Opinion: women's rider unions should be working together… the clue’s in the name

The CPA’s response to The Cyclists’ Alliance’s request for clarification over the new prize money system for women’s cycling highlights a big problem with rider representation  

First things first, let’s break it down. There are two main organisations that represent the female peloton. The first: CPA Women. Originally launched in 1999 for male riders, the CPA opened its doors to female cyclists in 2017, with Alessandra Cappellotto, the 1997 road world champion, at the helm. 

The CPA Women is made up of national riders’ associations. In nations where a riders’ association is not present, female cyclists have rider ambassadors to represent them instead. The associations and ambassadors report the needs of their local athletes to the CPA to enable national and international action. The CPA claims that they are “the only international association recognized by the UCI”.

The second: The Cyclists’ Alliance. Co-founded by retired professional cyclist Iris Slappendel in late 2017, the TCA has become recognised by many (and arguably most) as the true union for women’s cycling thanks to the huge amount of work the organisation has done to assist riders with contract negotiations — giving them legal and retirement advice and providing education and emotional support.

Related: "Together we can change the culture of the sport" Iris Slappendel interview

In the past, the CPA has been criticised for being a mouthpiece for the UCI, rather than being an independent organisation. The Cyclists’ Alliance, on the other hand, use a ‘one-rider-one-vote’ principle, which they argue makes them “a truly independent organisation which serves solely to advocate for and advance the interests of the riders".Co-founder of The Cyclists' Alliance Iris Slappendel (Photo credit: Maarten de Groot)

Despite having a common goal, such varying approaches to rider representation has led to conflict between the two organisations in the past, most recently, and seriously, over an article published on The Cyclists’ Alliance website which raised concerns about the introduction of a Centralised Prize Money Management system for the women’s peloton. 

The UCI launched this management system in the men’s peloton in 2017, and it was carried over to the women’s side of the sport in January of this year. It is a system whereby deductions are taken from the gross amount of a race’s prize money to go towards various costs. These costs include: doping control, the development of National Riders’ Associations and administration costs for the CPA who manage the Centralised Management system.

Upon the CPA’s announcement of this new prize money system for the women’s peloton, The Cyclists’ Alliance responded with some questions and concerns. They published an article which outlined the big potential decrease in women’s prize money if the CPA were to implement the exact same management system as they do for the men’s peloton. 

Related: Women's WorldTeam Salaries: A delicate balance

They used the men’s peloton as an example, as they believed it necessary to be aware of problems with the men’s prize management system in case the women’s system evolves to have similarities in the future.

Using the Prudential RideLondon Classique as an example, The Cyclists' Alliance worked out that riders would only receive 17,236 from the entire 25,000 prize fund if the same method was applied as it is in men’s races.

With the prize money in women’s cycling far less than that in men’s cycling (Lizzie Deignan received just €1,535 while Sonny Colbrelli took home €30,000 at Paris-Roubaix this year), The Cyclists' Alliance’s concern was justifiable. In addition to the costs mentioned above, the CPA also charges separate yearly administrative fees to the men’s peloton for the work they put into managing this prize money system. Image credit: Sean Hardy

After quoting this example, The Cyclists’ Alliance went on to ask for clarification from the CPA on various items, including: which races will be covered by the central prize management system; will riders who aren’t part of the CPA have to take part in this system; and why UCI 1.1 and 1.2 races aren’t included in the system, despite them being the races that are historically most difficult to collect prize money from.

A strongly worded response to this article came from the CPA yesterday, opening on the cheery and conciliatory declaration that they reserved the "right to sue the TCA for false information disclosed with the clear intention of defaming the CPA". They went on to claim that The Cyclists’ Alliance were sharing “fake news”. The CPA wrote that The Cyclists’ Alliance had a “lack of credibility on the topic” and “manifests superficiality in its communications.” 

Related: The rise of the female sports director: How pro cycling is changing

They went on to clarify some aspects of the new prize money management system, explaining that the fees would be: a 1.82% levy for management fees, a withdrawal of €300 per year per World Tour team for bank charges, and a withdrawal of €200 per year per Pro Team for bank charges.

They explained that other management costs would be subsidised by the UCI, due to their “policy of supporting women's cycling” and also clarified that the riders were under no obligation to let the CPA manage their prize money. Though these facts gave a little more transparency on the situation, confusion still remains, in part because “ProTeam” is not a current classification in the women’s peloton. Image credit: Sean Hardy

Above all, though, the CPA’s confrontational tone and discussion of legal action against The Cyclists’ Alliance raise the most concern. Both organisations share the same goal, the same objective to reach fairness and equality in women’s sport, yet rather than working together, the CPA appears to be responding in a manner that will further damage the relationship between the two organisations. 

It seems that this entire conflict could have been avoided by better communication between the parties, with a clearer initial announcement by the CPA about the prize money system, or a conversation between both organisations before the changes were implemented.

Worrying too is that the CPA’s response can be seen to silence the concerns of riders. With The Cyclists' Alliance representing well over 100 female athletes, this is a large proportion of the women’s peloton for the CPA to alienate with legal confrontation. Both organisations should be there to assist riders in asking the questions that matter, helping them have clarity and understanding over their prize money and if it is being distributed fairly.

Related: "It's going to breathe some new life in to the sport" – Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

Though The Cyclists’ Alliance and the CPA have different ways of approaching rider representation, they both have the voice, the power and the skill sets to make real change. It seems that, where energy is being wasted on the CPA "reserving the right to sue" The Cyclists' Alliance, it could be far better used engaging in constructive conversations about how to make these new arrangements work for the majority. 

In the words of Helen Keller “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

Cover image: Sean Hardy

Shop now