Giving riders a meaningful voice is the next big issue facing professional cycling after the era of systematic doping, according to former racer David Millar.
Millar, a retired professional turned anti-doping campaigner, has thrown his hat into the ring to become president of the pro riders union, the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA).
But the 41-year-old’s candidacy for CPA president has caused a crisis within the peloton, as the role has previously been ceremonially handed from one leader to another, without the need for election.
Now an election must be held between Millar and incumbent president Gianni Bugno.
Given a choice of candidates for the first time, many riders are voicing their intent to vote but are finding barriers to the right to cast their ballot.
Cycling Weekly sat down with Millar on Thursday on the top floor of Marathon House – the home of the London Marathon and RideLondon – in the capital, to discuss his campaign and the future of the sport.
A cry for help
“I didn’t think it would kick off quite as much as this,” Millar said.
“I could see something was wrong and it wasn’t going to change.
“The riders are using social media as a cry for help, because they don’t have a voice that represents them. This isn’t just one or two riders.
“I want to make the peloton a better place for cyclists. It’s quite brutal as a profession.
“The riders are fighting for their jobs and for their safety.”
Riders concerned about the process
The first CPA election is causing a stir amongst big name riders, who feel their ballots will be squandered because of a block voting system.
Essentially, the riders of many countries are represented by a single official from that nation’s union.
A number of votes are allocated to each of those nations, so France’s representative is given 150 votes, while Italy’s official has 124.
Riders who are represented by one of these national unions are then barred from voting in the election themselves.
This means votes can be stacked against a rival, in this case Millar, without a rider ever actually casting a vote.
But the controversy does not stop there as any riders outside of a national association, like the UK, will have to vote in person on election day.
Each rider allowed to take part is given a single vote.
The election will be held in Innsbruck next Thursday, during the World Championships, which means riders racing the Worlds will be able to vote, but many pros will not be present.
Big name riders, including Team Sky’s Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, have voiced their discontent over the voting process on social media.
The biggest issue in professional racing
Millar said he believes rider representation is the biggest issue currently facing the peloton: “There is an anti-doping feeling now in the sport. Riders are very secure in the system. If there is doping, it’s anomalous.
“They’re moving on to the next issue, which is the governance.
“The riders tend to be the bottom of the food chain, when they’re what make the sport.
“I think this has the power to make cycling a much more professional and enjoyable sport to watch.
“The sport is very disjointed. There’s no cohesion.
“I think the peloton can bring the sport to a higher level.”
Millar was speaking the day current CPA president Gianni Bugno responded to the criticism from Froome and others.
Bugno said it made him feel “very bad” to be criticised by Froome after he defended the Team Sky leader during recent controversy.
The CPA is funded through a combination of money from the UCI and a percentage taken from pros prize money.
‘It’s quite scary for these younger guys’
Millar said he believes the CPA can act as a force for riders when dealing with race organisers and the UCI, helping to improve rider safety and even job security.
He said: “I think it can be quite scary for the riders to speak out.
“It’s quite scary for these younger guys.
“It’s reached a tipping point. They’re not scared to stand up.”
And when asked about A-list riders like Froome and Thomas speaking out, he added: “The big names, they do have a voice. It can have an affect and an impact.
“I think it’s very important the big riders speak up on this one because they need to show leadership.”
The next step
One of the key steps for the union, according to Millar and many riders, is moving to online voting.
In a sport as international as cycling, as system of casting ballots in person is difficult to justify as there is no guarantee riders will be able to appear.
But the CPA has said it would not be possible to instigate online voting before the election next week, and has also raised concerns around the security of electronic ballots.
While the CPA seems determined to press ahead with the election in the face of dissent, the next step for Millar could be an attempt to delay the process.