The Transfer Season That Lasts All Year

Vincenzo Nibali

There are reports in La Gazzetta Dello Sport that Vincenzo Nibali has signed with Astana for 2013 and beyond. The Sicilian apparently has a €2.3 million contract and will move to the Kazako-Italian team with loyal helpers Alessandro Vanotti and Valerio Agnoli.

Astana needs a big signing. They have only five wins this year, although other teams would welcome two spring classics, two stages of the Giro and one in the Tour of Catalonia. Still, the team needs more points to avoid relegation troubles.

For months now Nibali has been linked to Astana but nobody can confirm any move because the rules prevent formal contracts from being signed and any related news must be kept quiet until 1 September. However Nibali is a big name rider and his move from one team to another is equivalent to a significant move on a chessboard, for rival teams must respond with their moves. The transfer of a top rider can destabilise a team and upset a sponsor. But these moves are happening right now. The transfer season lasts all year

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.

That’s the UCI rulebook. Read the first line and you’d think things can only happen from 1 August 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 even swap contracts. All so long as they don’t “conclude” the contract, in other words sign it. Although a latter rule 2.15.122 says teams must not make conditional agreements with riders whilst they’re still under contract… but this seems to be widely ignored. The same holds for the rule where riders cannot reveal their in talks about a new team outside of the transfer window, rule 2.15.125, which again gets ignored by many.

Deal time
What is the date today?

In effect the transfer season is open all year round. Instead the UCI rules appear to set the date on the paperwork. The “transfer window” doesn’t open to let riders in and out of teams. Instead if I strain the analogy, think of it as a “transfer curtain” that gets lifted. Deals are being done all through the year, but the rules state we can only see what has happened after a certain date.

When a rider like Nibali moves it destabilises things. To use him as an example, he’s a prime asset for his Liquigas team and if the squad’s management are hunting for new sponsors then the uncertainty over his future doesn’t help their quest. Similarly if Nibali has decided to leave then his current team have little incentive to offer him coaching and support and there have been several examples of teams freezing out a rider who is leaving for another team. Returning to Nibali we’ve already seen a spat over his programme for the rest of the year. Here’s

Heavily linked with a switch to Astana for next season, however, Nibali is apparently unhappy at his current employer’s approach to the calendar. “I want to go to the Vuelta,” Nibali said, according to Gazzetta. “What I’ve never liked much at Liquigas is that the rider’s opinion on his programme doesn’t count for much.”

We can also flip this around. Imagine a rider today who wants to ride the Tour de France. But he’s had an offer from another team for a higher salary and is thinking of moving. If he turns down his existing squad they could respond and leave him at home in July.

Outside of the bubble of pro cycling people change jobs all year round. One difference in sport is the concept of a season and the construction of teams. But the rules in place don’t seem to make any difference, they try to set a transfer window but in reality is only for the inking of deals and the ensuing publicity. Teams, agents and riders are busy all year long and news of the biggest transfers tends to leak out.

Nibali’s future has yet to be confirmed but his case makes a useful example right now. Many other riders are in a similar fate, for example Cofidis’s Rein Taaramäe is weighing up offers from several teams right now and Roman Kreuziger has to think about his future with Astana. Above all Alberto Contador has yet to sign with a team.

It seems odd that all these riders are moving around but nothing can be announced, the rules on transfers don’t seem to serve much of a purpose except current employers get until August to make an offer their riders to keep them… but often the rider has jumped by then. I can’t help feeling the rules just keep fans in the dark whilst everyone else is in the know.

38 thoughts on “The Transfer Season That Lasts All Year”

  1. Fully agree with your analysis. In my opinion, there are principally two options to resolve this:
    1) tighten up the rules to make sure that transfer activity is indeed only taken place in the transfer window;
    2) loosen the rules and allow transfer talk during the season.

    I am not that much into other sports, but I would say the same issues holding for other sports? How do they deal with this, and what could cycling learn from that?

  2. @Gerrald:

    With most other sports, transfers take place during the season, and the athlete immediately starts playing for the new team. This is how things work in, for example, soccer, baseball, basketball. There is not the same requirement that they don’t switch employer between seasons.

    • Talks in soccer can occur anytime, as is dealsigning. Execution of the deal (i.e. the actual tranfer of the player to a new club) may only occur at specific times (in euro soccer usually: summer offseason and midseason break in winter) and not as you stated immediately. Only exception is players without contract; they can be signed and added to the roster immediatly.
      Wether this holds for the other sports you mentioned I don’t know, and will therefor refrain from stating nonesense as an answer to a honest question.

