Why pro riders including Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas are protesting against their union

You might have seen the pros discussing the CPA online – but what’s the story?

Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome on stage 16 of the 2018 Tour de France

(Image credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

A protest has been brewing in the professional peloton. Riders from across the cycling world have been speaking out, some with unexpected fervour.

The reason for the discontent in the pro ranks boils down to an impending election - a vote that all riders are welcome to take part in, in theory.

At the centre of the debate is the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA), the organisation that aims to represent riders at WorldTour, Pro Continental and Continental level.

The CPA was formed in 1999, and in that almost 20-year history elections for the organisations president have never been contested – only one candidate puts their name forward.

But this year is different, as former pro rider David Millar has thrown his hat into the ring, giving riders the chance to choose their candidate for the first time.

The problem

Millar running for president of the CPA has caused a rift between riders and the union representing them.

The union’s rules say riders must vote in person, meaning the pros have to travel to Innsbruck, Austria later this month to cast their vote.

Voting will take place during the 2018 World Championships in Innsbruck, meaning there will be some riders already in Austria to vote.

Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - 11/03/2016 - Cycling - Tour de Yorkshire - Maserati and David Millar - Scarborough, Yorkshire, England.
(Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

However, some pros have highlighted the fact that not all riders will be attending the Worlds and many will have returned home before the election, having competed in their discipline.

A number of riders wishing to exercise their right to vote for the first time, have pointed out that voting in person is outdated and more than inconvenient, especially in a sport as international as cycling.

This prompted calls from pros to introduce online voting, to give all riders represented by the CPA the chance to vote in their election.

But the CPA has offered up numerous reasons why online voting is not possible, including referencing UCI rules and studies into the risks of online voting.

The voting process itself has also come under fire.

Heads of national associations are given multiple votes in the election as representatives of their countries, while a rider’s vote counts as just one.

On top of that, riders whose nation votes as an association are prevented from voting individually.


What the CPA does

The CPA was created in 1999 in Italy, on the eve of the Giro d’Italia.

As part of the UCI, the union aims to represent the interests of riders when dealing with key organisations like teams, race organisers and the UCI itself.

All riders under contract with WorldTour, Pro Continental and Continental teams are automatically members of the union, either as an individual or as a national association.

The first president was former Italian pro and Giro winner Francesco Moser.

Gianni Bugno won the Tour of Flanders in 1994
(Image credit: Graham Watson)

Moser was replaced by retired rider and now Cofidis manager Cédric Vasseur in 2007.

Since 2011, the presidency has been held by another retired Italian rider, Gianni Bugno.

Projects spearheaded by the union include the extreme weather conditions protocol, introduced in 2016.

The change meant that races may be altered if weather poses a risk to the riders, in snowy conditions or extreme heat for example.

Most recently, Bugno spoke out against the Vuelta a España organisers after riders were brought down in a crash after the finish of stage 12.

Bugno spoke out when stage winner Alexandre Geniez (AG2R La Mondiale), Dylan van Baarle (Team Sky) and a number of riders crashed after colliding with a race official after the line.

What the pros are saying

The controversy around the CPA elections has prompted a lot of reaction from riders, including big names like Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky).

Many pros have taken to social media to share their frustration with the union and the process.

Team Sky’s Luke Rowe said on Twitter earlier this month: “The only way to vote for the representative of our union is to be in Innsbruck for the World Champs in person.

“This is 2018, not 1990, get with the times CPA.”

Team-mate Froome added: “Seems to me that the CPA is running a dictatorship, not a democracy which truly represents all the riders.”

“Got to wonder who this union actually represents.”

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Tour de France winner Thomas said: “Every rider must have the right to vote, no matter their nationality or location.

“That means we get to decide who represents us.”

The discontent spreads beyond British riders.

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Conor Dunne, who rode for the recently closed Aqua Blue Sport team, said on Twitter: “Dear CPA, please allow riders to vote fairly and in a truly democratic manner.

“The current system of block voting and a fixed, awkward vote, in Innsbruck (which many will be unable to attend) is unfair and verging on corrupt.

“We, the riders you represent, deserve better.”

What the CPA says

The union has responded to the concerns from riders a number of times.

On September 9, the CPA published a letter explaining the voting procedure.

The letter said: “The CPA has nothing against the electronic vote, but it is not possible to apply it a few weeks before the election.

“To change an established voting method it is necessary to give guarantees on the integrity and validity of new methods, to avoid manipulations of any kind and this involves time, costs, technologies that cannot be put in pace a few weeks before the vote.”

The note explains that the national association voting system exists to give a voice to a country’s cyclists as a whole, and that the CPA supports the setting up of new associations.

In a Facebook post earlier this month, the CPA said the possibility of electronic voting could be explored following the election later this month.

The organisation added: “No one changes a statute a few weeks before an election and it is surprising that the riders or some other people do not think in this way.

“The CPA also wonders why the riders are so determined in asking for an electronic vote right now and why they did not ask for it at the time they had to elect the president of the Athletes Commission.”

On September 17, the CPA then shared an article via its Twitter account from the Finnish Ministry of Justice. The article concluded the risks of online voting outweigh the benefits.

What others are saying

The CPA discussion has also prompted a reaction from groups outside of the riders themselves.

In March the Dutch Association for Professional Cyclists (VVBW) withdrew from the CPA after seeking the opinion of pro Dutch riders.

The Dutch organisation called on the CPA to reform its structure to better speak on behalf of pro riders.

Now the VVBW has now backed the candidacy of David Millar, seeking further reform and prompted by the response of the CPA to riders' concerns.

The union of women riders, The Cyclists’ Alliance, has also backed Millar for president.

The CPA controversy has arrived at a pivotal moment for professional cycling, with rider safety and the sustainability of teams frequently hitting headlines.

Regardless of who wins the election on September 27, the discontent amongst pro riders is clear, and the demand for reform is likely to continue.

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