|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.
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.
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.