Former Highroad manager Stapleton calls for dialogue on budget caps

Bob Stapleton, who serves on the USA Cycling board and the UCI's management committee, wants the playing field leveled.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Bob Stapleton, the former general manager of HTC-Highroad and the newly elected member of the UCI’s management committee, says budget caps are needed to “level the playing field” in the WorldTour.

Budgets vary widely between the top teams and the lower ranked teams, from $41.5 million a year for team Sky with Chris Froome to $16 million for Cannondale-Drapac, and much less for others.

“The haves and have not have grown even further,” Stapleton told VeloNews when asked if team stability has changed since his team folded after failing to find a replacement sponsor for 2012.

“You have a small group of wealth and teams who are dominating the sport and turnover in the mid- to lower-level teams that don’t have the money.

“I do think we need to level the playing field in terms of what it takes to be a competitive team. Even Alberto Contador said that budget caps and salary caps could make sense.”

Stapleton continues to chair USA Cycling’s board but will travel to Europe more now that he is part of the UCI’s management committee and Professional Cycling Council (PCC).

He said new UCI president David Lappartient, who defeated Cookson in a landslide victory last Thursday, is eager to work on improving cycling.

Stapleton would want to meet with the teams and hear their thoughts about license terms and division of rights among the stakeholders.

“These are all things that should come on the table in the coming year or two,” he said. “That is an inherently good thing.”

Tour de France champion and recent Vuelta a España winner Froome recently likened budget caps to communism. He said, “So everyone is going to be the same? We should all ride the same bikes. We should all have the same equipment sponsors. We should eat the same rice and porridge each morning. Where do you draw the line?”

Stapleton pushed back on the comments.

“I have to laugh at that a bit,” Stapleton said. “That just presumes that money means innovation. It is absolutely the core of capitalism, that there are always better ways of doing things and always ways to make money go further. Maybe some economic lessons are in order for Chris Froome. I have significant respect for Chris Froome, but I don’t think that’s how communism works!

“I don’t want to get in front of teams, I want to engage with them and try to find out what matters most to them. And with the event organizers. I just feel like the discussion has not been productive for many years and now the discussion can happen.”

Budget caps or not, Stapleton is eager to bring stability to a sport that nearly saw team Cannondale fold when it was unable to find a sponsor for 2018. At the last minute, EF Education First signed on to become the team’s big backer.

Patrick Lefevere, who runs one of the most successful teams in Quick-Step Floors, tried hard to find a new mega sponsor similar to Sky and Emirates to lessen the burden on his backers, but he came up empty-handed this time around.

The situation was similar for Highroad at the end of 2011 when Stapleton was forced to fold both the men’s and women’s teams. The men’s team was the most successful of 2011, winning 56 times with Mark Cavendish and other stars.

“I have a couple of actions. I’d like to see the stability improve for both women’s and men’s racing,” he added. “I have been a passionate supporter of women’s cycling over the years and I hope to find ways to engage and develop women’s cycling. Take what has worked for the men and avoid what hasn’t worked. It looks strong right now, but it also has stability issues.

“I think Lappartient is the person to get that dialogue happening. This is a unified victory because I don’t think I’ve seen such enthusiastic people coming together in such a long time.

“There’s been small arguments over how many teams and who does what, just moving the chairs around, but I feel like this is a chance to engage a little bit more effectively. That is part of what Lappartient is bringing to the table.”