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Uijtdebroeks Transfer Controversy Gets White-Hot

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Cofidis General Manager Cedric Vassuer is angry. “What is this again from an AIGCP president???,” he recently tweeted. “Must respect the rules and resign immediately!!! Get out!”

The AIGCP is the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels, an organization that represents men’s professional road cycling teams and its president is Jumbo-Visma CEO Richard Plugge. Vasseur was calling for Plugge’s resignation from the group.

Former BMC and Lotto-Soudal manager John Lelangue declared, “The AIGCP will be the big loser of these events. The association and its president must clearly seek unity again.”

Team Jayco AllUla manage Brent Copeland was more succinct. “Embarrassing is an understatement!” he said.

The subject of this uproar that has the world of road racing in turmoil involves the exciting young Belgian rider Cian Uijtdebroeks, who announced over the weekend that he was breaking his contract with BORA-hansgrohe, which had one more year to run, and would sign with Plugge’s Jumbo-Visma (soon to be called Visma | Lease a Bike) for four years. His announcement came one week after Jumbo-Visma had declared its interest in Uijtdebroeks, joining Ineos Grenadiers and Lidl-Trek in the negotiation battle for his services. But those negotiations were meant for the end of 2024, when his contract expires. As Plugge put it then, “We were already [interested in him] when he was still a junior. We already spoke to him then. But he still has a contract.”

Well, so much for the sanctity of the contract. “When the opportunity arose to sign Cian as of December 1, we didn’t hesitate,” Jumbo-Visma sporting director Merijn Zeeman said in a press releaseon the same day Uijtdebroeks announced he was breaking his contract. “Cian is a perfect fit for our team.” And the rider shared that delight, saying, “I am delighted to be joining Team Visma | Lease a Bike. It has proven to be a leading team in recent years. And it was absolutely outstanding in 2023, winning the three Grand Tours.”

BORA’s reaction was immediate (it took them only 88 minutes to reply) and expected. “Cian is and will remain a member of BORA-hansgrohe also in the coming 2024 season,” the German team said in a press release. “He is contractually bound with us until 31 December 2024.” Wielerflits then reported that Jumbo had offered BORA one year of Uijtdebroeks’ salary as compensation, which BORA rejected outright, demanding instead payment of 1 million euros. This is ten times the rider’s salary, according to the Dutch publication.

A few contextual items need to be mentioned here. First, the 20-year-old Uijtdebroeks is a rider of exceptional promise and has been compared to his celebrated compatriot Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–QuickStep). He won last year’s Tour de l’Avenir and finished in the top 10 of this year’s Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie, Tour de Suisse and Vuelta a España. The kid has serious chops. 

Also, the uproar follows the signing by BORA-hansgrohe of Primož Roglič from Jumbo-Visma. I’m not suggesting that the two events are directly related, but it’s possible that the young Belgian rider saw his possibilities of rising to team leader diminished by the Slovenian’s coming. In addition, there are stories being floated of Uijtdebroeks being bullied by his BORA teammates. The Dutch journalist and former road racer Thijs Zonneveld has said on his podcast that he was told that Uijtdebroeks was something of an outsider at BORA and was treated like a nerd by other riders and team leaders. “He was bullied,” Zonneveld said on his podcast. “For example, during the Vuelta there was also an ‘Anti-Cian’ app group, without himself in it, so they could gossip about him. He didn’t feel at home in that team at all.”

BORA-hansgrohe has denied the accusations, with the team’s spoprting director Bernhard Eisel telling CGN, “We did everything we could for him. I have to deny that one. It’s that simple. 100% no.”

And, finally, this affair is something of a déjà vu. Cycling fans will recall that in 2019 Jumbo-Visma poached Wout van Aert from his then team Veranda’s Willems-Crelan one year before his contract was to expire, after van Aert had expressed dissatisfaction with its planned merger with another team. Ultimately, the Belgian courts ruled that van Aert’s breaking of the contract was legal because he had “urgent reasons” for doing so. However, three years later, he was ordered by another Belgian court to pay the former owner of the team he had left 662,000 euros in damages.

The controversy should be resolved, one way or the other, before the end of the year. Surprisingly, as of this writing the UCI has stayed out of the affair, except to say, in a one-sentence email to various publications, that it is monitoring the situation and that “the applicable rules will be enforced.” But it is unclear which rules will be enforced, UCI’s own rules, the laws of Germany, BORA-hansgrohe’s home, or those of Belgium, where Uijtdebroeks hails from. The questions are if the rider can prove to have a compelling reason for breaking the contract, a reason he has not yet articulated in public; and then if – like van Aert – he will eventually have to compensate BORA for the move.

In the meantime, he has been spotted at Jumbo-Visma’s Spain training grounds and wearing Jumbo-Visma’s jersey. This is known as a fait accompli.