Jumbo-Visma CEO Richard Plugge being interviewed at the end of the 2024 Tour de France presentation.

Uijtdebroeks chaos uncorks Plugge backlash

Rival team managers are calling for the Jumbo-Visma CEO to resign his post as president of the AIGCP amid continuing drama.

Richard Plugge, CEO of team Jumbo-Visma (and president of the AIGCP), pictured at the 2024 Tour de France presentation in Paris, October 2023. Photo © Cor Vos

Kit Nicholson
by Kit Nicholson 10.12.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Sport loves a villain. In cycling, talk of Death Stars, dinosaurs, and domination are rarely absent from the discourse around any race, and especially, it seems, during the vitally important and incredibly stressful Grand Tours and the often contentious transfer period.

All this antagonism has usually quietened down by early- to mid-December as images of team camps, internal awards dinners, and new-signing initiations gradually give way to kit reveals and early 2024 programme announcements for top riders.

However, it’s been one thing after another this year – the hapless proposed Jumbo Quick-Step merger and now the Cian Uijtdebroeks signing saga, not forgetting a bewilderingly managed Vuelta – and one man seems to be at the centre of it all, giving rise to calls for his resignation from the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels (AIGCP), and not for the first time.

What is the AIGCP?

The short answer: a representative organisation of men’s professional road cycling teams … Yeah, but what does that mean?

It’s actually not a particularly easy question to answer confidently. We all know roughly what a representative organisation might strive to do, but there are a number of such associations in our sport. I asked Google, which first sent me to an out-of-date Wikipedia page, then an old Twitter account (the official albeit rarely updated profile can be found searching the platform itself). Eventually I found myself on Facebook, and it proved the unlikely source of the best information, albeit not having been updated since the new board announcement cited here.

So, on the assumption that little has changed since then, here’s the mission statement as of July 2021: “[We] will now strive to defend the interests of all professional teams and to work and engage with all stakeholders (riders, UCI and race organizers) towards a better cycling. Health, safety and environment are the immediate challenges facing cycling today. The AIGCP Management Committee is convinced that only a common and global vision will allow us to meet these challenges.”

I don’t mean to paint Richard Plugge as a villain, but he has arisen as something of an antagonist, in definitive terms at least, if not characteristic – for all I know, he might be a lovely man in person. As CEO of Jumbo-Visma, he has seen his public image explode in recent years, his name now almost as well-known as those of his star riders to the ordinary fan, and perhaps chewed over even more by seasoned, or hardened, followers of the sport.

The Dutch journalist-turned-team manager has had quite the rise in a single decade that started without a sponsor for his floundering new team. That was in 2013, the famous Blanco season after long-term sponsor Rabobank bailed out of professional cycling, disenchanted at the end of 17 years in a sport they now considered rampant with doping. Having himself set the goal of “becoming the best cycling team in the world,” Plugge was instrumental in finding new title sponsor Belkin which came on board in June 2013, ultimately giving way to LottoNL and Jumbo for 2015, heralding the prolific era in black and yellow.

If you’re an Escape Collective member, you can hear all about the rags-to-riches story from one of the team’s sporting masterminds in Ronan Mc Laughlin’s Performance Process podcast episode with Jumbo-Visma head of performance Mathieu Heijboer.

Plugge has been around the block more than a few times and deserves a tip of the hat, but it’s not all been sunshine and yellow bouquets. 

Richard Plugge shares a congratulatory hug with Jonas Vingegaard after the 2023 Tour de France.
Richard Plugge and Jonas Vingegaard (0.0% Heineken in hand) celebrate a successful Tour de France defence on the Champs-Elysées in July 2023.

Plugge added a string to his bow in July 2021, when, while licking his raw wounds after Tadej Pogačar vanquished his men for the second consecutive year, the Dutchman was elected president by the management committee of the AIGCP. The whole board is made up of staff from a host of teams – Movistar’s Alfonso Galilea and Carsten Jeppesen of Ineos Grenadiers taking first and second vice president positions, with representatives from Groupama-FDJ, AG2R-Citroën, TotalEnergies, and Deceuninck Quick-Step also occupying seats at the table (correct as of 26th July 2021; Galilea, a longstanding representative of the AIGCP, including a stint as president, left Movistar at the end of 2021 after a remarkable 33-and-a-half years with the Spanish squad).

