French Champion Audrey Cordon-Ragot has spoken out about the Zaaf Cycling Team, confirming the allegations that management has not paid riders and staff salaries since January 1, 2023.
The Spanish-registered women’s team is currently under investigation by the UCI and the Spanish Cycling Federation as the sport governing bodies seek to clarify the team’s financial situation and, if necessary, execute the bank guarantee to compensate riders and staff.
“Things are in place with the responsible entities to recover our money, but we have not been paid since January 1 nor reimbursed for our travel expenses. We are in conditions that are not worthy of a pro team, and it is very complicated to exercise our profession, even if we have been doing it since January 1,” Cordon-Ragot said in an interview with Ouest-France (opens in new tab).
Zaaf Cycling Team stepped in to hire some of the riders left without a contract following the collapse of the B&B Hotels-KTM squad last December, bringing in riders Audrey Cordon-Ragot, Maggie Coles-Lyster and Heidi Franz on last-minute contract deals to its 15-rider roster.
A club team in 2021, Zaaf Cycling Team management took the steps to upgrade to a UCI Continental Team for the first time this season. Its riders have competed in a full calendar of races beginning at the Australian summer season of racing at the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Road Race, then went on to race the early-season events in Spain and the beginning of the Spring Classics.
Zaaf Cycling Team riders have placed in the top 10 at 14 events this year so far, with Zayed Ahmed winning double national titles at Egypt’s National Championships.
Allegations of the team not compensating its riders and staff surfaced in March following reports by journalists Charles Marsault and Raul Banqueri. Cordon-Ragot later confirmed that have not been paid for the previous three months of work completed.
“They promise to pay us. But it’s been the same thing every week for nearly three months. We don’t see the money coming, and we can’t live without it, clearly. I wonder what I’m going to do. It is complicated,” Cordon-Ragot said.
“The option that has been put forward, if we are not paid before the end of March, is to operate the financial [bank] guarantee that had been paid to the Spanish Federation, and which would at least allow us to be compensated, but only three months’ salary.
“So that’s why we can’t wait much longer. Because if we go another month without being paid, and we call on this bank guarantee at the end of April, we will have a month that will not be covered by this guarantee. And we will have worked for a month on a voluntary basis… I can’t work for free for another three months.”
Cyclingnews has contacted the Zaaf Cycling Team to clarify the team’s financial situation, but the team has not responded.
The Spanish Cycling Federation has confirmed to Cyclingnews that it is aware of the allegations that have been lodged against the Zaaf Cycling Team, confirming that it has received documentation, which it will utilise to show proof that some of the team’s riders and staff have not been paid. It also confirmed that if the riders and staff are not properly compensated, it will seek to execute and draw on the team’s bank guarantee on March 31, 2024.
Under the current regulations, a federation cannot access a bank guarantee for one year from the point that the riders and staff stopped being compensated, however, The Cyclists’ Alliance (TCA) has told Cyclingnews that it is working with the UCI and the Spanish Cycling Federation to try and open the bank guarantee sooner.
Cordon-Ragot said she is not angry with Zaaf Cycling Team and currently believes that the management is struggling with a logistical problem that is preventing it from accessing the funds needed to pay its riders and staff from the specified bank account. She said the team is working to try to find a solution to the issue.
“I’m starting to despair a bit,” she said. “If the team doesn’t quickly find a solution, I don’t see how it will be possible to continue. It’s not just the riders, the staff isn’t paid either. At some point, it’s not viable.”
Cordon-Ragot suffered a stroke ahead of the World Championships last September and then was part of the group of riders left without a contract when the B&B Hotels team suddenly collapsed.
“It’s a lot… It’s one more hassle. Afterwards, once again, I really have in front of me honest people who want to get out of it. So it’s different; they are not people who talk nonsense. The problem is that, at some point, solutions have to be found.”
It has been reported that the riders from Zaaf Cycling Team will not take the start line at Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem because they cannot continue to work without being properly compensated according to their contracts.
Co-founder of TCA, Iris Slappendel, told Cyclingnews that the riders understandably feel that they need to prioritise their working conditions over racing until a resolution is in place.
“From our understanding, the riders don’t want to protest. But at this stage, there are other priorities for the riders than participating in a sporting competition,” Slappendel said.
Cordon-Ragot stressed that she does not know what will happen next for Zaaf Cycling Team, and while it could stop competing for a while to sort out its financial situation, the team could continue to race at a later date.
“With this bank guarantee thing, it could stop the team for a while. This is why we hope that this monetary aspect will be settled quickly. [On Thursday, March 23, 2023] we were told another fortnight … There will be decisions to be made if nothing progresses in a few weeks,” she said.
Asked if Cordon-Ragot might consider changing teams, she told Ouest-France, “It’s too early to tell. If I have to resign, I won’t be able to race before June 1, so… These are decisions that will have to be made. But it can taint the rest of my season, that’s clear.”