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Nearly half of the women’s UCI peloton races for less than 5,000 Euros (A$7,700) a year, with 17.5 percent of that group going completely unpaid, and nine out of 10 signed their contracts without any legal assistance.
These and other signs of a lack of professionalism in women’s cycling were revealed in two rider surveys conducted this spring by retired pro cyclist and former UCI Women’s Committee member, Iris Slappendel.
Wages aside, the survey showed a critical need for health insurance, career guidance and a trustworthy entity that hears and voices riders’ concerns and protects their collective interests when it comes to contracts, disputes and rider safety.
Survey key points:
• 90% of survey participants believed the UCI needs to ensure basic team standards of professionalism
• 46.9% made 5000 Euro or less per year; 17.5% of those riders race without a salary
• More than 50% had to pay their team back for travel, equipment and other services that are critical for the athlete to be able to train and race at the professional level
• 90% of participants signed a contract with a UCI-registered team without any legal assistance, and many reported being pressured by teams to do so
• Health insurance was ranked the most important benefit needed for professional riders
• 51.6% of survey participants have a secondary job
• In the comments, many shared stories of mistreatment, but also the hope that they can compete long enough to experience a better sport
• 85% of survey respondents believed that now is the time for a riders’ association to come together and represent the values and needs of women’s professional cyclists
“We sent out the surveys in February and April to get a sense of the biggest concerns and issues riders face, and if there was any interest or demand for a riders’ union. The response rate was incredible. Riders from every UCI-registered team participated, and we garnered nearly 300 unique responses. The overwhelming message from the women’s peloton was clear: change needs to happen for the sport to grow, and the time is now,” said Slappendel.
The common sentiment was that the two existing rider associations — the Professional Cyclists Association (CPA) and the International Association of Professional Cycling Groups (AIGCP) — are failing to properly represent the women’s peloton.
And so Slappendel decided to act.
Together with Australians Gracie Elvin and Loren Rowney and American Carmen Small, the quartet started laying the foundations for a riders union. In the months that followed, a board of advisors with legal, financial and humanitarian expertise joined the effort.
Today, the union is officially announcing its launch and objectives.
Introducing The Cyclists’ Alliance
Backed by women’s cycling’s most recognisable names, The Cyclists’ Alliance aims to be the cohesive voice for professional cyclists to promote and protect athlete safety and enhance professionalism within the sport.
“The Alliance is here to represent and protect riders; enabling fairness and equality, economic guidance, and dispute resolution,” said Slappendel. “We are working as a partner with the UCI and the UCI-registered women’s teams to form the first women’s teams association in global cycling.”
The Cyclists’ Alliance has already met with UCI President David Lappartient to share their long term vision and framework for collaboration, which starts with representation.
Slappendel will attend any upcoming UCI Women’s World Tour Commission meetings while one of The Cyclicts’ Alliance more prominent members, Marianne Vos, will serve in the UCI’s Athletes Commission and UCI Road Commission.
Upon receiving official recognition by the UCI, the Alliance aims to enter negotiations to create the first Joint Agreement for a minimum wage and a standard contract in the fall of 2018.
Along the way, the Alliance will be working to provide career advice, contract negation help, dispute resolutions and insurance packages for riders who are currently under-insured in the peloton.
Part of this is that the Alliance recognises that cycling’s current business model is flawed and needs to change. Thus, its secondary objectives are centred around elevating the sport’s visibility, attracting new audiences through digital media, and exploring revenue opportunities away from traditional (men’s) cycling.
“The Cyclists’ Alliance is building a comprehensive strategy with the help of women’s sports business and legal advisers from around the world, which focuses on the complete picture of women’s professional cycling,” said co-founder Gracie Elvin.
“We have built our organisation with advice from some of sport’s most important and successful athlete movements, many of which are part of the UNI Global Union’s World Players Association. Our platform and long term goals combines all of the elements which support a strong and healthy athlete association, while integrating economic strategies and revenue capabilities to ensure that it – and the sport – can enjoy a successful partnership.”
In short, its primary objectives include:
- Safety for riders at races and in team environments
- Career advice and dispute resolution
- Rider representation and a collective platform for all issues
And its long term objectives are:
- Promote women’s cycling to a larger audience
- Enhance and improve economic opportunities within the sport for all riders
- Provide support and resource pathways for riders during and post career
But an association is only as strong as its members and while the Alliance is confident that its already representing two-thirds of the peloton, the launch serves as a call to the women’s peloton to join.
“Without an association, the economics of the sport will remain small, in control of the hands of just a few key people, and limit the opportunities for all of us,” said Elvin.
“So we ask our fellow cyclists to join us so we can leverage our strength to negotiate a better future with our teams, our partners in the UCI, new business supporters, and fans across the world.”