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See You In Court

Velon, the group of 11 World Tour teams, has announced it will file a complaint with the European Commission against the UCI. Here’s a closer look at the issues concerned.

First Velon, it’s a London-based company owned by BORA-hansgrohe, CCC Team, Deceuninck – Quick-Step, EF Education First, Lotto Soudal, Mitchelton-SCOTT, Team INEOS, Team Jumbo-Visma, Team Sunweb, Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates. Velon itself was born out of “Project Avignon” when teams met on a rest day of the 2013 Tour de France to try and work together so they could push back against the UCI and ASO by working together. This led to them contributing money to form Velon, they each own shares in the venture. Since then it negotiates with RCS and ASO over onboard cameras and live race data at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France respectively and runs the Hammer races. It also acts as a collective and lobbies on behalf of member teams. You might remember the vocal “ASO must share revenues” complaints of old which have dried up these days as the teams discovered there just wasn’t much money to share in the first place. But there’s still lobbying and debate and in recent years there have been various spats over the calendar and other flashpoints.

The Complaint
This week’s announcement of a complaint seems to be over two issues. First is the use of the word “series”. Seriously, here’s an excerpt from Velon’s press release:

In February the UCI ruled that Hammer Races may not be referred to as a Series under UCI regulations. No explanation has ever been given.

One likely explanation is that the UCI is rebranding its calendar for 2020, there will be the World Tour and then below that, the “UCI ProSeries” and also the one day races are supposed to be rebranded as the “UCI Classics Series”. With this in mind it looks like the UCI wants to reserve the term “series” for its calendar. This does seem petty on both sides, for starters the UCI branding just isn’t visible or strong enough, people inside the sport today still talk about the “Pro Tour” when this label was dropped years ago so a Hammer Series here or there shouldn’t matter that much, especially as they’re somewhat marginal events. Similarly is going to the European Commission over the word Series a good use of Velon’s time and money when they could just rebrand with a synonym. But perhaps this is one of those classic “small differences”, a tiny issue but binary enough to go to war on.

The second issue in the complaint is over live race data, you might remember seeing on-screen captions showing speed or power from races. Here’s the press release again:

the UCI passed new technical regulations without due process or consultation with any of the stakeholders in the sport (even with its own Equipment and Technology Fraud Commission) that sought to give itself and race organisers ownership and control over the teams’ business on live race data.

Here the question is who owns this data, does it belong to the race or the teams. Both can stake a good claim but until now it’s been the teams have been paid a small sum for the data (sidenote: ASO don’t pay for power data, the thinking is that since plenty of cyclists struggle to interpret watts, the mass market audience would be bamboozled; but they have struck a deal with Velon over the use of on-bike camera footage).

The Rule Change
What’s changed now? Well now we need to open up the UCI rulebook for 2020 and flick through to Chapter II, Rule

This is new for 2020 and the rule says any rider and/or member of team staff who won’t install a timing or tracking device will be blocked from racing, or if they remove the device mid-race, disqualified and any team staff in on this will be excluded from the race too. Now imagine if a race organiser like RCS or ASO says “here is our tracking device, use it” then until now the teams, fronted by Velon, would say “pay us” and now the race organiser can say “use it or get thrown out”. So this little rule is a big deal especially for Velon which derives some of its income from these devices.

Hurry slowly
Now if you’re still reading a quick word on the procedural aspect. This is going to be filing with the European Commission over anti-trust procedures and it’s about as far removed as you can get from a quick filing with a civil court. It’s about as high as you can go and it’s very slow, the Commission is likely to spend a while deliberating over whether to hear the case and should it agree to proceed it’ll be slow, we’re possibly talking years. Who knows which way the verdict will go? It might seem odd to see Velon, an entity soon to be based outside of the EU tasking the European Commission over the actions of a Swiss governing body but given the UCI’s rules apply in Europe there’s scope for the EU. But the UCI is a non-profit sports governing body and so it could be harder to go after under the rules normally reserved for business, especially as EU law has some precedent for “sporting exemption”. Initiated in a case won by the UCI in 1974, sports are sometimes partially exempt from EU laws on business, state aid and so on but there’s been trend to reducing this. The short version of this is all is that Velon’s legal action looks like a long range speculative action which should test EU law.

