L'Equipe names 11 teams involved in possible breakaway cycling super-league

Cycle sport's biggest teams amongst those alleged to be looking to break away from UCI control

by Simon_MacMichael   March 24, 2011  

Andy Schleck wins LBL 2009 © Photosport international.jpg

French sports daily L'Equipe has published a list of 11 teams that it says plan to break away from the UCI and form their own rival to the UCI World Tour. The two men it says are at the heart of the project are Johan Bruyneel and Jonathan Vaughters, managers of, respectively, Team RadioShack and Garmin-Cervelo.

L'Equipe names five teams as being the most engaged, and six as being followers. Those most closely involved in the project are said to be RadioShack, Saxo Bank-SunGard, Quickstep, Movistar and Garmin-Cervelo; the other six that make up the potential 11 breakaway teams are Omega Pharma-Lotto, Leopard Trek, HTC-Highroad, Liquigas Cannondale, Rabobank and Britiain's own Team Sky.

We're therefore talking about big teams that between them employ most, though not all, of cycling's major stars. Seven teams with UCI ProTeam status are missing, however. Those are BMC Racing, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Astana, AG2R, Vacansoleil DCM, Lampre-ISD and Katusha.

It could be that some are sitting on the fence and waiting to see how things turn out, but Katusha manager Andre Tchmil, speaking to L'Equipe, had forthright views on the issue: "The UCI is master of the calendar, the organisers master of the races, and the riders masters of the results. How would a league be useful? The attitude of these teams goes against fundamental democratic rules. Their reaction is suicidal."

In order for the plans to get off the ground, co-operation would almost certainly be needed from Tour de France organiser ASO and Giro d'Italia organiser RCS Sport. The former, which also part-owns the Vuelta, organises Paris-Nice plus other leading races such as Paaris-Roubaix. The latter owns Tirreno Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, among others.

Giro director Angelo Zomegnan appeared non-committal on the matter, telling L'Equipe that while he'd shared a coffee with the  people in question, the issue hadn't really come up. Relations between ASO and the UCI have in the last couple of years entered a calmer phase, but that is not to describe them as good.

That Bruyneel and Vaughters are alleged to be named as prime movers should not come as a surprise. News of the planned defection was made public last week by UCI President Pat McQuaid in his open letter to riders in which he named Bruyneel as one of the architects of the scheme.

Vaughters, meanwhile, is President of the pro teams' association, the AIGCP, which has been involved in a row with the UCI over the latter's phased ban of two-way radios. However, it has become apparent in recent days that there are much more fundamental issues at stake.

As we reported at the weekend, the Garmin-Cervelo manager unveiled a 10 point plan for the future of cycling, one of the central tenets of which is to devise a competitive format that might elevate cycling to the status of Premier League football or Formula 1 motor racing.

One issue that sounds a discordant note, though, is that of two-way radios; if, as McQuaid asserts, part of the reason for banning them is because broadcasters, led by France Televisions, want cycling to become a more exciting spectacle, then that would introduce an immediate point of conflict between the breakaway teams and the media they would need to be on board for the project to work.

One sport with which there is perhaps a parallel is cricket, and the revolution ushered in by Kerry Packer's one day circus during the late 1970s. Packer, unlike Bruyneel and Vaughters, had the advantage of owning his own TV station, and had the vision of developing a format that would increase the sport's appeal and boost the earning power of participants.

Many of the changes Packer introduced are now been taken for granted and even extended - even he did not foresee Twenty20 - and the cricket world cup was itself first launched in response to the perceived threat from the Australian businessman. The game was transformed, and the episode resulted in a stronger sport, despite initial fears of an irreparable split.

Whether cycling  will go the same way remains to be seen. Two groups of people, however, will be awaiting developments with trepidation; riders, who on the one hand could see their earning power increase, but on the other may well wave goodbye to any chance of competing in the Olympics or World Championship events.

The other group is the fans, long used to seeing cycling in the headlines for the wrong reasons, and who surely must be resigned now to the possibility of a struggle for power between the UCI and the sport's leading teams, which could possibly lead to a schism in the sport at the top level. 

However, it may not come to that. A league needs races, and it seems unlikely that Bruyneel and Vaughters haven't been talking to race promotors for quite some time – indeed McQuaid's revelation could well be seen as evidence that the UCI is rattled. Should the breakaway teams get the backing of enough race organisers they will have a league and if they have the big races it is inconceivable that the other teams will stay outside for very long. We would hazard that there is very much more to come out on this one yet.

Finally, it is worth noting that this story was broken in L'Equipe which is owned by ASO.