  3. For me where it goes wrong, and INRNG has commented before, is the points system.

    In other sports, rugby/ football, you earn the right to stay in the league during the year based on the points you earn – you don’t suddenly get dropped from the Aviva Premiership or Premier League because you sold/transferred some players. This is where it is out of kilter…

    It has been discussed before a few times, but the current model just doesn’t lend itself to being fair to the teams IMO.

    • I was going to post along the same lines.

      People have a right to earn a living, so it is not unreasonable that they scout out other potential opportunities.

      So the issue for cycling becomes why do the cyclists get all the points. It just creates this weird pro-team selection lottery.

      Teams should be rewarded, beyond a star riding moving to another team, in someway for being successful. I’ve NFI what the answer, because riders accruing their own points is also important for them too. Maybe there should be some split between the two (50/50)?

      • I think that might be a reasonable consensus – split points between rider and team. Rider takes some points to new team but old team keeps some points as rider earned them as he was on their payroll.
        In such case Liquigas would have interest in fielding Nibali in latter part of the season, Nibali could score some valuable points for his future employer

  4. Thanks Paul,

    So why would this not be possible in cycling? UCI points should then be awarded to the team only for the time in which the cyclist was active for that team. Then, based on the team year score at the end of the season, a team makes or makes not the ProTour ranking. This way we would also get rid of the imo ridiculous behavior of some teams buying cyclists only for the UCI points they carry – one should buy a cyclist based on his potential to gain points, not on his points of previous year.

  5. I don’t think I understand any of this, does it mean that we will have to wait until august 1 to know which team Contador will ride for? And if that is the case then what about him riding the Eneco Tour, would the team not need to tell the organiser that he will ride and would it not then be public what team he rides for? And will the team then be punished for breaking the rules?
    And what about Sagan and Liquigas, did the team manager not made public a few weeks ago that they had extended the contract for 2 or 3 more years, will they now be punished for that, and if so, what is the punishment.
    All this cycling circus is so confusing.

  6. Why is it that a team that already has a rider can announce that they have resigned him year round (as Liguigas have done with Sagan) but a third party team cannot announce a signing?

  7. I really don’t get why Nibali wants to transfer out of Liquigas. He is the top dog at the premier Italian team (and he is Italian) and he wants to go over to Astana. Is he just going to get paid that much more? I doubt that the support structure is as good as Liquigas. Sagan is a star, but I don’t see him challenging Nibali as GC contender. What am I missing here?

      • Certainly a generous offer. Do you have any numbers on what Liquigas is offering him? What a strange sport where the premier Italian team is losing its star to a team sponsored by the nation of Khazakstan. I wonder if he will have to answer to Vino.

      • I totally get the money appeal. But if Nibali wants GT wins, would he be much better off staying where he is now? Liquigas has the team depth to ride the front of the Giro and Tour of California at the same time, and possesses some of the great climbing help in the peloton. Plus, they can TTT.
        Now move to Astana where…well…it’s just not the same level shall we say?

        so, i get the money…i just don’t get the gamble. a GT win with liquigas will get him a sponsorship or two that will make up for the lost contract money?

        • I agree and was pointing out the money as the obvious thing. Remember Italian teams are unlike others, they can be run in the service of their leader. Go back to the Giro and Liquigas worked selflessly for Basso. If anyone wants to name a day when a rider went up the road in a breakaway, please do because I can’t remember. By contrast Astana Nibali will find competing interests and a more mercenary attitude amongst team mates, even if Astana is becoming increasingly Italian these days.

          • agreed on all points. I was just thinking out loud as to what Nibali might be thinking as he makes this change.
            Bringing Agnoli along is great, and having Tiralongo there already is going to be really good for him too. So i think he’ll be more competitive than Kiserlovsky has been….
            But like you say, Liquigas has a fantastic team focus, one hell of a mountain helper in Basso possibly and a team far more prepard to win a GT at this point.

            He’s making a large gamble here, and I don’t like his odds.

      • “We talked, there was an offer [from Liquigas at a reported $2.2 million annually], but we said, ‘No.’ It was a significant offer, but there are many other aspects that need to be looked over,” said Nibali. “Maybe in the future we will have a chance to talk again.”

        Ha! So it wasn’t the money after all. If there was a big disparity in money I would understand. What gives?

        • I should read the whole article:

          According to Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport, Nibali has already signed for two years with Astana at $3.5 million annually.