A big deal over a small issue. The racing should carry on as usual but behind the scenes the arguments between the teams and the UCI continue, the upshot is that some of the proposed reforms will probably get delayed and diluted again. One little rule change by the UCI looks to have triggered this, it’s a small addition but a big deal for Velon as it potentially cuts off their negotiating leverage for selling live telemetry; plus if the UCI is trying to reserve the “series” label then that’s a spanner in the wheel for Velon’s Hammer Series. But going to the European Commission over this, it’s a big deal, it’ll test if the UCI can govern the sport. As a third party the teams can use Velon to sue the UCI this way without headlines of “major teams sue governing body” which would make the sport look chaotic… even if this is actually what is happening. It shows the mistrust between some of the big teams and the UCI with neither side apparently willing to accommodate the other, even over the use of a particular word.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Larry T Thursday, 3 October 2019, 8:13 am

    This is terrible! It wasn’t bad enough when high-priced lawyers working for a certain well-funded team managed to scare UCI/WADA/etc. into letting their salbutamol abuser off the hook. This lesson has been learned by others with deep pockets as well, so they figure from now on the sport’s going to be run by the rich for the rich, though of course this isn’t the first time.
    If they don’t get their way, they’ll use their high-priced lawyers to make threats and hope to prevail, no matter how unsporting their schemes might be.
    The 20 team WT for next year (at the expense of too many wild card teams of national interest) was the most recent example of this sad situation, now this. My hope is ASO (too often the only adults in the room these days) will hire their own high-priced counsel and fight tooth-and-nail to keep the sport from becoming a financial/entertainment “product”run by MBA’s instead of a sport.

  • IanPa Thursday, 3 October 2019, 8:26 am

    Welcome back, hope the move went smoothly.

    It could all blow up, from small acorns etc.. Velon want a say, UCI wants THE say.
    Maybe an F1 style setup is required, that in itself is not perfect, but it does generally work.
    FIA set the rules, F1 is owned and promoted separately, all negotiated from TV rights to events, but money is shared amongst teams etc, you only have to look at how F1 is now engaging with the fans under the new management, compared to the Ecclestone era to show how a series can evolve and improve.
    I know cycling is restricted by ASO/RCS and the Flanders events people, who surely wont give up easily.

    As fans we always want best riders for best races, and i think the teams are going down this route as well, take Quickstep/ Bora for example having great one day riders, they do turn up at every major one day event and you know will race for the win, Ineos/ Jumbo are now creating grand tour super teams, but at least you get the best GT riders at the Tours.

    Data is great too, but we need the riders weight/ current wind direction on the screen as well as the other data to try and interpret it, maybe ASO are right, too much for the layman.. but even Velon doesn’t provide all the details that armchair critics need.

    As for the UCI… cameras on minor riders at the world championships just doesn’t cut the mustard. We should get overload/ multiple platforms from the worlds, its the showpiece event the UCI promote, and the choice of how we digest it. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see Chloe Dygart Owens gear ratio, HR, the wind direction, road gradient etc when she was hammering on the TT overtaking people, Annamieks the same when she attacked, Vanderpoels numbers when he punctured in both legs and lungs on the last lap.. so much more we should be getting..

    • Wipperman_15 Monday, 7 October 2019, 5:26 pm

      I do think the example you use is possible.
      The FiA are the equivalent of the UCI, and they are the governing body, and set the rules/ regs, etc
      However, they appoint a Promoter to run each World Championship. So F1, WRC, WEC, etc all have a separate promoter, who sells TV rights, raises money by hosting fees, etc
      So, in theory, the UCI could put out a tender for a company to run the World Tour. ASO, RCS, Flanders Classics as well as other race organisers would then have to pay for their races to be on the World Tour…… just like the motorsport model.
      The fly in the ointment is they’re unlikely to want this…..and there would be a power struggle….and you could/ will end up with a World Tour without all the famous races….

      • The Inner Ring Monday, 7 October 2019, 6:44 pm

        ASO and RCS have threatened to pull their races from the World Tour before which means they’d get to choose which teams ride and which don’t. The World Tour format suits the teams as they know if they meet certain criteria then they get a start in the Tour de France which is what they and their sponsors need. So the WT system works even if it’s imperfect.

