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Responding to a recent feature by CyclingTips which documented cases where riders had been required to either race for free or for a price less than the minimum wage, the riders’ association CPA, the teams’ association AIGCP and the governing body UCI have given their reactions to the situation.
Riders and agents told CyclingTips earlier this month that the UCI’s minimum wage requirements for WorldTour and Pro Continental teams are, in some cases, circumvented in ways that break regulations.
These practices could also in theory constitute tax fraud.
Under this practice, riders are paid a minimum salary but are then required to pay some or all of that back under the counter. Alternatively, they are charged for costs normally covered by the team such as coaching and travel expenses.
While accepting such an arrangement would seem counter-productive to each rider’s own interests, the lack of contracts available can lead to a desperate situation for those who find themselves without a slot for the following season.
At the WorldTour level, the folding of the Cannondale team plus the failure of the Alonso project to get off the ground have meant a large number of riders are still searching, despite the fact that the new year is less than two months away.
Add in the contracting situation with Pro Continental teams and this shortage is compounded.
An example of the pressure riders are under can be gleaned from the case of a rider who finished in the top ten of the Tour de France in the past three years. He recently told CyclingTips that he would agree to a minimum wage if that proved necessary to get a ride.
While this would not break UCI regulations, the fact that a rider with his palmares would accept such a large wage reduction shows the strain of trying to prolong a career in the current economic environment.
Riders in such a position reason that even if they take a financial hit, remaining within the peloton might increase the possibility of securing a decent contract for the following season.
But whatever about the ethics of paying a high ranking rider a salary far below what he is worth, it is clear that those breaking the UCI’s minimum wage regulations are doing a considerable damage to the sport.
CPA president Gianni Bugno is aware of the situation and said that some riders are put in a very difficult situation.
“Sometimes we have heard these rumours and, for sure, these are reprehensible things that we want to fight,” he told CyclingTips. “Unfortunately many abuses are covered by omerta because, as you wrote [in the original feature], the riders fear missing opportunity and being excluded in case they talk and complain.
“However, if the riders don’t openly admit the problem, then of course we can not take action unless we have the evidence of certain abuses.”
Bugno confirmed that people other than riders have also brought the situation to the CPA’s attention. “The national associations have sometimes reported this matter,” he said. “Many members of these associations are former professionals and are able to understand the pulse of the situation.
“It means that they know when a problem should be officially solved with the inclusion of the authorities, or if it’s better to look for a mediation between the parties to find a solution that does not penalize the riders with any retaliation by their employers.
“Unfortunately for many riders cycling is a passion often before a job. Sometimes they are ready to accept injustices in order to not be excluded, without thinking that in this way they do not damage only themselves but the whole system.”
CyclingTips also spoke to the president of the AIGCP, Luuc Eisenga. While that association represents teams rather than individual riders, he was also clear that the practice should not be tolerated.
“I have read the article,” he said. “If those allegations are true it is a serious situation that has to be looked out for. Obviously our organisation is very much in favour of contracts being respected.”
For their good and that of cycling they should not accept racing for free
UCI regulations lay out clear directives for the wages that any riders above Continental level must receive. For those racing with WorldTour squads, a minimum wage of 36,300 euro per year exists. This can be reduced to 29,370 euro in the case of neo-pros.
As for Pro Continental squads, they must pay a minimum of 30,250 euro to their riders, or 25,300 euro to neo-pros.
Riders with more experience are generally paid much more than this, while team leaders with big teams can have salaries north of a million euro.
That doesn’t prevent some teams from trying to sidestep the regulations. One rider, who wished to remain anonymous in order to prevent any complications to his career, gave CyclingTips an example.
“I contacted a WorldTour team in the past seeing if there was a place,” he said in the initial feature on this subject. “I got an email saying that there was a possible slot, but that it had no money. That was kind of how they worded it; ‘we have got a place for him, but no salary.’ So that would have to be paid back under the counter in some way. Needless to say, I didn’t accept.”
Asked what someone in this position should do, Bugno was clear.
“We recommend that they to speak with associations. They need to report the abuses in order to make sure that their job will be more and more protected and secured,” he said. “For their good and that of cycling they should not accept racing for free or paying certain charges [thus refunding teams money from the minimum salary payments], or cycling will always be a ‘series b sport.’”
“We are trying to change things. We want it that riders are always more powerful inside the movement but we need the collaboration of all to do more. We have started a tighter dialogue with the UCI and the AIGCP to solve many problems, but we cannot be the voice of the riders if they do not speak.
“The first recommendation we want to give is that they speak with us!”
Eisenga advocated a different approach. He said that he was in favour of those affected speaking directly to the governing body rather than the CPA. “If somebody has a breach or has the opinion that there is a breach of a contract that he has signed, there is one body he has to talk to. It is the UCI as the UCI is the government of cycling. I that there are procedures in place for that.”
Contacted on the matter, the UCI confirmed that it is willing and able to deal with such cases. It provided a brief statement to CyclingTips about the situations described in the previous article; once again, riders must be willing to speak.
“Please take note of UCI’s comment on UCI WorldTour riders’ working conditions and possible infraction by teams.
“The UCI Regulations are very clear concerning riders’ working conditions when it comes to salaries, travel expenses, bonuses and prizes. If a rider informs the UCI of an infringement of these rules, necessary action will be taken to safeguard the rider’s interests according to the UCI Regulations.”
Delays in salaries and the Team Colombia situation
A different matter, but one which similarly deals with riders being put in difficult situations is when teams delay payments of salaries. One such case which gained attention recently was that concerning Team Colombia. Riders such as Jarlinson Pantano, Robinson Chalapud and others pointed out that they were owed months of salary; former Colombian pro Victor Hugo Peña, who raced with the team in 2012 and was involved in setting it up, spoke out about the issue.
