The transfer season is open

Monday, 1 August 2011

Deal time

2.15.120 A transfer period extends from 1 August to 20 October. A UCI ProTeam or licence applicant may only recruit riders during the transfer period… …For the purposes of this article “recruit” shall be deemed to mean concluding a contract with a rider to ride for the UCI ProTeam or licence applicant’s team, including situations where the rider in question is already under contract to the same UCI ProTeam or licence applicant at the moment of that recruitment, e.g. in the case of the renewal of an existing contract.

Today is the start of the transfer season and the paragraph above is the relevant UCI rule. Read the first line and you’d think things can only happen from today onwards but look twice and you’ll soon notice the wording that says “‘recruit’ shall be deemed to mean concluding a contract” and that the obvious conclusion to a contract is signing it. In other words a rider and a team can talk any time they like, they can discuss pay, the recruitment of other riders and more. All so long as they don’t “conclude” the contract, in other words they can settle all the terms of the deal and wait for 1 August to ink it.

Beyond this, teams can – and are – engaging riders in additional deals. Rather than a contract to ride, teams are offering deals that state if the rider does sign a contract to ride at some point then additional payments will be made, for example a signing bonus is due. This it is possible for one team to say to a rider that they’ll receive a tidy sum of money should sign with them later in the season. This can get disruptive, for riders are employed with one squad to achieve results… but could find a potential new employer is paying them per UCI ranking point earned, an incentive that might not be aligned with that of their current employer.

In reality the transfer season is open all year round, it is only from today that deals can be signed in full and moves can be confirmed in public. In other words the transfer season is almost meaningless, a window reserved for press releases and photo opportunities.

Riders, managers and agents alike will have been busy for some time. However, most of the effort goes into recruiting high profile ranking riders and it’s really only from July onwards and into August that lesser riders will find they are hired. They tend to fit like smaller pieces of jigsaw, around the star riders.

Can this be fixed? You could outlaw all potential recruiters from talking to riders but it’d be unenforceable, especially since teams could hire agents to talk to the agents used by riders. For me the best thing would be total transparency, if a rider is to talk to a team then it should be done in the open, especially if “pre-contracts” are involved and money could change hands in relation to any offer of employment. But that’s wishful thinking.

Starr August 1, 2011 at 11:50 am

Exactly why it is called the “silly season”.

Wonder who is the biggest prospect (neo-pro) on the market for 2012?

Roxanne August 1, 2011 at 12:08 pm

No one else discusses the details of their job search in public; why should pro cyclists? Would you tell (say) Bicycling that you were negotiating to write a column for (say) Velo, while working on the contract to do (theoretical) product reviews for Bicycling? No, you, Bicycling and Velo all know that you’re talking to multiple potential employers, but you keep the details under wraps.

I have to think that for team management, this competition for riders – to assemble a workable team – is as stressful and nerve-wracking as the battle up the Galibier was for the riders.

The Inner Ring August 1, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Starr: there’s no obvious name right now. Only a minority of the top-18 teams are taking on stagiaires.

Roxanne: very true. But in sports and sometimes at the top of big companies, recruiting a “big name” is a marketable event in itself. My point about transparency is that the negotiations go on all the time and they could impact the racing, eg a rider might think of the interests of their future employer rather than their current one. Note in normal jobs it’s common for someone to resign before moving to a rival, or to remain inactive for a while. But none of this is normal, is it?

Nick August 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm

It’s more and more like the football transfer season, which is in a way a spectacle in itself.

I think more pressing than regulation of when you can or cannot sign is some sort of ‘transfer fee’ type system that remunerates teams who develop riders only to have them (and all their UCI Pro Tour points) snatched away by a bigger budget team.

Tim August 1, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Is there any evidence that the potential problem of a rider riding against team interests actually ever happens? Unless there is then it sounds like a solution in need of a problem

The Inner Ring August 1, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Nick: yes, the transfer system is undeveloped in cycling.

Tim: there’s evidence of riders not being selected by the team because of these concerns, or at least of teams wanted to bolster “their assets” rather than those heading to another team soon.

mdfrank August 1, 2011 at 3:56 pm

The UCI is licensing rider agents now and I don’t know exactly what that entails but I would venture to guess that agents have to be more careful about how they operate. If you compare last years pre tour debacle with the announcement of the Leopard True Racing and their signings to this years relative silence up until today then it may be having the desired effect. Whether it’s having a positive effect or not is up to individuals to decide at this point. Not having a stake in it other than wanting to be entertained I must admit I miss the extra silliness.

