Jonathan Vaughters, owner and directer of the venerable Garmin-Sharp team, has long been a champion of reform. Originally a spokesperson for clean competition in sport, his focus has moved beyond a single issue. The structure of sponsor-team relations, the league structure, and media rights sharing have all been on Vaughters' agenda in recent years, and he has not been alone. Saxo-Tinkoff sponsor and twitter loudmouth Oleg Tinkoff has too been a vocal advocate for dramatically changing the structure of the sport, calling for Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador, and Chris Froome to participate in the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a España, all in the same year.
Together with 9 other teams, Vaughters' and Tinkoff's squads have gathered together to form Velon, an organization aimed at bringing big changes to the sport. According to a press release released by the organization on Monday, is intended to "drive a financial model that, in line with other international sports, ensures a sustainable future for teams."
That's all well and good, but we've seen collaboration between teams come and go in the past years. Is this something different?
In the recent past, there was talk of a breakaway league, teams and select race organizers breaking free of the restraints of the UCI to set up a more modern league. But, because of the power in organizers of the most historic races, little happened other than talk. If your breakaway league doesn't involve the Tour de France, nobody is going to want to join, and an organization as powerful and set in its ways as the ASO is unlikely to take part in any breakaway project. But, things could be different this year.
For one, Velon is starting from the ground up. The 11 member teams were a big reason we have on-bike camera footage from the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France. If TV coverage can be more compelling, they argued, more people will want to watch and our value as a sport will rise. Yes, changing the schedule of races, eliminating overlapping events and creating a "season-long narrative" is in the plans, but Velon seems to be working their way up, proving the worth of their ideas before it moves forward.
Second, instead of talking and loose associations between teams, Velon is an actual organization with a CEO. Graham Bartlett has worked with UFEA and Nike among other major sports brands and now serves as the central force behind Velon. The formality of the organization may be one reason a number of World Tour teams are taking a wait-and-see approach to joining Velon. Movistar, Katusha, Astana, and FDJ are among the teams who have yet to join Velon. Movistar's title sponsor has qualms about language regarding audiovisual content, a cornerstone of the Velon project. Other teams, like the doping scandal-ridden Astana, were not involved in preliminary talks. Restricting those involved in talks and developing a platform strong enough to make a media company think twice is a promising first step beyond the mere talks and grand plans we have seen before.
Then again, other teams - most notably FDJ - are sitting on the sidelines and taking a wait-and-see approach to Velon. The World Tour is slated to undergo significant changes - details of which are only hinted at by the UCI right now - in 2016 and 2017. The disruptiveness of Velon may not amount to much with the UCI already moving forward with changes after discussions with the very same teams and individuals in Stakeholders Conferences. But, the presence of an actual organization devoted to change could be a step forward in the way the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC) has been for clean cycling. The reputation of the MPCC has been tarnished by a string of five positive tests in the World Tour and development ranks of a member - Astana - in the past months, the organization has changed the way that most of its member teams approach sanctioning of both riders and themselves. In the same way, Velon could provide the stimulus to the UCI to deepen its reforms in the years to come.