News

Pro teams ask UCI for financial flexibility amid coronavirus shutdown

AIGCP outlines in a letter several requests to the UCI, including the ability for struggling teams to adjust rider contracts.

Professional teams across the peloton are battening down the hatches to try to weather the coronavirus shutdown, and they’re asking the UCI for help.

The teams’ group AIGCP sent a letter to the UCI on Monday with a series of requests that its members say will help them navigate the choppy waters in the coming months.

According to the letter, which VeloNews reviewed, the association is requesting the UCI to relax some rules and regulations on a temporary basis to give teams under duress some financial breathing room. Among key requests, the group wants the UCI to relax rules governing rider contracts as well as leave team bank guarantees untouched.

“We cannot overstate the financial hardship that many teams are experiencing as of this moment or will soon be suffering,” the letter read. “We must temporarily reset our efforts to giving a lifeline to any team in need of one. Saving teams and jobs must be the priority today.”

On Wednesday morning, the UCI huddled with key stakeholders to discuss critical issues. In addition to extending the racing calendar until June 1, the UCI created a working group involving the AIGCP and the riders’ association CPA that will, “come up with concrete initiatives concerning notably the riders’ contracts and the situation of the teams in the context of the current inactivity linked to the pandemic,” a UCI press release stated Wednesday.

AIGCP manager director Javier Barrio told VeloNews on Wednesday that the teams are trying to be creative to save as many jobs as possible.

“Each team is different and no size fits all,” Barrio told VeloNews. “We realized that we couldn’t have a single common or collective action that works for everyone. What we can do is work on the framework.”

Teams are feeling the pinch from two sides in the unprecedented crisis. First, teams are losing revenue due to the racing stoppage through appearance money and other revenue streams. And second, larger economic forces are battering title sponsors, leaving teams worried that sponsorship money, which typically underwrites 80 to 95 percent of most teams’ budgets, might suddenly disappear.

Late last week, the AIGCP held conference calls with 32 members to discuss pressing concerns and to find solutions. Due to the uneven structure across teams — some sponsors own their teams outright while others might rely a half-dozen sponsors paying monthly or quarterly payments across the year — Barrio said what struggling teams need most right now is flexibility to move quickly to shore up budgets.

A key request outlined in the AIGCP letter to the UCI is the ability to amend rider contracts to allow teams, if necessary, to reduce or adjust salaries, either via government bailouts or temporary unemployment insurance, or through bilateral agreements between teams and riders.

Teams are also asking that bank guarantees, required by the UCI that total 25 percent of all rider salaries, be left untouched, as well as the easing of 2021 team registration fees due this fall. Teams also suggested the UCI’s emergency fund, reportedly about 1 million euros, could also be tapped in extreme cases.

On the sporting side, teams want the UCI to suspend all classifications that will impact licensing going into 2023, when the next round of WorldTour licenses will be awarded. Teams are also asking that as many races be rescheduled as possible, with fewer limits of the number of teams and racers allowed to start across all categories, with a possible extension of the racing season into November.

The AIGCP represents all WorldTour and ProTour-level teams. Within that range are WorldTour powerhouses like Team Ineos, which has an annual budget exceeding $45 million, to smaller teams that might operate on little more than $2 million a year. Several teams have told their riders and staff that funding is in place to ride out the crisis. Others, however, are quickly struggling.

The AIGCP letter, addressed to UCI president David Lappartient, comes on the heels of some teams already taking action.

Last week, Lotto-Soudal reduced salaries for its riders, which team officials said was in agreement with riders, and put some staffers on temporary unemployment. On Tuesday, media reports said Astana also slashed salaries by 30 percent. In Spain, second-category Burgos-BH told its 20 riders and six staff members to file for temporary unemployment benefits, AS reported.

Sources Wednesday confirmed to VeloNews that some French teams are pursuing a similar line in France with temporary unemployment insurance for riders and full-time staffers, though Ag2r-La Mondiale and Groupama-FDJ have not touched riders’ contracts.

Some of those cost-cutting efforts have raised the alarm bells among riders. Agent Andrew McQuaid, who represents several top stars under the Trinity Sports Management, is pressing that riders have a stronger voice in any negotiations concerning wage reductions and future contracts as well as transparency about how any savings might be spent.

AIGCP’s Barrio said teams are committed to working with riders and staff to find bilateral solutions to reduce budgets if it comes down to that to save a team.

“These are extraordinary measures, but everything is on a temporary basis,” Barrio said. “The most important thing is, let’s get through this, and let’s get the flexibility into the system. If we can all work together, we can survive this with as many teams and jobs as possible.”

Patrick Lefevere was the first to put the cycling world on notice, when he said that the coronavirus crisis would put the peloton’s top teams under duress. Barely two weeks after writing that, Lefevere’s worse fears are playing out quicker than he could have imagined.