Who speaks for the riders?

Friday, 21 January 2011

Eisel takes the lead

Many riders are used to seeing Bernard Eisel take a lead. Only it’s more often during the late moments of a race, when the Austrian rider hits the front as part of Mark Cavendish’s sprint train. But this time Eisel has brought up a subject that many riders think about but few want to voice, namely that they are not well represented.

Even the most casual fan knows road cycling is strenuous, that riders are asked to do things almost no other sportsman can do. Insiders know of additional hardships like long transfers, dismal hotels and at times, the near-total absence of employee rights. Lesser causes have encouraged workers to band together and form a union.

But there is a rider’s union, the CPA. Only it is discreet to the point of being near-invisible. I can’t find a website. I’m not in favour of megaphone diplomacy, firing off press releases is a sign others won’t carry your message for you, that dialogue doesn’t exist. But even the riders don’t know much about the organisation.

Brief history
The CPA is “Coureurs Professionnels Associés“, or Associated Pro Riders. The first riders’ union was started in 1898. Various organisations have come and gone, often being run on national lines. A riders’ strike in 1978 Tour de France galvanised the disparate unions to join together and form AICPRO but this faded in time. Come 1999 and many riders refused doping controls in the Giro and to organise themselves, the CPA was formed under the chair of Francesco Moser.

Back to today
There might be one organisation but it’s struggling to be seen, yet alone heard. In recent years things improved under Cédric Vasseur as Eisel acknowledged, “Cédric was around, he came to races and communicated with the riders” but the Frenchman is building a new career as an informative TV commentator.

Vasseur speaking up

So former Italian champion Gianni Bugno stepped up. Only Eisel says “We heard that Bugno took over. But I don’t know if there has been an election or if it was a decision made by the teams or the UCI or whoever“, adding “I also heard that Philippe Gilbert and Dario Cioni were our representatives but I’m not sure about that.”. Note that Bugno isn’t absent, he’s currently in Argentina for the Vuelta San Luis.

If even the riders don’t know about their union, what hope is that the organisation will reflect their views? A union doesn’t have to rhyme with strikes, it can be a way to channel the voices of riders to ensure they are heard whilst the UCI is busy setting the rules.

Looking forward
There’s room for the CPA to make a leap forward, to up its communications and campaigning power. Rather than being one voice at times lost amongst others, riders should insist their concerns are voiced at the highest level within the UCI as a matter of course and not only when things get to a crisis, for example over race radios.

Clearly all riders can’t agree on everything, hundreds of riders have different views and obviously they are competitors. But there should be plenty of common ground and an articulate organisation should be an equal part of the debate with the teams and UCI.

With modern communications, it’s easy to reach riders around the world and we’ve seen Vasseur and Bugno working on the ground. But I think the campaigning aspect could do with a boost, the media presence of the CPA is very quiet. Working discreetly is OK but there’s nothing wrong with open campaigning and trying to set the agenda via the media.

Hopefully Eisel’s comments reflect a growing desire from riders to collaborate and improve their lot.

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{ 19 comments }

TdF Lanterne Rouge Blog January 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Thank you for this piece. I can't understand why this isn't addressed more frequently and emphatically. The riders are generally treated like poorly-trained immature monkeys – and will continue to be until they work together and act like a cohesive group of adults.

packfill January 21, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I agree with the above comment said riders aren't treated very well. Just think of Saiz' infamos quote that riders are paid to push the pedals but not to think for themselves. However, the poor and intransparent organization of their own union is also the riders' fault. It's them that have to stand up for their interests and get organized. A structure that allows a democratic process of electing their representatives is really needed.
Plus, the CPA needs a program. When Jens Voigt war a representative he did things like helping riders out when they were put into shabby hotels etc. Clearly, this can't get enough. The riders should look to increase to take influence in all important decisions.

Anonymous January 21, 2011 at 1:34 pm

The riders do themselves no favours really though so they? Vocal about the radio ban yet silent about doping issues. They can't have it both ways. Look at how silent they all were when Unibet were shafted. There are plenty of issues affecting the sport, the viewers and fans don't have a voice. The media is very selective in who it supports and who it condemns. What has Eisel or Renshaw got to say about the Armstrong investigation? What about the mis-handling of Puerto and the latest Spanish doping ring?

TheInnerRing January 21, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Anonymous: I know what you mean but making a fuss about doping is a can of worms subject, the minefield where few want to go. Above I'm more about riders grouping together for their interests rather than the sport as a whole. Less noble but more achievable. At least today a rider can speak out against doping, that was almost unthinkable 10-15 years ago.

TdF Lanterne Rouge Blog: thanks. I suppose there is the element of job security. The top riders do get heard at times but the lesser riders don't and are under constant job insecurity. Any rider seen complaining about their lot can get reminded that there's no shortage of amateurs willing to take their place. But that's only more reason for riders to group together in order to set standards.

TheInnerRing January 21, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Packfill: I'm with you. But it's hard for riders to organise, they have different teams, nationalities, languages and don't meet together. In short, they're scattered all over the place and it's a hard task to harmonise.

packfill January 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Sure, that's why a real democtratic structure should be organized. Propably this would require the riders to establish national "unions" that send representatives to an anual CPA congress (e.g. held alongside the world champs) that could ellect their leaders and decide on their agenda. Maybe unlikely and a long long way to go, but maybe doable.

TheInnerRing January 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm

That's what happened before, with national bodies and then this became unified under AICPRO in 1978. Different now as there are more nations.

That said, I don't think it takes too much organisation, there are some basic things every rider can agree on. For example the UCI should not be taking decisions on "safety" or other aspects without fully consulting the riders. The CPA should decide if it wants to be the go-to organisation here and with some simple media tools it can become a better campaign tool.

