Interview: why David Millar wants to empower the peloton
As if David Millar hasn’t got enough hats to wear, he’s chucking another one in the ring to be president of the CPA -the professional riders association.
The Scottish former pro thinks the organisation needs a shake-up and has outlined a manifesto to make it more professional, democratic and effective in representing its members’ interests.
In his way stand both incumbent president of eight years Gianni Bugno, and an electoral system that Millar, and others like Geraint Thomas, have criticised as being closed and obstructive.
Don’t worry, we won’t go into the full mechanics of the CPA’s delegate system here. But in a small window between finishing the day’s commentary on the Vuelta and popping into the studio as a pundit, we caught up with Millar to hear his pitch.
Rouleur: In a nutshell, why are you going for CPA presidency?
David Millar: I know a change is required with the CPA in order to represent the riders better. If I didn’t do it, I don’t think anything will change. Bugno will stay, do another term. I’m fully aware that no-one else is going to stand up as a candidate so I thought, you know what, I’m just going to have to stand up and do this.
Cycling has always been in disarray to a certain degree. There are so many conflicting stakeholders: race organisers, federations, media companies etc. It seems that the riders are the ones that take it in the neck. They are the bottom of the food chain. I don’t think that is right. I think the peloton has the potential to be the most influential stakeholder in cycling if managed properly. So that’s what motivates me. I think that’s something that’s worthwhile and better for the whole sport.
Understandably, riders have the loudest voice of everyone in professional cycling. Peter Sagan only needs to sneeze for it to be reported. Grumbles about extreme conditions, dangerous courses, in-race motorbikes, crowd control and the sport’s financial structure are routinely reported. Why is it that such loudly voiced grievances don’t seem to be getting addressed?
I think that’s exactly the problem: there’s no unified voice. The riders feel really helpless. They don’t feel represented. It’s not as if they can rely on a union so they turn to social media: it’s essentially desperation.
Read: Patrick Lefevere on Sagan and cycling’s unhealthy business model
So, there’s this potential power but there’s not an effective mechanism for action?
It’s powerlessness. I think it’s a cry for help and hoping someone will listen. At the minute no-one’s really doing that. If the riders 100% believed in their union, that their hearts and minds were vested in it, they’d happily relay that message via the union. A unified voice can move the earth. There’s just under 1,000 professionals the CPA represents, and one thing we need to do is empower those voices together.
To a certain extent, this is about the internal politics of cycling. What is the benefit in discussing this in the public domain?
It’s all been done behind closed doors before with committee meeting and block voting, and that is why riders feel their interests aren’t necessarily being represented. From this conversation, riders are learning more about the CPA than they ever did before. They didn’t know about the voting procedure. I’m forcing it into the public domain, so we are forced to discuss it.
Sure. But Rouleur is a public facing platform. The vast majority of our readership are fans of the sport, not professional riders. You’ve come to us about this. Why should this wrangling be of interest to the sport’s followers? And if they subscribe to your views, is there anything they can do that perhaps supports this cause?
I think they can support the belief in there being a unified peloton. People are happy to troll. The trolls normally have the loudest voices but they are the smallest minority. It would be great now to see a majority stand up and back the riders. This isn’t a revolution. This is trying to make the whole sport better for everybody.
Read: Anti-Social Media – Twitter addiction and high anxiety in the peloton
It’s easy for people to look at professional cyclists and think that they’re whinging on social media and be like ‘you’ve got the best job in the world, why are you whinging?’ Well, it’s also their job. And the reason why they’re ‘whinging’ is because they’re scared of losing their profession in an accident. All professionals are asking for is respect from the bodies they work with.
Are there any areas where you think the CPA has been effective in the past?
The biggest accomplishment of the CPA is being recognised by the UCI as the official body representing professional cyclists, and securing a Joint Agreement with the AIGCP. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a feeling amongst the riders of being disenfranchised.It’s called a union but it hasn’t unified the riders. That goes down to a few different things. Number one is that it hasn’t created a one rider, one vote system.
Obviously you believe in the potential of the CPA…
Yeah, I believe in it massively. It’s very hard in professional sport to create an international union that is properly recognised and affiliated to its international federation. The CPA even receives funding from the UCI and that’s huge. The CPA has wonderful potential. That needs to be maximised.
Let’s talk about disc brakes again. The CPA was strongly opposed to the haste and manner with which they were introduced. Is that all water under the bridge now? Do the peloton accept them? Is there something we can garner about the riders’ relationship with other stakeholders from that saga?