He talked to CyclingTips this week and said that he advised the riders to be proactive about trying to get their money.
“I called some guys from the team and I said, ‘many, you can complain to the UCI. You have to. There is five months salary without payment,’” he explained. “But the problem is Claudio [team manager Claudio Corti] called those guys. He said, ‘don’t make noise, don’t sent messages, don’t write this on Twitter. Don’t do anything, because if the UCI knows, they can probably can block the licence and you will have no team.
“You will probably get your salary but you will have no team.’
“It is a difficult situation for them,” he continued. “But, at the end of the day, that is not the right way to do things. It should not be like that. You have to call the UCI and the UCI have to then say, ‘come on,’ to the team.
“In recent months, none of the riders knows which person they could talk to. For those guys, it has already been five months without money. F**k. This has to be hard for them. But nobody says anything. Nobody says, ‘it is arriving, in 15 days.’ They never know when is the real day when they are going to have the money.
“Instead, the 16 guys on the team say nothing, because they are scared about everything, about Claudio, about Coldeportes [the national sports agency which backs the team – ed.], about the UCI, about the licence. It is a hard situation.”
Asked how many riders he thought were affected, Peña said that he felt ‘probably all of them’ were left short.
He said that he spoke to Corti a month ago and was told then that the issue was due to delays of payment from the government to the team.
Even if that was the case, he said that there was little urgency in sorting it out. “Nobody said anything [to the government], not even Claudio. He can call the UCI or he can say to the government, ‘I need my money, or I will call the UCI.’ But not even him.
“He is interested on his own situation, to have a job next year. The other situation is that he has some money from the Colombian government, but other money [for him] comes from other sponsors that he has. Willier, Nalini, or whatever.”
“I am not afraid of you. You can’t close my mouth”
Peña said that he personally is owed money by Corti due to a matter unconnected to the team. He said that the Italian – who Peña previously helped get his managerial role with the squad – promised to pay him when he receives the money from the government.
He accepts that there is a chance that his speaking out could complicate things, but feels he must talk to help the riders.
“I’m a little bit worried,” he admitted. “I’m waiting two years already. It is like five or six thousand euros. It is probably nothing for him, but for me it is a lot of money. Two years is a lot of time to wait.
“Last time when I was sending message on Twitter and things like that, he called me and told me, in good words, ‘please Victor, don’t send messages to the press, blah, blah. Take care.’
“I said, ‘Claudio, man, I am not afraid of you. I need my money. You can’t close my mouth.’”
CyclingTips spoke to a UCI spokesman Thursday. He confirmed that the riders hadn’t made a complaint over the matter. They appear to have accepted Corti’s instructions to remain quiet, and those who spoke out on Twitter before became less vocal.
This website also contacted the team on Thursday. A spokesman gave what he said was the team’s explanation for the situation, and updated where things stood right now.
“Though Team Colombia’s riders wages have actually been affected by delays due to Colombia’s elections and bureaucracy, we can confirm that the situation has been totally settled, he stated. “All the riders’ salaries are currently to date.”
This is yet to be confirmed by the riders concerned, but the team insists the matter is closed.
Even if this is indeed the case, the Team Colombia example highlights how riders can feel powerless in a situation where they are not paid. A five month delay in salary could have big repercussions for mortgage repayments and the support of families, as well as bringing extra stress to an already difficult career.
Teams do pay bank guarantees which could in theory be used to settle unpaid wages, but unlocking that money is somewhat complicated. Asked Thursday if this could have been an option for the Team Colombia riders, a UCI spokesman said that the guarantee could in theory have be utilised in this way. However he said that verification of the facts is needed for that to happen.
“If there has been a delay in payments, we can’t just hand money over to the riders,” he stated. “Complaints have to be lodged and then an investigation of the situation is launched. Those looking into it can then make a decision about what should happen next.”
Courage to speak out:
As Bugno, Eisenga, the UCI and Peña have all stated, salary delays, circumvention of the UCI minimum wage regulations and other such matters often rely on riders to point out what is happening. Without that, they each say it is difficult for action to be taken.
Peña said it is crucial for reassurances to be given about confidentiality, and then there needs to be trust on the riders’ part.
“The UCI needs to tell riders that it is there to help. There is always a solution. For example, in relation to these payment delays with Team Colombia, the riders need to trust the UCI.
“The UCI can talk with Corti or with the sport minister, and say ‘hey, when are you going to have the money for the guys?’ If they answer, ‘in one week, or one month’ – fine, no problem. But the team then has to give a promise to the guys.
“The UCI can then in turn say to the team, ‘hey, if you don’t have money, you don’t have a licence. When they guys have the money, you will have your licence. That is all.’
Even if the team’s statement is accurate and the situation has been completely rectified, it shows how powerless riders can feel at times.
Bugno said that the CPA had suggestions about how things could and should change.
“This is the same problem that we Italians have with the black jobs or tax evasion, even if in this case the only beneficiaries are the employers rather than employed,” he said.
“How can you avoid a situation of illegal profits in a time of general economic crisis? Tightening up controls can help but maybe you need to create the conditions to stop certain situations happening.
“For example, work on the ethics of sport, to create the mentality of ‘the common good’: to make certain people understand that if you comply with all laws at the end you will gain more.
“Also, teams and riders should report abuses and violations. Otherwise, illegal acts will have a boomerang effect on the future of cycling.”
Also see: How UCI minimum wage regulations are being broken