TdF Lanterne Rouge Blog January 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Yes, they're scattered from many countries and busy. Perhaps in the off-season they could get together over, say, the Internet? Maybe even have a website and their own private forum to communicate and debate and organize? They should have been doing just that 10-15 years ago!

Anonymous January 21, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Do you know how the women riders are represented? I was thinking about Marianne Vos talking about how there aren't enough doping controls – and the fact the UCI is all men now. ARE they even represented?

Anonymous January 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Just as it is hard, not to say impossible, to form and run a union for CEO s in the circles of business management, two due to their high earnings and there through accept of insecure conditions of employment, cyclists live quite well without union. They have a short career to secure a life income, so why spend time on a union – it is after all an individual sport filled with big egos.

Team owners will disappear into the dark holes in the grounds from where they run their teams, when ever the word "union" appears, but if you instead created a UCI based technical commit with representation of riders, it would be constructive and powerfull. The safty items in the races seems to be the only major isue a the moment.

Life in generel is hard – but life as a pro cyclist is even harder, thats why they are paid like CEO s – and thet why the should act like this aswell.

Dont waste time on something that wont give you any influence as well.

TheInnerRing January 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Anonymous: even less representation for the women. No minimum wage and difficult to voice ideas even through the media.

Anonymous: some very valid points. But the UCI technical aspect needs to consult the riders. Perhaps not all riders need to get involved but more needs to be done to make sure the riders are part of the decision-making process. A full trade union is a big step but there can be intermediate things and perhaps the CPA shouldn't be writing letters to McQuaid, it should be part of the UCI's decision-making process, no?

Don January 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I have to disagree with Anonymous Jan 21 2:58. The majority of cyclists aren't paid like CEOs. The players unions in the US in football, baseball, and basketball have made those players unimaginably wealthy. In all cases the players now get a fixed % of revenue. The presence of a collective bargaining agreement, while on the surface hurting the owners, has also brought predictability and stability, two words never associated with cycling. This has in turn encouraged sponsorships, advertising, investment in the teams and sport, and has made everyone richer, while redistributing the rising wealth over the last 20 years to give a greater % to the players.

When you look at how the revenue in cycling is distributed between the race organizers, UCI, team owners, and cyclists it looks like professional sports in the US 30 years ago, pre-union. If the cyclists banded together with a strong union it would redistribute some of that revenue their way. Given how the US players unions in the anti-union US have been successful, I imagine in pro-union Europe it would be even more successful.

Its only a matter of time before the Marvin MIller of cycling appears.

Greg January 21, 2011 at 5:59 pm

The idea that riders are paid like CEOs is absurd. There is a UCI-mandated minimum salary at each team level – Continental, Pro Continental and ProTeam. At the top level, I believe it's something like 70k-80k euro – a respectable middle-class income, but certainly not CEO-level. Yes, the stars and superdomestiques make more than that, but the majority of riders are lucky to get low six-figures.

The situation is different at the lower levels. The minimum salary for a Continental riders is something like 25,000 euros. They would probably be paid more to teach public school. There's less attention paid to cycling at lower professional levels, but life below the ProTour level is even more unstable and uncertain. These riders could really use some organization.

And of course, the reason that there isn't a CEO union has little to do with the money they make and everything to do with their social and business position. They aren't in unions because they're not laborers, they're the bosses, the – if you'll pardon the expression – bourgeoisie.

TheInnerRing January 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Pay is a "winner takes all environment" and just as a CEO clears, say, 50 times the average wage in their business so a team leader takes home a similar ratio to the smaller riders on the team.

Like I say above, perhaps not a full trade union that lobbies for wages but an organisation to channel the concerns of riders. Which is what the CPA does, only very poorly. It doesn't even have a website.

Tyler January 21, 2011 at 9:01 pm

While the UCI does "mandate" minimum salaries for Pro Continental and ProTeam teams, the minimum is not enforced to any degree. I know personally of cases where a team pays a rider the minimum, then forces a separate contract where the rider is required to pay a certain sum for "coaching services", thereby decreasing the rider's salary. This is common practice at the Pro Continental level.

TheInnerRing January 21, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Yes, I've heard things like that. See how some teams are registered in strange places or how riders are not employed as employees of the team but hired as outside contractors etc. There are basic rules but the reality is often not the same.

Touriste-Routier January 22, 2011 at 4:20 am

Separate from the point of the post, but related to the last comment. There are 2 primary reasons why many (most?) riders are independent contractors rather than team employees:

1) Under immigration and work visa laws, not everyone is eligible to be hired as an employee within any given country. There is more flexibility as a contractor, but even these are not always compliant, but they are harder to detect/enforce. While the EU makes somethings easier, it doesn't help non-EU riders or non-EU teams.

2) Labor Laws and Regulations in many Eu countries are very restrictive (and not so employer friendly). What works for a traditional/stable business does not always work for a sports team.

Sandgroper January 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Thanks for the insight. I had only just heard of the CPA this week, and its a subject I reflected on since. Considering the likes of the PGA, ATP, NFLPA etc etc, a strong Union of Cyclist must be sorely needed. Who knows, it may even create some interesting dynamics in UCI v Race Organisations v Teams v Riders showdowns…

Anonymous January 30, 2011 at 9:03 am

Oh to be a fly on the wall when their first meeting chairs

http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/7244/UCI-confirms-phasing-out-of-radios-at-St-Wendel-conference.aspx

"appointed by the UCI"? Seriously, why not say "we're going to have some supergrass' in there just so you can't undermine us"

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