Whilst there are several races on right now it still feels like there’s a lull so it provides a moment to look at an updated version of the team victory rankings for this year and also to take stock of the transfer market which looks quieter than usual.
Will teams instead spend money on hiring staff in a bid to mimic Team Sky?
As the chart shows, Team Sky top the tables for outright wins but only just. Instead perhaps the story is how the top three teams seem to dominate, with over one third of wins by UCI Pro Teams coming from these three. Meanwhile at the foot of the table we see Ag2r and Saxo languish but I suspect the latter team will win in the upcoming Vuelta a Espana.
Both Saxo and Ag2r have taken steps to remedy their loss. Saxo now has Tinkoff Bank as a co-sponsor and plenty of financial firepower from maverick Russian entrepreneur (and keen cyclist) Oleg Tinkov. Ag2r don’t have much more money but they are hiring more riders capable of winning, like Davide Appollonio, Carlos Betancur and most recently Samuel Dumoulin, although it’s a cosy deal for Dumoulin as team boss Vincent Lavenu is also Dumoulin’s father in law.
Overall though the transfer season looks a bit sleepy so far. The big increase in rider wages in recent years means being an agent is a lucrative business but so far 2012 doesn’t look like a vintage year for fees. Here’s the top-20 riders on the IG Pro Cycling Index.
|2||SVK||Sagan||Peter||Liquigas – Cannondale||4328|
|3||ESP||Rodriguez Oliver||Joaquin||Katusha Team||4320|
|6||ITA||Nibali||Vincenzo||Liquigas – Cannondale||2977|
|7||NOR||Boasson Hagen||Edvald||Sky Procycling||2625|
|8||BEL||Gilbert||Philippe||BMC Racing Team||2407|
|10||GER||Greipel||André||Lotto – Belisol||2262|
|13||BEL||Van Avermaet||Greg||BMC Racing Team||2107|
|14||ESP||Moreno Fernandez||Daniel||Katusha Team||2082|
|18||ESP||Sanchez Gonzalez||Samuel||Euskaltel – Euskadi||1862|
|19||ITA||Moser||Moreno||Liquigas – Cannondale||1793|
|20||CAN||Hesjedal||Ryder||Garmin – Sharp||1781|
Amongst these 20 riders few are changing teams over the winter. Vincenzo Nibali is moving to Astana. Otherwise we get speculation that Mark Cavendish is supposed to be thinking about his future at Sky or Omega Pharma – Quickstep and Fabian Cancellara could move, either returning to Bjarne Riis and Saxo Bank-Tinkoff or just possibly the new Swiss team IAM.
When several important riders move it forces other teams to respond but this time it seems there’s little change. Vultures are circling over the wounded carcass that is the Radioshack-Nissan team but it seems most recruitment here will be to strengthen existing teams.
Liquigas seem to be a depleted team. After Nibali leaving and taking some helpers, we’ve also heard that Daniel Oss and Dominik Nerz are going to BMC Racing. Now Sylwester Szmyd has said he is leaving but won’t reveal where; if you want to guess then he’s offering a t-shirt three people who offer the correct answer via his blog. Of course having Sagan with the team means that the squad doesn’t need many other riders, plus the Italian team has Ivan Basso and promising stage race rider Eros Capecchi.
We can only speculate about Mark Cavendish’s future. Clearly Team Sky can win a lot but they can’t offer him the dedicated sprint train he must want and whilst it is good to see a world champion carrying water bottles for the yellow jersey for the way it underlines team work, it’s not something you expect Cavendish wants to do very often. A move to Omega Pharma – Quickstep is possible but he could stay, knowing he might have support in many races and besides, Team Sky still need a sprinter or two. Would the Belgian team have to buy Cavendish out of the contract or would Sky agree to a friendly departure? There’s plenty to think about for fans, teams, agents and of course, Cavendish but for now OPQS team boss Patrick Lefevere has said Cavendish is “too expensive”. Then again this is the ideal start to negotiations, no?
Of course there’s still plenty of time for more deals to happen. It’s just that with most of the identifiable grand tour winners staying put and the big classics contenders doing the same there’s not much more happening. Barring a total implosion at Radioshack, the story of rider transfers looks like one of selective acquisitions by teams and a few riders searching for new opportunities.
I wonder whether squads will instead be thinking about hiring coaches, support staff and other technicians as they think about copying Team Sky and its focus on process and outcome rather than just hiring big names? Arguably Team Sky owe their lead in the victory rankings to the signing of Mark Cavendish but also the results of Bradley Wiggins and others on the team are notable for their value when expressed in terms of publicity against salary.