  • Neil Thursday, 3 October 2019, 9:17 am

    …. and this is why I come to this website again and again. Yet more thanks for clear and lucid explanations of the bizarre world of (pro) cycling. I guess it’s appropriate that a sport all about spinning wheels, cogs and chains has so many political wheels within wheels!

  • Lukyluk Thursday, 3 October 2019, 10:13 am

    Thanks for this post, and for reminding facts about that latest hot-button issue.

    I can’t help but think this is only a power play. The UCI isn’t such a huge organization, and a real, full-on legal challenge spanning years is sure to weigh in their budget, and all it would really take would be a clarification of what the “tracking device” does, and how that data can be collected and broadcasted. If, for instance, a “mechanical passport” collecting rider power data were to be helpful in anti-doping, I think few of us (if any) would oppose the UCI or anti-doping agencies collecting that data for free.

    I’m not a lawyer, but the legal arguments seem a little shaky to me, Velon teams have never been forced to apply for UCI licenses and follow their rules. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t help everyone if they could all work together in good faith (rather than what I fear will happen eventually, several independent leagues with their own rules and maybe their own teams, performing on different circuits) but I don’t really see Velon succeeding in this case.

    One side-note. Velon doesn’t know how to organize a race to save its life. Tthe Hammer “series” aren’t just a bad idea, it’s also *woefully* executed, and I mean it – ridiculous doesn’t start to describe it. Beyond the concept and the rules, we also get profiles that don’t make any sporting sense, dangerous sections like parking lanes not blocked off… I watched one of the whole events (I think it was the Limburg one) and was surprised that the plastic cover for cables running across the road was placed about 20m from the finish line, and on each lap sprint the head riders were bumping on it and almost flying off course. Rookie mistake, maybe, but… c’mon…

    However, they sure know how to handle the media and drip-feed the news the right way. This news comes out in the wake of yet another UCI controversy (U23 WC results) and everybody sneering at how badly the UCI managed it on the day, and explained itself afterwards. The sympathy for the UCI seems at an all-time low, just look at the ProCyclingStats twitter feed to level some of the toxicity out there.

    This whole thing also has undertones of this ongoing feud in the vision for the sport itself: new vs. old school cycling; power numbers vs. showmanship. This is reflected in the race formats that Velon offers, and in their member teams as well (and no, it’s not just about budget – big budget teams like Astana and Movistar aren’t Velon members). Velon seemed to have the edge over the UCI in that new trend, but the Zwift/UCI partnership reshuffled the cards, including in terms of monetization opportunities, while ASO will just stick to what looks good on TV.

    Maybe the way to go for Velon would be to reassess what they can offer the sport. Some form of behind-the-scenes access, maybe? Reasonably, I don’t know of anyone who finds live on-screen power numbers in RCS races (like the Giro) to be useful. Either the riders are in different groups, and power is different because they’re on different terrain, different slopes, different wind conditions, or they’re in the same group and power data tells you more about which rider is the heaviest than the strongest.
    Even post-hoc data like you see in a sprint replay doesn’t feel helpful to me, comparing the peak power of C. Ewan and G. van Avermaet is just not informative. They don’t weigh the same, they don’t start their effort at the same time, they don’t drift the same. It’s apples and oranges every step of the way, and it’s not just confusing for TV viewers, it’s also useless.

    Power measurement is, of course, a great training tool, because you compare it to your *own* previous figures, and can calculate progression and estimate performance that way. But apart from the Zwift championship, I don’t see how it’s informative for spectators.

    Apologies for the length of this rant.

  • plurien Thursday, 3 October 2019, 11:33 am

    Apologies, since this must be my fourth go with this info, but ASO has a huge business of stage hospitality behind what we see on TV. It also gets funding from each region, departement and ville for its presence. It commands hours of national coverage and sells international broadcast rights on top of which commercials are sold. Sure, it costs to run the event but the peripherals are cost centres with positive contribution to the corporation. It is bigger for its three weeks than all of the UCI all of the time. It also does a brilliant job.
    Velon is a few of the teams’ owners that looked at the tech opportunities to be a disruptor but the fact it reverted to running its series serves to show this mission failed. This means it has trodden on the UCIs toe where it comes to trying to get money out of the likes of ASO or at least try to set up enough events for road racing to provide revenue. Pfft.
    It’s the athletes we should feel for. Not the stars, just the ones coming through the junior ranks who may make it to the top or burn out on the way. There are many countries where organisers and team owners cant pay riders as pros so the grassroots are cut off. There is no collegiate scene either,so it’s a brutal choice between education or the slim chance of making it. Even when they do, litigation like this article covers makes no difference to riders, or have I missed something in Velon’s mission?