Presumably, this is one of those organisations whereby lack of noise is a good thing, all the chatter happening behind closed doors, and that’s how it stayed until they burst open this summer. With the 2023 Tour de France in its infancy, CyclingNews reported that a power struggle had exploded at the AIGCP as eight WorldTeams and a number of ProTeams – including Bora-Hansgrohe, Jayco-AlUla, Cofidis, DSM-firmenech, Alpecin-Deceuninck, Bahrain Victorious, Groupama-FDJ, and Intermarché-Circus-Wanty – sent a letter of protest to president Plugge, the AIGCP management committee, and a number of other key (unspecified) stakeholders.

It was understood at the time that the signatories were not at all happy with how Plugge and AIGCP managing director Javier Barrio had been running things, citing a lack of communication about certain decisions and, perhaps most pointedly at the time, a possible conflict of interest at the very top; could Plugge really be trusted to represent all the men’s WorldTour and ProTeams while also targeting a second Tour de France victory, all Grand Tours in one year, and topping the season’s WorldTour rankings with Jumbo-Visma?

Jumbo director Marijn Zeeman and manager Richard Plugge pose for a photo at the 2023 Vuelta a España with the three winners of the Grand Tours. Between the two staff are Jonas Vingegaard, Sepp Kuss, and Primož Roglič.
All’s well that end’s well?

With “a change in the structure and management of the AIGCP” considered paramount, the letter also suggested that a third-party analysis into the structure and operations should be carried out as soon as possible, as well as proposing that an “independent executive” be installed as president (seems reasonable), which would mark a significant departure from the typical structure of the organisation. However it seems that their hopes of inciting an “extraordinary” General Assembly between the Tour and Vuelta fell flat.

Cut to this weekend, and we’re once again experiencing a flurry of red-faced tweets/posts following the Uijtdebroeks transfer/non-transfer news, and we’d barely recovered from the complicated and mercifully unsuccessful merger chaos earlier this off-season when Plugge and Patrick Lefevere (once again) dominated headlines.

For Cédric Vasseur, manager of French WorldTeam Cofidis, one of the rebel teams that sent the letter this summer, this is the last straw.

“What is that again for the AIGCP president??? You have to respect the rules and resign immediately!!! Get out.”

He’s not the only one. Jayco-AlUla general manager Brent Copeland also took to the performative platform formerly known as Twitter to air his exasperation over this most recent debate:

“I ask myself how something like this can even possibly happen in our day and age and at our level of our sport, [and] yet we find ourselves facing exactly something like this, is it greed? Desperation?”

Copeland’s thoughts were focused mainly on the politics of the young Belgian’s transfer, suggesting that Uijtdebroeks was stuck between the interests of the two teams, while John Lelangue, a former team manager who is now a WorldTour race organiser, used the news to direct his aim at the AIGCP.

“Whatever the issue will be in Uijtdebroeks’ transfer; the exchange of communication between Jumbo-Visma and Bora-Hansgrohe confirms that AIGCP will be the big loser of this operation; the association and [its] President clearly need to regain UNITY to represent teams.”

On this latest situation, we’ve heard from both Jumbo-Visma and Bora-Hansgrohe (neither of whom have said anything publicly since their announcement and response tweets of Saturday afternoon) – as well as Cian Uijtdebroeks via his agents, virtually making it 2:1 in favour of the transfer – but we’re yet to hear anything from the UCI, the crucial third party in sanctioning this unique set of circumstances, as Lefevere pointed out in his own inevitable contribution to the discussion.

If you ask me, I expect Plugge, his team, and Uijtdebroeks will have their way in the coming days – Visma-Lease A Bike’s 2024 team camp starts imminently – while Bora-Hansgrohe lines their pockets with the buy-out money.

The other strand of this story, though, may take a little longer to work out as Plugge’s position of considerable power is repeatedly called into question.

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