11 user comments

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Two fingers up to Mcquaid? I like it. Perhaps his pomposity will be pricked and he will be deflated. He will still be able to do his stuff though at the I.O.C.


antonio's picture

posted by antonio [1084 posts]
24th March 2011 - 15:51


I assume Rabobank is the 11th team?

posted by JJ the Flying D... [65 posts]
24th March 2011 - 18:18


Thanks JJ, missed off Rabobank due to technical glitch, they're in there now.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9123 posts]
25th March 2011 - 0:42


I suppose it comes down to who needs who the most. If ASO were to side with the Teams, then UCI's position would look pretty shakey. The difficultly is the IOC - McQuaid is Verbruggen's poodle and many of the UCI council members - the vast majority have little/no involvement in pro-cycling and no doubt benefit from UCI's largesse / funding will side with the gnomes in Aigle. It would really need the 'power' nations such as the French, Italian and Belgian federations to get behind their teams to make this have any lasting impact. We could end up with a schism is the sport, with the pro-teams having their own race series / TV rights etc and the Worlds/Olympics being reduced to a second-rate competition.

Make mine an Italian with Campagnolo on the side

posted by monty dog [408 posts]
25th March 2011 - 9:09

1 Like

Is the IOC such a stumbling block for the this? Professional cycling is one of those sports where the Olympics isn't the pinnacle of achievement - I've always thought it a nonsense that the UCI is involved because it's constituent federations are in the main much more hooked in to track cycling and the Olympics than the pro scene, and indeed like Verbruggen the successful end point for a UCI President would seem to be a seat on the IOC… but I suppose pro cycling is just too much of a cash honeypot to be ignored. Hence the UCI's attempts to musle in to race promotion, establish it's own tour etc etc. Basically if the races side with the UCI - then the blazers are stuffed. The other irony being that of course the UCI has consistently short changed track cycling in its dealings with the IOC.

From a fans point of view it might even add a bit of spice to the worlds - the UCI could then have everyone for that one race riding round tubed 531 tubed bikes decked out in woolen jerseys - it'd be something a bit different to end the season.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4190 posts]
25th March 2011 - 9:45


All very well, but what happens when a sponsor pulls out? Team dissapears? Or a new team (Say Leopard) appears fom with a bunch of top riders? This works in football because the teams have many revenue streams (read a wealthy owner and Massive TV income) so the clubs have independant chairmen. In cycling theres nothing to stop Bruyneel and Vaughters being virtually sacked tomorrow if there sponsors pull out? Where would that leave the league? Of do Bruyneel and vaughters become - lets say - the league presidents...? Its like Alex Ferguson and Ansene Wenger running the FA, All very well until they both get the sack from there owners.

Built on quicksand.

Surely Bruyneel and Vaughters can achieve all they want by calling for a vote of no confidence in the UCI?

posted by cheersbigears [8 posts]
28th March 2011 - 10:30

1 Like

cheersbigears wrote:
Built on quicksand.

Agree - very shaky. Plus I'm not sure that a sport run by Bruyneel and Vaughters is any better than one run by Pat McQuaid - they both complain that McQuaid is self-interested and not doing it for the good of the sport, but it seems they are behaving in a similar fashion.

cheersbigears wrote:
Surely Bruyneel and Vaughters can achieve all they want by calling for a vote of no confidence in the UCI?

This seems to be what they are doing, in a roundabout, grandstanding, big gesture kind of way. Which, to be fair, is a language the UCI speaks.

But the happy middle ground would be better representation of the teams and riders within the UCI - rider reps, team reps, manufacturer reps and independent (or at least existing UCI) bods all in there to decide how the sport should best be run. That would prevent teams/riders from complaining they had no say/didnt know of proposed rule changes and hopefully stop some of the UCI's more ridiculous proposals. Problem is, that would mean a democracy of sorts.

posted by step-hent [713 posts]
28th March 2011 - 11:32


30 Years watching the classics and tours..even went to see a stage once... fills in the sporting calendar in between football rugby and biathlon

non anorak and no strong views except that UCI seems pedantic with silly rules - so I'm quite representative of a large group of people who just enjoy racing (clean)

Don't like silly tech rules - don't like radio's - don't like team time trials as it's unfair for individuals - don't like annual points system as I don't understand it and not particularly interested in finding out.

The season ain't going to change much so whatever is in the interests of the riders/teams would be best.. tv needs to be managed and Eurosport uk banned until they can publish schedules, keep to schedules and not show tennis from greenland as a prefered option.

posted by rkh [1 posts]
12th March 2012 - 13:50

1 Like

Didn't the same thing happen in Formula 1 a few seasons back but they managed to hold it all together? Is it just posturing to strength their bargaining position? IMO, as a humble armchair fan, UCI do seem a little out of touch at times....although that might of course be the fault of the Press ..... and whoever disqualified Cav and Hushovd from that Intermediate sprint last year need putting against the wall ....

posted by veseunr [284 posts]
12th March 2012 - 14:55


Different situation though... Formula 1 would be akin to ASO owning all WorldTour races and media and sponsorship rights and periodically having a spat with the UCI but always coming out on top.

Plus, bikes aren't great vehicles for selling cigarettes Wink

(BTW, this story is from March 2011 not 2012, just in case anyone gets confused)

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9123 posts]
12th March 2012 - 15:07

1 Like

Thanks Simon - was trying to work out what was going on for a moment there!

Can't help thinking that a slightly more relaxed, open-to-change McQuaid might have avoided all this.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3646 posts]
12th March 2012 - 15:33