    • Lukyluk Thursday, 3 October 2019, 12:42 pm

      The problem is that the interests of top teams and those of individual riders don’t always coincide. It was built on the idea that the initiative was going to bring more money to the sport, and that it would trickle down for everyone to benefit.

      But as it turns out, money is hard to come by, big investments in only a few teams bring their share of problems with them, it rarely trickles down further than the few big stars of the sport, and the balance between the pro and amateur scene is quite delicate, and likely different between regions and countries.

      I share your view that Velon could have benefitted from having a clearer mission from the start. It might not be too late though, but the problem when you clarify your goals is that you’ll turn away people/teams that were until now just happy to go with the flow under the promise of increased revenue.

  • Frank Thursday, 3 October 2019, 11:46 am

    Its seems to me that there is a mismatch between Velon’s ambition and what it has to offer. Their products to date (bike cams, statistics, packaged racing) just aren’t very compelling.
    I have no opinion about the naming dispute but their attempt to monetize any data collection reminds me of patent and copyright trolling.

  • StevhanTI Thursday, 3 October 2019, 12:24 pm

    I did have the idea that the Hammer Series were kind of taking off. It’s a novel concept, a bit awkward even with all the different point scoring options but it’s snappy and fast. Because the major teams are organising it themselves there are always a couple of stars on the startline which attracts viewers anyway.

    Regardless of the Hammer success, I wonder whether this complaint is admissible at all, the UCI is not really a ‘trust’ is it? If they would file it against UCI + some major organisers then it would make sense to me? That said, I tend to agree that this rule changes do look a lot like a petty, almost retaliatory, abuse of power which nobody needs in this fractured and shaky world of cycling.

    Regardless of all of the above I am marginally more on Velon’s side here, be it only because they had the basic decency to file the complaint only after INRNG resumed blogging 😉

    • Nick Friday, 4 October 2019, 11:47 am

      It’s not a trust of the sort contemplated by US anti-trust law, but EU law also prohibits individual entities that have a dominant position in a particular market from abusing that position. Plainly the UCI has such a position, as while there are other bodies that regulate cycling races (e.g., the time-trials lot in the UK), they are overwhelmingly the largest. And their rules clearly apply to a ton of bike races in the EU, even though the UCI itself is based outside it (and Velon soon will/might be). So this sort of rule change (the data one, rather than the series one) could be the sort of thing that the Commission gets interested in.

      Although there are some exemptions for sporting bodies from EU rules, these have tended to be narrowly restricted to areas that are necessary for the integrity of the sport. It would be for the UCI to show why it needs to insist on its own trackers being fitted for sporting reasons.

  • Lanterne_Verte Thursday, 3 October 2019, 1:01 pm

    A couple of things spring to mind, firstly the contentious use of the word series does at first sight seem petty, but is there a decent synonym that could replace it? The word series encapsulates the concept perfectly and I can’t think of anything else that doesn’t sound clunky, other than Tour or Championships which I’m fairly sure would go down even worse with the UCI.
    Secondly is it just me or have the Velon teams in particular over the last few years been shifting the narrative of the sport away from individuals and more towards it being all about the team? I wonder if this is part of a long-term strategy to reframe the sport in a way that advantages the Velon organisation.

    • StevhanTI Saturday, 5 October 2019, 7:58 am

      Shifting the attention to teams is more or less Velon’s mission statement

  • DaveRides Thursday, 3 October 2019, 1:23 pm

    That the UCI thinks it’s necessary for them to do something to kill the Hammer Series just shows their ineptitude.

    All that’s needed for it to die is for them to wait.

