A week ago Cian Uijtdebroeks was merely a promising 20-year-old Belgian with an unpronounceable name (to most of the English-speaking world) and a recent top 10 Grand Tour GC finish to his name. Now, he’s supposedly signed to two WorldTour teams but wearing the kit of neither.
Sure, he’s no wallflower that’s been hiding in the corner, unafraid to speak his mind such as airing his dislike of having to share the 2023 Vuelta a España team leadership with the experienced Aleksandr Vlasov while he was a debutant, or berating team staff at October’s Chrono des Nations for his bikes not being “in order.”
Most spectators would have brushed this off as the confidence of a precocious youngster dedicated to doing everything it takes to reach the top of his sport, but to rival teams these were akin to “come and get me” calls that woke them from their end-of-season slumbers. Jumbo-Visma are supposedly the ones lucky enough to have had their phone call returned.
With one fumble already under their belt for the season after the Soudal Quick-Step takeover escaped into the public domain and positioned the rampant Dutch team as equally ravenous hyper-capitalists off the road and in the boardroom, this Cian Uijtdebroeks tug of war is providing some unexpected December drama in the doldrums of the off-season.
But how are Jumbo-Visma and Uijtdebroeks expecting to pull this one off? The latest development which would explain Uijtdebroeks’ desire to leave, as well as the reason his camp may be bullish in their belief the contract termination was legal, are allegations of bullying against Bora-Hansgrohe’s Vuelta a España squad. These are serious allegations, albeit parsed out through the press rather than from Uijtdebroeks himself, which have been denied by Bora-Hansgrohe.
Bora-Hansgrohe said they expected Uijtdebroeks, as a contracted rider up until the end of 2024, to be present at their training camp this week in Mallorca. Instead, he’s rocked up in plain kit to Visma-Lease a Bike’s first pre-2024 get together in Denia, 300 km westward.
The UCI, who have to approve any mid-contract transfers like this, have released a statement saying it is “monitoring the situation and emphasises that the applicable rules will be enforced.”
For Uijtdebroeks, a move to Jumbo-Visma is a chance to correct any naivety he maybe had when he signed his first WorldTour contract, with Bora-Hansgrohe, for the 2022 season.
Without an agent and happy to negotiate for himself, his apparent agreed salary was €100,000, far below what a Tour de l’Avenir winner would normally command, especially in this day and age of youth-focused recruitment. So, when Uijtdebroeks started publicly displaying his unhappiness, it wasn’t just teams who took notice, but also the super agent Alex Carera, who has more than 50 professional riders on his books, including Tadej Pogačar.
According to Dutch journalist Thijs Zonneveld, speaking on the In Het Wiel podcast, Carera was shopping Uijtdebroeks around even before he had officially become the rider’s agent. Lidl-Trek and Ineos Grenadiers were willing to spend €1 million, but for whatever reason this didn’t happen.
Instead, having signed to Carera’s agency and had a specialist negotiate, Jumbo-Visma announced Uijtdebroeks on the afternoon of Saturday December 9 as they would any other signing, after Uijtdebroeks had terminated his contract with Bora-Hansgrohe a week earlier.
Another nugget revealed by Zonneveld hints at the smoking gun that Uijtdebroeks and his representatives believe they have in a rightful termination of contract 12 months early: allegations of workplace bullying at the summer’s Vuelta.
Supposedly, Uijtdebroeks was too “fanatical” in his approach to racing. Weighing his food meticulously, tinkering with his time trial bike, trying out his own aerodynamic clothing. It’s alleged a separate WhatsApp group was even set up without the rider so they could joke about him behind his back. During the race, Uijtdebroeks complained in the media that the team was supporting Vlasov’s GC hopes more than his own, with Vlasov finishing one place higher in seventh in the final overall classification, only eight seconds ahead of his younger teammate.
These allegations are serious and surprising. Bora-Hansgrohe are not seen either as cycling luddites who would be morally opposed to marginal gains or indeed a “nasty” team. Bernhard Eisel, a sports director with the team at the Spanish Grand Tour, has told GCN he “100%” denies the allegations of bullying from his and the riders’ side,” and that the Belgian was adequately supported in the race, saying that looking after Uijtdebroeks at the race was “three times the effort” of what Vlasov required from the support staff. Bora-Hansgrohe are now said to be demanding €1 million in compensation.
“It will come down to court,” Eisel continued as to where this saga is probably leading. For the meantime, wherever he is, it seems Uijtdebroeks will remain training in blank kit.
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