          That is a lot higher than the $2.3 million quoted earlier. Maybe it was just then money after all.

  8. I agree with the comments above that signing a rider should be absed around potential of earning future points, rather than brining a sackful of points from the past 12 months.

    I also disagree with the part of the rule not permitting an existing team to offer a rider a new contract, effectively a pay rise. In the case of Thomas de Gendt, Vacansoleil should be able to offer him a new deal now to try and keep him with their team. It at least gives a team the first move advantage of keeping the riders it has developed, rather than the unsightly free-for-all we see every August.

    It’s not even in line with the cycling season. Really, the window should open when Lombardy is over and close on the eve of the Tour Down Under.

  9. In ice hockey for example, the in season contract discussions would be considered tampering and the team(s)/player(s) involved could face a hefty fine. It must be proven of course but it is option to deter these discussions between a rider and a possible new team. Contract discussion however, can happen in-house between a rider and his/her existing team and be announced at any time.

    In hockey, the typical practice is that as of July 1, the “Free Agency” period begins which is similar to cycling’s August 1st date, where players whose contracts have ended can sign with any team who has made them an offer. This is the period where discussions can start and contracts signed.

    This is similar to UCI’s model but the UCI seems to be more talk than action in this department.

    On another note, I wonder if the “new” cycling league will have a “trading” process where one team trades a rider(s) to another team for one of their rider(s) in season or at the end? Contracts would follow the rider to the new team. For example, (whether it’s good or bad) think of RadioShack-Nissan trading F Schleck to AG2R for Nocentini and Hinault. Thoughts?

  10. Kris,
    I don’t think that the “team sport” of hockey or football are quite the same as a cycling team.
    Having a few “protected riders” like hockey. is not a good idea. Or the idea of “journeymen domestics which are traded to other teams would benefit the individuality that is a pro cycling.

    One of the unique features of a grand tour is the team dynamics and race dynamics as it unfurls as a function of teams politics and individual efforts over the coarse of difficult days filled with (injury,crashes, and new found team leaders) which may land a neo-pro a larger contract and a new team at the end of a season.

    I fondly recall the drama around Hinault and Lemond when they openly were fighting over the control of La Vie Claire in a past TDF. In a more controlled regulatory environment we would not have as those emotional team issues which in my view make for a more interesting grand tour.


    • Steve,

      Good points and I agree with many of them. Thanks.

      I never thought that if there were trades, that it would happen in the middle of a GT or other stage race. However, I do wonder that if the new league were to ever take off, what new initiatives could the organizers bring to the table. Is it possible to have feeder clubs or farm teams for the top tier teams? There are currently development squads but would this be prominent in building the top teams over time?

      • Now that is an interesting point.

        Kris, seems lesser teams are tied more to countries which sponsorship $$ to a greater degree then the large international squads ( Astana being an exception, and perhaps to lesser degree Katusha)
        These lesser pro teams in some cases mimic amateur development squads.

        I feel the sooner a pro cyclist leaves the country of support the better off the sport will be and it will become more an international sport and less “my country against yours” We obviously have the
        Olympics and individual national championships to promote that nationalism.

        I can only speak for myself, but I would prefer not to see the Spanish, French, or Italian teams help a non teammate but country mate to an advantage in a major race for the sake of national pride. ( save it for the Olympics) It is done perhaps with more frequency then we realize and may have $$ implications.

        //inring any thoughts or anyone one “Should we frown on riders helping shape an outcome for $, national or personal gain which is not tied to winning or helping your team win a race, jersey, or points?

        Is it legal to try and “throw a race” especially if the individual rider may gain somehow by procuring a better contract or changing to “better team” which may suit that rider in the future?

        • Perhaps we should frown on this but cycling is full of these arrangements. It can make the tactics more sophisticated and even satisfying… but it can also falsify the outcome of a race. There have been many examples of riders over the years riding for Team X only to do a large amount of work for Team Y in a race, sometimes because they’ve been promised a contract for next year. Other times they do it for money and both teams are happy. I suppose it is a matter of degree.

          I’ve covered race fixing in the past, see

          • and wasn’t there controversy at some point about a Caisse d’Epargne rider trying to hand Contador (on Astana or Disco) a water bottle on a mountain climb? Something about some guy intercepting the bottle first? 🙂

          • I can recall a story of a young British rider working for Belgian interests at a WC for a promised contract the following season which he did receive. I can’t remember who it was though. Was withing the last five to six years if I recall correctly. Guys get desperate to stay in Europe and get noticed hopefully.
            Tough sport on so many levels in a very different way from more rigidly structured leagues and such. Makes for many interesting side stories and subplots for the attentive fan though.

