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AIGCP and CPA agreement may portend more than higher salaries

Jonathan Vaughters says a deal reached between riders and teams to increase minimum rider salaries for 2013 is a step toward collaboration

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The AIGCP and CPA, organizations representing pro cycling’s team owners and riders, have struck an agreement to increase minimum rider salaries in 2013. It’s an accord that may represent organizational progress beyond simply putting more money in the riders’ bank accounts.

Beginning with the 2013 season, minimum salaries for riders who are team employees will increase 10 percent. Riders who work as independent contractors will see their minimum salary rise by 24 percent. Contract riders get a higher bump because, without the insurance and other fringe benefits of being salaried employees, their out of pocket expenses are higher.

Jonathan Vaughters, president of the AIGCP (Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels), an organization that represents the interests of first division ProTeams, told VeloNews that in an agreement finalized on June 13, the AIGCP and the association that represents rider interests, the CPA (Cyclists Professionnels Associés, led by retired professional Gianni Bugno), also agreed to change the definition of a neo-pro. Currently, neo-pro (short for neophyte professional) riders are classified as under-23 riders who are in their first two years with a ProTeam or Pro Continental team. Beginning in 2013, the neo-pro classification will apply to all new professionals, regardless of age.

“Why that’s significant is that if you want a team to be 30 riders, you have to be carrying at least three neo-pros,” Vaughters explained of the UCI rule mandating that teams hire a certain number of up-and-coming riders. The age-based definition of neo pro-effectively limited the number of available jobs for riders who come into pro cycling later in life. “People mature at different rates,” Vaughters noted of the age at which cyclists join the pro ranks. “So that was changed.”

In 2009, Liquigas rider Ted King was a neo-pro who had just made the switch from racing the Marblehead Circuit Race in his native New England to the Giro d’Italia. From his current home in Italy, 29-year-old King told VeloNews he was one of those who came into the sport at a later age. King was 26 and had already completed his university degree in economics at Vermont’s Middlebury College when he joined the ProTour ranks. Upon hearing about the new salary minimums, King said the thought that came to mind was, “It would have been nice to make this my neo-pro year.”

“Maybe this is the beginning of a generational change,” King said.

Indeed, Vaughters said the minimum wage agreement was something the AIGCP’s board of directors and the CPA agreed was overdue as a step toward a larger overhaul of how pro cycling is managed.

Currently, the UCI-mandated salary minimums for Pro Continental riders are €23,000 ($29,000) for neo-pros and €27,500 ($34,500) for all others. ProTeam minimums are €26,700 ($33,500) for neo-pros and €33,000 ($41,500) for all others. Overall, the average ProTeam salary in 2012 is €264,000 ($331,500).

Vaughters, an ex-pro who founded and runs the Garmin-Barracuda team, feels that “the minimum wage should be 100-percent higher than it is right now.” In his opinion, the lack of team salary caps like those that attempt to keep parity amongst teams in the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association have kept neo-pro compensation artificially low. (Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap, but instead uses a luxury tax by which big-budget teams pay a tax that is distributed amongst their low-budget competitors, which in theory helps make for fairer competition across the league.)

Vaughters said that the current ProTeam budget system is “predisposed to paying a very few number of riders immense salaries and then ignoring all the guys who are doing the heavy lifting for their team leaders. And those guys put themselves through the same physical risks day in and day out as the leaders do.”

According to Vaughters, many pros sacrifice going to university and the higher lifetime income that comes from that education. The 10-to-24-percent increase is not as high as the AIGCP president would like to see to help make up for that sacrifice, but said, “It’s one small step toward a system that I firmly believe should apply to keep the sport fair.”

While it seems unusual to have an association of team owners calling for a rule change that increases their costs (indeed, player calls for higher salaries often lead to owner lockouts in major American sports), Vaughters said the move should be understood as part of a larger effort to modernize the pro cycling business by controlling overall costs, caring for athletes during and after their careers, and creating a more level field of racing. It is an effort to “push a more general direction where you’ve got budget caps on teams that are enforced, minimum salaries are much, much higher than where they are now, and that we begin to look at how to seed a pension fund to take care of riders once they’ve retired.”

“Initially this agreement costs a little more to the teams,” said Vaughters. “But my hope is that it’s an olive branch that will make riders look at sort of the broader picture when the discussion of budget caps comes into play.

“Even the team leaders will realize that the guys who are going to get water bottles for them, the guys who are doing grunt work for them, that they are going to be taken care of in the long term. Like I said, it’s an olive branch on the teams’ part to try and get some of this stuff off the ground.”

While King is attuned to the world around him — he’s a fan of social scientists Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Friedman and is versed in the history of labor relations in the NHL — he confesses that when first told about the new compensation agreement he had to look up what CPA and AIGCP stood for. He’s not alone in being only vaguely aware that professional cyclists even have an association representing their interests. King said more communication was necessary from a group representing his interesting as a professional.

“Presumably they have access to all our information,” he said. “It would have been nice to just get an email. I’m sure that 75 percent of the people would delete it straight away, but man, that would be a start. Everything’s got to start somewhere.”

King also pointed out that because so many young riders are hungry to get into the pro ranks, having a minimum salary does protect these innocents. Asked whether, when he first started racing professionally in the U.S. and then on the ProTour, if he queried anyone about whether or not he was getting fair pay, King admitted that he didn’t.

This is where having a strong rider’s union and enforced salary minimums can protect neo-pros from their own natural ignorance. King feels that he was particularly uninformed because he did not grow up steeped in cycling history. To illustrate, he said he only recently learned that Greg LeMond was the first rider to command a million-dollar salary.

“I didn’t race a bike until I was 20 years old,” he said. “Even during my last year racing professionally in America I had no idea that I was ever going to make it to Europe.”

When that chance came in 2009, King said he jumped at it; in the excitement of the moment, taking a critical look at actual compensation was almost incidental.

“Opportunity comes knocking on the door to go ride in Europe? You are like, ‘yeah, absolutely.’ And furthermore, those minimum salaries still dwarf what you are being offered in America,” he said. “When you get offered anything, and it’s already more than what you were being offered in the States, yeah, you happily accept it.”

Editor’s Note: Gianni Bugno could not be reached on Friday for comment on this story.