That was another case of the UCI making decisions without any rider interjection or opinion. I think everyone lost track on the disc brake debacle. It was never about the actual disc brakes. It was that the UCI brought them in without [suitable] testing, randomly mixing them up with caliper brakes. It was one of those things that was badly managed.
Larry Warbasse blog: It’s not about the disc brakes
Sticking to concrete issues, rather than points of governance or procedure: what are the most pressing issues for the professional peloton now?
I’d say the first thing is fixing the current state of the CPA. That means having a financial audit of the CPA. Evidently, the finances are a bit of a mess. I’m not sure there’s been due diligence regarding accounting…
That’s about the management of the CPA though…
I have to be very careful. If I’m involved now, I have to talk about exactly the things I’m focussed on: creating better communication and an online network for keeping riders up to date -be it a website, social media, messaging. At the moment we have no way of keeping riders informed in a modern method. As boring as it is, being able to get a democratic voting system and all the accounting sorted out: those two things alone would be massive.
You work in the media and the cycling equipment industry. Those are two major stakeholders which have at time been in conflict with the interests of riders or the CPA. If you were to be elected CPA president, do you have any plans as to how you’d manage your different interests?
Yes, by trying my best not to mix them. But I think they’re an asset too. The fact that I’m working professionally in the media and commercial side of the sport means I understand those worlds. But it has to be very clear that there can’t be conflicts of interests. I can’t be using my Chapter 3 [CHPT3] channels for political stuff. I can’t be using political stuff for Chapter 3. Media is the same already. With ITV, it’s as strict as hell. Everything has to be compartmentalised. I’ve been very clear with the Chapter 3 team that I have to step away for some time and be fully engaged in this.
Read: David Millar – the third chapter
As you say: you’re doing commentary, you’ve got a clothing brand and, of course, you have a young family. Are you not busy enough already?
I know. I’m an idiot! I’ve taken this on with a heavy heart. I’m loving doing my stuff with Chapter 3; my time with my family is precious as it is. But this is something I’m doing because I know it has to be done. This is a duty rather than anything else. More than likely it’s going to cost me emotionally, cost me financially, bring a lot of stress and sleepless nights. But I know it’s the right thing to do.
Is this a stepping stone to something else? ‘David Millar for UCI President’?
Oh, I hope not. I hope this is my first and last venture into politics. This is a very personal thing. Having been a pro very recently and experienced it first hand; knowing all the riders in the peloton currently and seeing it all from the outside now, I think: if I don’t step in and do something, then who will?
Seriously though, still with politics: Brexit. It’s completely out of the CPA’s control, but is that something worrying British cyclists based in Europe? Is it discussed?
I don’t know, I’m afraid I haven’t spoken about it with them.
How close are your ties to the riders?
I have a lot, actually – mainly due to living in Girona. And also because many of the key voices in the sport were riders I raced with and was amicable with. I have their number; I have them on WhatsApp. It’s one of those things where I’m just far enough away to not be one of the boys, but I am a former colleague and a mate.
Should the CPA be representing the women’s side of professional cycling too?
This has been one of the problems the CPA has confronted recently. The CPA is essentially a men’s association. Within it they’ve created a woman’s CPA whose president is Alessandra Cappellotto, and that is subsidised by the CPA. But there is also a splinter group that is the Cyclists’ Alliance. In an ideal world we want to bring it all back together as one international cyclists’ union; make sure we can leverage the most out of all of our opinions and all benefit from it. There’s different needs and different issues to face, but it would all be sharing the same resources.
Finally, a hypothetical scenario. If you were to redesign professional cycling from scratch, what would it look like?
I don’t know. I suppose it’s such an odd sport there’s no simple answer to it. In a way, what I’m trying to do here is to do that: to start it again; for the first time in its history, have the peloton being the most important stakeholder in the sport.
If the peloton, when sat at a stakeholder meeting had a rational, compassionate, strong voice, that would shape the whole sport. The decisions would be made much easier, the peloton would buy-in, we’d have a much better vibe, we’d unify things much quicker, less battles, less opportunity for race organisers or federations to think they could beat the other.
Everyone talks about Bernie Ecclestone and F1, Premier League and now ASO, but what about if actually it was the peloton that was the biggest, most respected part of cycling? What if it had the greatest corporate deals and was respected the world over as being one of the best sports unions? What if it negotiated the best rights for its athletes?
All of a sudden, you’d have a sport that is amazing.
David Millar will be appearing at the 2018 Rouleur Classic on Friday November 2.
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