Velon, the joint venture company part-owned by a number of the world’s leading men’s cycling teams, has filed a complaint with the European Commission accusing world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, of anti-competitive practices.
Details of the anti-trust complaint, which is supported by all shareholders and is based on Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, are set out in an open letter signed by Velon CEO Graham Bartlett.
It alleges that the UCI has sought to prevent the company from developing its business, both in relation to the Hammer Series which it launched in 2017, and in using technology such as on-board camera footage and rider data to enhance broadcast coverage of the sport.
"In the past year the UCI has tried to stop what Velon and the teams have pioneered in their joint business on new races (the team v team "Hammer Series") and technology," it said.
"Velon and its shareholder and partner teams hoped and expected that its initiatives would be supported by the UCI, as had been the case in previous years.
"However, in the past 12 months the UCI has used its regulatory power and political leverage to seek to block the business activities of Velon and the teams in an incorrect and unlawful manner."
The Hammer Series currently comprises three events, in Stavanger in Norway, Limburg in the Netherlands and – the weekend after next Hong Kong.
None of the events, which comprise either two or three races, appears on the UCI’s WorldTour calendar, instead belonging to the relevant UCI Continental tour.
One of the aims behind the founding of Velon was to find a way of generating revenue for its member teams, long a bone of contention in the sport, whether through selling TV rights for races, or by commercialising footage from on-board cameras and providing riders’ data.
According to the complaint, “In February the UCI ruled that Hammer Races may not be referred to as a Series under UCI regulations. No explanation has ever been given. Velon, and the teams competing at Hammer events, continued to race for the Series – one of the key, unique features of the new races – despite the UCI’s threat that they may refuse to register Hammer Races in the 2020 calendar if we did.
“Despite the positive reception to the Hammer Series by the fans, teams and riders and strong interest from potential race organiser partners and host cities to stage a Hammer race, the opposition by the UCI has significantly hampered the development of the Series.”
Apart from the Hammer Series, all other races on the calendar are owned by private companies or, in the case of the UCI Road Cycling World Championships, the governing body itself, and Velon claims that the UCI’s introduction of new technical regulations earlier this year “sought to give itself and race organisers ownership and control over the teams’ business on live race data.”
Velon continued: “The UCI today believes that it should not only be the regulator for the sport but also take new business creation from its stakeholders without their consent. The UCI feels entitled to use its regulatory powers for its own commercial benefit and to take the rights of the teams and riders without consultation or permission.
“Despite continued efforts by Velon to engage with the UCI relating to our concerns on their actions, the UCI has refused any constructive dialogue for over a year.
“Consequently, Velon and its teams have been left with no alternative but to submit the Complaint to the European Commission with the objective of having an external authority’s assessment as to whether the conduct of the UCI in regard to the above matters (in particular its use of its regulatory power and political leverage) infringes EU competition rules,” it added.
Velon’s member teams are Bora-Hansgrohe, CCC Team, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, EF Education First, Lotto Soudal, Mitchelton-Scott, Team Ineos, Team Jumbo-Visma, Team Sunweb, Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.