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by Shane Stokes
September 3, 2018
Photography by Cor Vos
The professional riders’ association CPA has said that it is closely monitoring the Aqua Blue Sport team collapse, with the goal being to ensure that all money owed until the end of the year is settled.
Speaking to CyclingTips, the UK and Ireland CPA chairman Ben Greetham was clear about the obligations facing the Irish Pro Continental team.
“Legally, the guys have got to be paid,” he said. “It is in their contracts. So the CPA are writing to the UCI and the team to ensure that they understand that is the situation. I have spoken to riders as well.
“The team is still saying that they are going to honour contracts. Legally the team has to pay. But will they? There is a pot of money they have to set aside for this kind of situation, the UCI bank guarantee. We just have to ensure that pot of money still exists.”
Last Monday the team told its riders – and, subsequently, the media and the public – that an anticipated merger with the Veranda’s Willems-Crelan/Sniper Cycling squad wasn’t going to happen. It said that because of that, the team would not exist in 2019.
The six riders who were due to ride the Tour of Britain had the impression that the team would nevertheless turn out in that race, but later that day they were told that the squad had cancelled its participation.
The decision meant that the riders who were banking on competing in the event to showcase their talents and thus to chase contracts with alternative teams were unable to do so.
Greetham said that being able to race is crucial to all the riders’ chances of securing new jobs. He said that clarification is needed of what exactly they can do.
“The difficult position they are in at the moment is that the team is not entering any more races. The guys want to ride, because they want to get results and need to secure new contracts.
“What I am trying to find out now is whether or not they can ride in Aqua Blue kit or whether or not they can enter races themselves not wearing Aqua Blue kit. And if they were to do that, would they then invalidate their contracts? Could the team say, ‘we are not paying you’?
“So we are in that position at the moment, finding out exactly what the situation is.”
CyclingTips contacted the UCI following the team collapse seeking comment on the situation. It declined to speak about the matter, but Greetham gave clarification. “The UCI are on board and handling things should the team fail to pay,” he said. “David Lappartient has emailed the CPA to that effect, so it’s right at the top.”
Aqua Blue Sport in happier times, doing TTT recon prior to the start of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana. It rode the race during its first pro season, but wasn’t given a Grand Tour wildcard in 2018.
Separate to the riders and staff who are owed money for the reminder of the season, there are also those who have contracts extending into 2019. Speaking to CyclingTips in this feature, 2017 Vuelta a España stage winner Stefan Denifl and Irish road race champion Conor Dunne said they were in that position. Indeed Dunne recently signed a new two year deal with the team.
Also contracted for next season are former US champion Larry Warbasse, plus two riders who joined as neo pros at the start of 2018, Eddie Dunbar and Casper Pedersen.
In the past when sponsors such as T-Mobile and Rabobank have withdrawn from the sport, they were compelled to fulfil their obligations to the teams they were backing. In Aqua Blue Sport’s case, there was no main sponsor as the funding from the team came from owner Rick Delaney, who also controlled the paying agent.
CyclingTips sought clarification from the UCI as to whether the team was legally compelled to pay the five riders for their ongoing contracts. It declined to comment on this point.
The CPA gave some clarification of things as it saw them legally. “The obligations to be borne by the team will be those of honouring the salaries as far as possible,” it said. “In this regard, the guarantee may be invoked [for the current season] while for contracts relating to the following season, the only possibility for the rider is to sue the team for possible negligence, as long as the latter has the possibility to honour the eventual judgment of the college of arbitration.”
Speaking to the Cycling Podcast, Delaney said that he would honour the team’s obligations to the riders contracted for 2019 if they were unable to find new teams. It is understood that some but not all have secured new rides for next season.
Greetham said that in general, there was a need for the CPA to wait and see what happens. “The position at the moment is that the team hasn’t failed to pay any salaries. So we can’t jump up and down and start putting things into process until something like that happens.
“Until they have actually reneged on something, you can’t start beating them up on it. But if they do, that’s when we can start to commence all that stuff.”
Longer term, he said that what happened with Aqua Blue Sport shows that things need to improve to protect riders’ rights. He says the CPA has a role to play in this, and needs to make changes in order to do so more effectively.
“This sort of situation is terrible. It is sadly par for the course with cycling that a lot of these teams don’t tell the riders – and clearly they have their reasons for this – that the situation is quite so dire.
“There needs to be a lot more protection for the riders, which is what the CPA needs to be doing as a strong athlete’s union. It needs to become a much stronger union, which is something we are working towards. To revolutionise the CPA a bit and get it into the current era.
“There needs to be a higher level of support and safety for the riders, so that when these teams fold that they can’t just cease to exist and not have any obligations.”