Newly formed Riders Union hopes for ‘a place at the table’

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After months of rumors, the men’s pro peloton has a new organization hoping to represent its interests: The Riders Union officially launched on Monday.

“Welcome everybody to The Riders Union, the initiative to set up a comprehensive and democratic union of professional cyclist[s],” a newly established Twitter account for the newly established organization said.

“Basic principles of the union will be around better sustainability in the sport, financial stability for riders, increased (social) security and proactive collaboration with other stakeholders.”

For now, the union’s footprint comprises a social media presence without a website, bylaws, or official enrollment. Those things are coming.

“It’s pretty green but that’s kind of on purpose in that it’s been put to the riders in a way that is sort of framed as, ‘This is here, this is what we’re trying to do, and now you guys, the riders, tell us how you want it done,'” Alex Howes told CyclingTips on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s announcement comes after several months of growing dissent in the men’s pro ranks over the way riders are currently represented via the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA). Over the past year, more and more riders have voiced frustration with the role of the CPA, its track record on key issues like rider safety, its relationship with the UCI, and, especially, voter representation under the current system. In June, more than 300 pros signed a petition pushing for reforms that included one-rider, one-vote representation within the CPA, where traditional cycling nations like France, Italy, and Spain currently utilize a block voting system instead.

“The riders really had zero say in the new calendar and in the actual protocols around day-to-day racing, so that was definitely a concern, but I would say that the big catalyst there was the petition that we put out there that had the support of over 350 riders, the majority of the peloton, asking for a one-rider, one-vote and do away with the national block voting,” Howes said.

As that concern came to a head, behind the scenes, a number of pros, former pros, and agents discussed the possibility of forming a new organization to represent the peloton. Meanwhile, in response to criticism, the CPA has defended its record, pointing to its successes with the extreme weather protocol, as well as its independence from the UCI.

Unsatisfied, those pushing for reform continued to work towards setting up what would ultimately become The Riders Union that was launched on Monday. Former pro Stef Clement and former AIGCP head Luuc Eisenga have led the charge for the moment, with the backing of pros around the peloton (and particularly those from the Netherlands, Belgium, North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia). The organization currently has an interim Board of Directors in Michael Rutherford, Andrew McQuaid and Thibault Hofer.

“We needed to break through the existing walls and not build something new in the existing building,” Eisenga told CyclingTips. “I think the cycling world needs the one rider one vote system. We now have the block system where national associations have a winner takes all system. If 60% of riders vote in favor the national associations go with 100% of that idea to the CPA. That means 40% of riders are not heard. Riders who are part of smaller associations or riders not represented by an association are not even heard at all.”

The fledgling organization still has to a lot of work to do as it decides what, exactly, it will be. Even once members are officially enrolled and bylaws are drafted, it’s not quite clear how The Riders Union will navigate the system currently in place that sees the UCI viewing the CPA as the clearcut representative of the pro peloton.

“We want to earn ourselves a place at the table. First thing is that you need to represent a substantial group of riders. We set a target of at least 200 for now. When every vote counts riders will also be more active and be involved. The cynicism of ‘it doesn’t matter if I vote’ goes away because they will feel heard,” Eisenga said.

“Then we hope to get heard at the UCI headquarters by having a consistent and professional strategy. We are new to the table of course and can’t slam our fist straight away. Screaming at each other never works anyway. I also feel that when everyone is hiding within their own fort and tries to defend that fort no one gets any closer to each other. In the end riders, teams, organizers and the UCI all want the best for our sport. We have more in common than we think.”

The CPA and UCI have yet to comment on the formation of the new organization, but there is little expectation that they will welcome a potential alternative model with open arms. That said, those backing The Riders Union are hopeful for the possibility of increased dialogue between all parties involved.

“Not saying that we’re looking for a fight here, but we don’t expect the CPA to just step out of the way and for the UCI to just openly come out and say, ‘Yeah, you’re the new union, good job,'” Howes said. “Even with that said, the door is not closed when it comes to working with the CPA. If these two things merge, that’d be fine. At the end of the day, all we want is proper representation.”

José Been contributed to this report.

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