            Great article INRNG.

  11. Hmmmmm Contador. Any guesses?

    Perhaps Movistar. Movistar and its predecessors have never had any problem with taking on ‘damaged goods’ in the past. Plus there’s the Spanish connection, and considering the support Contador received from the Spanish authorities and press, it could well be he favours a home team. Do they have the money? They certainly could do with a big GC contender.

    The only other two I could think of, apart from the outside chance that he stays at Saxo Bank, is perhaps Katusha or even a post-Nibali Liquigas. Particularly if Navarro goes with him. Navarro, Szymd would be one helluva pair of climbing domestiques. But again, these are just gut feelings.

    Any ideas INRNG?

    • Matt,
      “Movistar and its predecessors have never had any problem with taking on ‘damaged goods’ in the past.” Comments liek this irk me the wrong way, as somwhow it implies that some other foreign teams are morally corrupt while others are without fault. There is exactly one team in the pro peleton that does not have ‘damaged goods’ riding for them.

  12. Points should be sticky with a team not the riders (i.e. the points earned by a rider during the year go to the team that he rides for and count towards that team’s position for the following season). I thought this current system was in place in the late 90’s and was dropped at some point. Why is it back? Am I remembering things correctly? What I do remember is 5/6 years ago David Millar explaining the ludicrous results this caused when he was riding for Cofidis and how it destroyed any cohesion in that team – each rider was riding for himself to get maximum points, rather than supporting one strong rider to try for the win. Particularly a problem among the lesser riders who were scratching for a contract for the next season.

    • If you give the points to the team you favour the team owners a lot over the riders. If you did a hard ride and all the gains went to your manager you’d be annoyed, you want a way of cashing in on the points. The question is one of balance, how to reward team efforts but also to make sure the rider is valued. It’s hard as cycling is the individual sport practiced as a team.

      • I don’t think that system favours the team. They’re paying the wages to get results, they should reap the rewards. The riders get a bonus and also have the result on their palmares. Any signing of a rider should be based on the potential future victories of a rider and not hoovering up good results from last year.

        It would also stop this horrible new(ish) trend of riders continuing to ride when they’re practically retired as a team needs their points. It prevents people for going out on a high.

  13. Isn’t it due to the current rules (ie. Points staying with the rider) that was behind Robbie Mc being signed to GreenEdge? Textbook ‘hoover’ move?

  14. It’s a teams sport, right? Why not split the points between the winner and his teammates? If say a GC rider leaves but his teammates remain at the team along with their points, in affect the team is sharing the points.

  15. What was the old Gino Bartali quote? Something to the effect “everything is wrong and it all must be done over”? This would describe the World Tour and points system as well as a lot of other things in pro cycling. The Pro/World Tour was a dumb idea from the start – all it did was drive up costs and put more loot into the UCI’s pockets. If they insist on this stupidity, they should cut it back to a dozen top squads so they could REALLY apply the financial and other requirements, leaving 4-8 places for teams of interest to the various race promoters.
    As to Nibali, after busting his a__ in service of Basso (just like the other southern Italians on this team) for not a lot of reward, why WOULDN’T the guy look elsewhere after a) the money sponsor is leaving the team b) they resigned Basso? Would YOU stay when the money’s up in the air and you knew your talents would be wasted on helping Basso (who burnt up the team in the recent Giro for what….5th?) in the future? At Astana at least he’ll have a) a fat paycheck from a group with loads of cash b) Italian direction c) leadership of the team d) teammates devoted to his interests. Rumors are Cannondale will take their money over to the merged Riis/Amadio formation…but with Contador’s supposed tie-up with that S company who knows what will happen? Will he get re-signed or will “Grandpa” Basso be the new face of the team while Contador goes over to Movistar? Same bike problem but Alberto might be more happy on a squad with a history of wins with Delgado and Indurain, even if he has to give up the loot he gets from the big S?

  16. Hey The Inner Ring!
    Please pay attention to a mistake you keep repeating. Since you used this transfer quotation from the UCI rulebook, the actual rules have been changed (1.07.11) – amongst other things the transfer period is now different than last year. So you should consider paying the UCI website a visit to be updated.
    Great blog btw.

    • You’re right. I ended up lifting some of my own wording from the past when copying the rule above… but read the rulebook at the same time; if the wording of the rule has changed I think it still specifies exactly the same things, eg 1 August start date and “concluding” a contract.

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