    • Larry T Friday, 4 October 2019, 8:26 am

      You are probably right – is this farce the result of MBA wizardry as applied to pro cycling? Is their business model the Tour de Trump? That turned out so well! 🙂

    • UHJ Friday, 4 October 2019, 11:27 am

      What I think they should’ve done was to embrace and explore the concept in a collaboration with Velon. The longtime tendency of the UCI to clamp down on ideas they can’t claim as their own, is somewhat disturbing. Obree, anyone?
      This new regulation really locks down – quite effectively due to it’s deliberate open wording – any new ideas on how to capitalise on data. Data some of which, btw, should be considered rider property but that is another discussion.

      • The Inner Ring Friday, 4 October 2019, 6:55 pm

        Yes, I’ve wondered about the rider element, ie your heart rate is your business even if it makes sense for teams to sell as a package… but the riders union doesn’t seem to be across all these issues.

  • Sergio Friday, 4 October 2019, 4:44 am

    Welcome back!

    Maybe I missed something, but is there something new around here? Still the best source of information about pro cycling, but the writing style seems a bit… different?

    Tried looking at the Twitter account, nothing there either. Also caught comments about a “move”.

    Anyway, glad it’s back!

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 4 October 2019, 6:53 pm

      Not much changed around here. Tried to make the piece above a bit more conversational in tone as the subject is extra dry.

  • Joe K. Friday, 4 October 2019, 5:28 am

    That new UCI Rule change about tracking devices gives us all an in-depth look into how bitter (and petty) the fight is between Velon and the UCI. In effect, the UCI intends to pull out all the teeth and claws of Velon by crippling its money-making capabilities, and, thereby, starve it to death. Even the very existence of the Hammer “Series” is apparently pissing off the UCI. Looks like a real ball-kicking contest is going on over there!

  • Paddy Dunne Friday, 4 October 2019, 12:00 pm

    If only there was a way of dropping the vowels out of a logo but retaining the name your trying to convey to an interested audience…..

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 4 October 2019, 6:52 pm

      Indeed. It was used here back in the days when Twitter limited conversations to 140 characters, user names included so the abbreviated version worked. Keep thinking this website should get a rebrand and new name but that’d be a big distraction. Maybe over winter?

      • David Prescott Saturday, 5 October 2019, 4:33 pm

        Don’t rebrand! Been an Inner Ring fan for a long time now & reading your pieces is a huge part of my TdF ritual in particular, but I also love just reading your insightful and fascinating pieces on the behind the scenes stuff like this. Just personally, I feel like in a sport where brands and names change constantly, keeping inrng as a brand is a real asset.

        • CA Monday, 7 October 2019, 5:50 am

          Totally agree with David Prescott here – cycling brands kill potential momentum in sticking with fans/customers/investors/etc. because they often rebrand for no reason. Why would Inrng need to re-brand? Any of your readers swears by your site and your writing style focuses on quality, not “branding BS”.

        • Larry T Monday, 7 October 2019, 8:59 am

          Don’t “FIX” anything, please. Coca-Cola, Pirelli, Campagnolo, etc. don’t mess with this kind of stuff, nor should you. I know you’re tired of hearing it but if you want a project for the winter, come up with a supporter/pay scheme. “Shopping Tips” (not that I’m endorsing them!) has a scheme while MotoMatters has another. I think most of us have zero issues with you monetizing this thing as long as it doesn’t become a tool of advertisers or includes a paywall?

      • Paddy Dunne Monday, 7 October 2019, 6:49 pm

        I think it’s as you were. It’s become iconic. My favourite band at this time couldn’t register as Lines and had to go with LIINES it would be weird spelt any other way now. Same with INRNG

      • StPears Tuesday, 8 October 2019, 12:42 am

        Well you dodged a bullet when the attempt to popularize 1x chain sets faded. In an alternate world with no inner or outer you’d have had to rebrand as ‘Rng’

  • Wayne Friday, 4 October 2019, 4:13 pm

    Realistically could Velon break away from the UCI and continue as a separate entity? A bit like what the Premier League did in England. It may give them a lot more freedom. I tend not to pay any attention to political side of cycling but it appears to me that the UCI is a fairly bloated and inefficient organisation that actually has little positive effect on the sport. The calendar is a mess, their antidoping attempts have been fairly lack lustre (putting it kindly) and this business with Velon over the word series is pathetic!!