Beau August 1, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Starr: The biggest Neo-Pro’s I think would have to be Michael Hepburn or Luke Durbridge both from Australia. Both part of winning Aussie Team Pursuit team and can definitely have shown depth on the road discipline as well.

Simma August 1, 2011 at 10:28 pm

I doubt any of this years neo pro’s are on the market… but if HTC fold, expect some1 to be knocking on Degenkolbs door less than 5 seconds later. Though bling mathews has easily had the biggest result with that tour of aussie stage win against all the worlds best sprinters… bet rabo throw money at a new contract for him and turn their focus into sprinting in the future, especially after the shocking fall from grace of Gesink!

@joshhilby August 1, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Great write up.

The lack of a unified and legally binding contract opening, negotiating, closing and enforcement system is something that professional cycling desperately needs to fix.

For the teams involved, they are beholden (for contract work rule purposes) to each rider’s national laws. So think about that, you could potentially have as many as 30 (probably not that many, just saying) different sets of laws governing if, when and how a rider might transfer and how legitimate a contract is for that rider.

This is somewhat of an oversimplification, but not by a lot.

However, the much much bigger deal in cycling is that the ‘trade’ window opens with no bonding of teams for the following season. This is simply ridiculous and must be fixed.

The ‘musical chairs’ is in full swing right now for teams, sponsors and riders. Just a few of the issues this causes:

1) Teams sponsors are looking to invest in teams that may or may not exist in the next season. Hard to write multi-million dollar checks when the franchise you would like to invest in may just go ‘pop’
2) Marquee riders may be moving from teams that would guarantee them participation in certain key events. Again, this is unfair to sponsors.
3) Riders may be playing musical chairs for the next several months, without knowing where certain teams will be by next season. Ask the Aussies from the Pegasus initiative last year how all that went down.

The reality is, the timelines for sponsorship, financial guarantees, bonding and rostering need timelines that make business sense. NOT because of some 100 year old tradition of when riders start getting traded (after performances at the Tour).

Right now cycling at the highest level, when it comes to contract, trade and sponsorships, looks more like a middle-school pickup game of dodgeball more than it does a Worldwide professional sport.

C Grade Cyclist August 2, 2011 at 2:53 am

While I love the ‘transfer season circus’, like many others it really is a messy ‘system’ at best… I like the soccer (football!) idea of transfers, with transfer fees in effect for ‘developing’ player’s ability…

I know a few soccer clubs in Australia make oe money from developing good players and ‘selling’ them to Euro clubs, than they do from all their club sponsorships…!!

Gillis August 2, 2011 at 6:00 am

What I don’t understand is why this all happens DURING the season? I don’t follow every major sport, but it seems to me that this stuff usually happens in the offseason. Am I wrong? It would make more sense for the transfers to happen after the world championships. Then the riders’ resume is complete for the season. It would also give teams time AFTER the Tour to figure out their sponsorships instead of during when everyone is busy trying to race.

Luc Prévost August 3, 2011 at 5:06 am

Maybe one reason for the “transfer season” being so silly is that cycling is an individual team sport.
The only one?
Can anybody come up with another sport?

The point awarded for victory means more cash for a selected few and the lack of any trade union create a situation of banana republic.
The day the riders will unite, things will change.
Not before.

Cycling is their business.
Today’s tennis is great because the players created the ATP.
Why pro cyclists can not do the same?

When I despair for these marvelous athletes, I can only imagine that they are a testing ground for various army programs where molecules are evaluated in “stress” situation.

No union, no power.
I might sound off topic here but the riders are ABUSED by everybody.
This has to stop.

We often talk about the socio-demographics of the peloton.
The social climbing thing…
What was the name of the italian golden boy who was driving a Maserati?
Nobody understood why, with so much family money, he would still ride a bike…

Some riders payed to ride the TdF.
Crazy stuff ?
That would be easy to prove.
No so long ago…
Maybe still today.

Emile Zola was born too early to write about cycling.
Kafka was the man who should have written about our heros.;-)
I mean, we still do not know who won the 2010 TdF.
And who was the DS of Landis in 2006 when he was caught doping?
It’s the DS of this year winner.

Weird stuff, like the transfer season…

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