David Millar is running to become the next President of the CPA, the union of pro cyclists. He’s got a mountain to climb, he launched his bid just weeks before the vote and the voting system is likely to hinder him but whether you like him, loathe him or feel indifferent having a contest is a good thing. We’ll look at this contest tomorrow but for now here’s a brief history of rider unions which helps set the scene.
Yes, there is a rider’s union. It’s not that well know, even some riders don’t know much about it. The CPA (Cyclistes Professionels Associés) was founded in 1999 but there’s a fractious history to past attempts to unite the peloton.
The first rider union was started in 1898. Various organisations have come and gone, often being run on national lines so they never represented the pro peloton as a whole, you had a French union alongside an Italian union all while riders were moving across borders in search of a team from the earliest of days. Finances have also been a problem, for decades riders were not paid much, in fact a regular salary is relatively new so raising money to fund a union has long been awkward. Combine the disparate peloton with the lack of money and it’s been easy for team owners and races to play divide and rule over the peloton.
Various attempts to organise internationally have tried and failed. “International” had largely meant France, Belgium and Italy with these three nations providing the bulk of pro riders for decades – they still do – but this small circle still struggled to get on. In the 1920s the first international union appeared, le Cercle International des Routiers Cyclistes but it didn’t last long. More came and went.
In 1978 riders protested during the Tour de France. They were fed up with “split stages”, effectively one stage in the morning and another in the afternoon. This allowed the race to collect more money from host towns but it meant the riders were paying the price with late nights and early starts on top of having to race twice a day. This strike was the first ever in the Tour de France and it galvanised the disparate national unions to join together in the form of the Association Internationale des Cyclistes Professionnels (AICPRO). It worked as split stages soon fell away and the group got a seat at top table in talks with the UCI. However whether the split stages fell away because of union work or simply a sulking Bernard Hinault isn’t clear.
Over time the international coordination of AICPRO seems to have fallen away with national union on the rise again. Again the work of these local outfits has been useful but modest, campaigns to ensure promised prize money gets paid is fine but little more than contractual follow-up, there weren’t trying to influence the structure of the sport as a whole.
The next big flare-up came in 1998 when police raids in the wake of the Festina affair angered a large share of the peloton. It might be more recent but still seems unfathomable that riders were protesting in the wake of doping raids on the Tour de France, giving the impression they lived in a bubble immune to national laws which prevented the trafficking of medicines or prescription fraud. “We are fed up with being treated like cattle. So we are going to behave like cattle” said rider ringleader Laurent Jalabert. Riders organised several protests during the race but it was a farce because of the cacophony: in one instance riders sat down on the start line to make a protest while others rode off. All while a bemused public looked on. This showed the trouble of entrusting a protest to a patron, a strongman who stands up, because they were voicing their views but didn’t have the backing of the whole peloton, they didn’t prepare the ground for their stance, nor did they have the resources and skills to communicate with others, whether colleagues or the media.
Come 1999 and many riders refused doping controls in the Giro and the Italian union along with the foreign riders present on the race came together to form Coureurs Professionnels Associés under the chair of ex-pro Francesco Moser. It wasn’t a promising start to base a union on such defensive premises but in time the CPA has helped raise rider wages and install a common rider contract across the teams. After Moser, ex-pro Cédric Vasseur in charge for a while but he left to become a TV pundit and is now Cofidis’s manager.
Former double world champion, helicopter pilot and budding politician Gianni Bugno is in charge and works with David Chassot (brother of Richard Chassot, the Tour de Romandie director). It also demands improvements in safety, secures guaranteed time off work and ensures riders get a certificate stating how many day’s racing they did each year. There’s now a minimum wage too although bemusingly some impetus for this advance came from the teams themselves, odd to see employers calling for a high minimum wage. Still rather than being inward-looking as the 1999 genesis suggested it’s done some good. More recently the Extreme Weather Protocol has been agreed and accepted thanks to the work of the CPA’s US chapter, the ANAPRC. There’s been work on the safety in the final three kilometres of road race courses too although we saw the public complaints over a stage finish in the Vuelta which shows there’s more to be done.
CPA Funding: 7% of all prize money goes to the union before it goes to riders, split 5% for a retirement/solidarity fund and the other 2% covers the CPA’s work and expenses. It’s hard to find out much more, the CPA does have a website (but it has an error message at the moment) but there are no accounts made public, presumably they’re shared at the annual meeting which riders can attend.that
The CPA is an umbrella group for national unions, for example the ACCPI in Italy, the UNCP in France and so on, although these national chapters only exist for some countries, typically those with lots of pros and a long heritage although recently a branch in the US, called the ANAPRC has formed.
If you’ve read the history above you’ll see the theme of splits and breakdowns in past incarnations. The CPA isn’t immune either. It has a women’s branch but that looks to be displaced by The Cyclist’s Alliance, a start-up rider union for women. Recently the Dutch chapter of the CPA, men included, has quit the CPA and joined The Cyclists Alliance, saying its voice wasn’t being heard. Now David Millar’s candidacy can be seen in this light where a large share of the peloton resent paying for a union but, rightly or wrongly, don’t feel it’s by their side that often.
As well as this there is the UCI Athletes’ Commission, a committee of cyclists but this is made up of all sorts of riders, eg indoor cycling, MTB, trials etc and does not have much clout. It probably means well but it is a forum, a committee inside the UCI rather than an organisation with full time staff working for the pro peloton.
When something goes wrong we tend to see riders share frustration on social media, understandable but ineffective and proof they can lack the official channels. Over the years rider unions have come and gone and in their absence a peloton patron can emerge but this is dysfunction: what is needed is a stronger union. The CPA has had some good achievements behind the scenes in recent but it’s not the go-to voice for the peloton for safety disputes and other concerns.