybe I will put a proposal Friday demanding not to validate the election and demand that each rider be allowed to vote with one person, one vote. We’ll see what happens. That would open a whole other can of worms.
VN: So you believe the CPA can be stronger?
DM: I do believe the CPA has potential to be a great organization. They’ve done great work with the AIGCP and the contracts with the UCI. That’s not good enough. That’s just the starting point.
VN: The riders have long been overlooked, why do you believe they need a stronger voice?
DM: You could go as far as to say the cyclists are the most important stakeholder in the sport. Without great bike racers you don’t have great races. If the riders don’t turn up, you’ve got nothing. The potential is there for the riders and the teams to work more closely together. Without teams there are no jobs. The AIGCP and the CPA should be working together hand in hand and there is big potential if the teams and riders are working in an unified voice. The bottom line is that their interests are shared. They fund each other in a certain way. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that should only improve.
When teams and riders sit together united at the table, they would be in the driver’s seat.
VN: The race organizers and maybe even the UCI wouldn’t like that …
DM: They’re terrified of that.
VN: There’s always been this talk of recalibrating cycling’s business model, but do you think it will ever change?
DM: ASO is happy with the status quo. It’s not interested in seeing changes in the sport because it works great for them right now. They make 50 million euros a year in profit. It’s a privately held, family-run company, it has no debt, so they have no incentive to change. For them it’s better for the teams and riders to stay disrupted. That’s the dream scenario for ASO because they own the sport.
VN: Have you had any contact with anyone at ASO during your campaign?
DM: Since I decided to do this, I have not contacted anyone from the different stakeholders. Some people have accused me as working with the agents, with Velon, with the teams and AIGCP, and that is totally false. The only people with whom I have been in contact since I started this are professional bike racers. Those comments have made me very angry. That is just a lie.
VN: So you think a more organized voice from the part of the riders can help spark change?
DM: The CPA is a great concept and there is a wonderful foundation there, but it does not have a commercial bone in its body. The association has to change. The ideal would be working closely with the AIGCP, which is a commercial entity, but the CPA seems obsessed with the prize money situation. That’s all it thinks is important, to make sure the CPA gets its slice of the prize money from the race organizers. But that is a short-term problem, not a long-term vision. And the reason many race organizers cannot pay the prize money is because they are losing money. It’s ignoring one of the fundamental questions of why some organizers are going bust.
VN: The CPA does good work with the so-called retirement fund and working on safety issues?
DM: Yes, it’s done good work in those areas, but we can do so much more. Why just end it by cutting a check to someone for 12,000 euros when they retire? There could be a lot more the group could do for riders, to help them transition into the next phase of their lives. There could be support for mental health, job training, education, internships and support networks. The CPA should be looking at that.
VN: If you lose as expected and feel further snubbed, would you and the other riders consider forming a rebel group outside the CPA?
DM: That’s not on my radar at the moment. The women have done it with the Cyclists Alliance and other sports have done it with success. It’s not impossible. If you did it, you’d have to have the biggest names in the sport lined up. If you left the CPA, it would be a new world in cycling.
VN: After this week, what happens next?
DM: I think the riders will have a stronger voice in the CPA no matter what happens. As crazy as it sounds, it’s a win-win for me. I have the majority of riders behind me. Even in losing and presenting my candidacy, it makes my position stronger with the riders who are so unhappy with how things are being run. We’ll see what happens. We hope it opens more doors and we have some options on the table to things that can be worked out.