Cyclists’ Alliance to represent female pro cyclists

Retired riders Iris Slappendel, Carmen Small, and current racer Gracie Elvin create women's union called Cyclists' Alliance

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The women’s pro peloton is getting its own labor association.

A group of current and retired female cyclists has launched a riders union to represent the interests of professional female racers when dealing with both the UCI and pro teams.

The group, which calls itself the Cyclists’ Alliance, is the brainchild of retired riders Iris Slappendel and Carmen Small, and current racer Gracie Elvin, who races for Orica-Scott. Slappendel, who retired from full-time racing in 2016, said the group aims to help riders better navigate the various elements of pro cycling that do not involve riding a bicycle: contract negotiation, dispute resolution, and even planning for retirement.

“There are so many issues and hardly any places for help,” Slappendel said. “Like not getting paid, or getting fired without reason, or not getting prize money, and contract issues. All of these are problems for pro riders.”

Slappendel is the group’s executive director. She said she developed the idea for a riders union after her two-year stint as an athletes representative with the UCI athletes’ commission, on which she served from 2015-17. She said the mechanics of the governing body prevented her from enacting real change in women’s cycling.

“I had big hopes for the [UCI commission] but it didn’t really have the power that I had hoped for,” Slappendel said. “I could not really make changes there.”

Simultaneously, Slappendel said she was involved in a dispute with her own professional team. With few resources, she reached out to the Dutch riders’ association for help.

In early 2017 she began talking with Small and Elvin, and the three decided to circulate two rider surveys as a first step toward launching a riders association. The group performed the surveys in February and April and published the results on Tuesday. Of the pro peloton’s approximately 400 riders, 332 riders responded. The group asked riders questions about salary size and the process of contract negotiation, among other questions.

Nearly half of the riders (49.9 percent) said they earned 5,000 euros or less a year; 90 percent said they signed a pro contract with a UCI-registered team without legal assistance. And 17 percent said they raced without a salary at all.

“Very often, teams abuse their power and abuse this fact that the riders lack certain knowledge,” Slappendel said. “With some basic explanations, you can already have more power in these situations.”

The Cyclists’ Alliance has already met with current UCI president David Lappartient. It has also created a network of lawyers to help riders, Slappendel said. The next step is to receive official recognition by the UCI so that the group can begin negotiations for a mandatory minimum wage.

Slappendel said she has consulted labor representatives from men’s cycling; she spoke with Michael Carcaise, the executive director of the Association of North American Road Cyclists. But she noted her group wants to draw its inspiration from groups outside of cycling.

In a release, Small echoed that sentiment.

“Women’s professional cycling can, and must be, a sport which forges a new path that does not follow the template of the men’s sport,” she said. “The women’s sport can accomplish this by uniting the interests of its labor force — namely, the women athletes who are the lifeblood of every competition — and the ambassadors of the sport who connect it to the greater public.”

To see the full results of the Cyclists’ Alliance survey, click here.

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