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 4 October 2019, 6:51 pm

      There’s been talk of a “breakaway league” but the Tour de France is central to the sport so Velon just riding off into the sunset isn’t going to fix a lot unless it’s taking ASO, RCS, Flanders Classics etc with it and then more. The UCI’s anti-doping efforts aren’t draconian but at the moment they’re doing things like banning tramadol and looking at ways to regulate cortisone better, something no other sports federations will do and surely a private league would not do?

      • Wayne Saturday, 5 October 2019, 10:23 am

        I imagine Aso etc only care about having the best riders/teams in their events so I can see them being ok or at least indifferent to a breakaway league. It’s not like any of them are huge buddies with the UCI. Obviously this isn’t an easy or quick solution but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. What will we lose really? The rainbow jersey and I can’t think of much else.

  • Bad Hombre Friday, 4 October 2019, 10:31 pm

    Velon will be dead in the water, probably before the UK actually leaves the EU. Hopefully the ridiculous Hammer S****s will be dead with it.

  • KevinK Monday, 7 October 2019, 11:45 am

    This fight seems like the proverbial two toothless old men fighting over the last bowl of tapioca while ignoring that they both have some serious illness they’re ignoring.

    The comments are closed on your recent post about Peloton and Zwift, but I wanted to make sure you saw this: https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/10/british-cycling-strips-zwift-championship-winner-for-cheating.html

    This story is also pathetic, in a different way. I suspect the reason they waited 6 months to ban the guy, or at least to announce it, was they didn’t want to be a laughing stock to have such an obvious cheat in one of the first big races.

    • UHJ Monday, 7 October 2019, 7:44 pm

      As I posted in another thread, soon commissaires will need a degree in computer science. I still think this were this ends.
      Way too many waus to “adjust” your results.

      • KevinK Tuesday, 8 October 2019, 10:55 am

        No need for a degree in CS, just need the people who are programming Zwift to use the practices that game developers use, as well as give some serious thought to how to both make the competition truly fair, and also have the appearance of being truly fair. Gaming e-sports are huge, and any hint of certain teams/players have unfair advantage is a bigger deal than doping is in competitive cycling. Moreover, the fanbase for e-sports are people who play these PvP games, and the idea of “pay to play”, cheat codes, and hacks like that used in the Zwift championships are not tolerated, by either the gamers or by the game devs. The devopers spend a lot of time and money making sure this kind of obvious cheating doesn’t happen.

        Although Zwift is clearly looking at gaming for ways to grow their popularity, they need to bring in some experienced game devs, because their system seems to be where online gaming was a generation ago.

  • astram Tuesday, 8 October 2019, 12:25 pm

    Today italian Lega Ciclismo Professionistico announced his own complaint to the European Commission in order to investigate how the introduction of new rules for 2020 goes “to the detriment of teams and race organisers”.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 8 October 2019, 2:56 pm

      Interesting, I wonder if RCS back this or not? Again the European complaint route looks a slow one but it puts pressure on the UCI to freeze things.

      • astram Tuesday, 8 October 2019, 5:21 pm

        Well, the head of Giro mr. Vegni of RCS seats in the council of this Lega, which is an association of professional teams and race organizers. The funny thing is that Lega has their hq in the same building of Italian cycling federation who is part of the UCI.
        I think the timing of Velon and this move in the weeks when calendars are on the table is strategical: a way to make pressure for for the Hammer to be held in 2020 too or to promote Agostoni/Beghelli/whatelse in the ProSeries.

  • Noah Hegarty Thursday, 10 October 2019, 10:04 am

    A question, why do they have the Hammer races at the same time as big races like the Giro? If the Hong Kong race was going ahead this weekend and all the teams would be promoting it like it was the biggest race happening and this must make race organisers sore.

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 10 October 2019, 3:27 pm

      It’s a crowded calendar, hard to get a weekend free. I’m not sure how much competition there is, for example the Giro can get millions watching in Italy alone, when I’ve clicked on a Hammer race on youtube it shows how many people are watching and the figures were low to the point of once you subtract out the team’s social media managers and friends and family of those racing it was very small, but maybe youtube’s number is per region/country rather than globally?