Breakaway group moves to create rival Riders Union

Riders, agents and others working to create splinter group to form new union.

Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

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Riders have long complained that they want a stronger voice at the table in elite men’s professional road racing. Now they are moving to unify that voice into a newly organized union.

After months and even years of dancing around the issue, a group hoping to represent a majority of the riders on major WorldTour and other elite men’s pro teams are moving ahead with plans to create what they hope will be a new stand-alone riders union. A handful of pros, along with key pro rider agents and association representatives, are formally organizing under a working group aptly called “The Riders Union.”

“Ultimately, it was decided to try shape and build a new riders union from the ground up,” said Luuc Eisenga, a former cycling manager who will serve as interim CEO. “It will be based on transparency, one-rider, one-vote, and have a clear mandate so everyone knows who is voting on what. And to seek a proactive dialogue with the key stakeholders in the sport.”

Backers say the idea is to create a group built upon the concept of one-rider, one-vote, which supporters believe will provide a stronger, more independent voice for pros among the sport’s other key stakeholders.

Organizers said they hope to have at least 200 riders formally signed on as dues-paying members by January and to bylaws approved by next spring.

The move could put the new group in loggerheads with the CPA, the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés, the riders association currently affiliated and recognized by the UCI.

“This is not about fighting. This is about defending the interests of professional riders,” Eisenga said. “We could see two separate unions defending the interests of their riders. It’s a very common practice in the normal world, and don’t see why that wouldn’t function in cycling.”

It’s unclear if riders will need to choose between the two organizations, or how the new group plans to work with the CPA. There was no immediate response from the UCI, which has long stood by the CPA and recognized the group, which the UCI created about 20 years ago, as the official voice for the riders.

“Every employee has the freedom to join the union they like. They can be part of CPA and still be part of our riders’ union,” said Eisenga, who informed the CPA and the UCI on Monday that they would be moving ahead with their plans. “Ultimately, it’s up the riders to decide if they want to join us.”

Riders have long complained about a lack of representation within the peloton on a variety of issues. Earlier this year, VeloNews broke the story that a core group of about 30 riders were beginning talks among themselves this spring during the COVID-19 lockdown to explore options. This summer, backers said they received the support of 350 WorldTour pros to press for changes in how the CPA voting system works.

After entreaties with the CPA were unsatisfactory to try to work within the existing structure, the working group made the decision to create a stand-alone union.

According to backers, the top priorities for the new group include, “to improve the sustainability of the sport through better safety in races, better (social) security and constructive collaboration with other stakeholders in the sport.”

According to representatives, it will set up a riders council, including a representative from every team and a supervisory board of five members. All riders will have the same weighted voice and vote, having a direct influence on all major decisions, official said.

On Monday, the Riders Union appointed Michael Rutherford (USA), Andrew McQuaid (UK) and Thibault Hofer (SUI) to serve as interim Board of Directors, and Eisenga as interim CEO, until the moment of the first assembly that is scheduled for March 2021.

“It is a big step, but we are willing to do, and that is because we feel the support of the riders,” Eisenga said. “We have two choices; to accept things the way it is because that’s the way it’s always been done, or we can take the bull by the horns to try to work together in a different way.”

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