It’s transfer day in cycling. Under the UCI rules existing professionals can now sign for another team for the 2018 season, both a pointless rule and a precious one.
Seven the top-10 in the Tour de France are potentially on the market* but it’s also the start of a nervous two months for lesser riders whose contract is up at the end of the year. Here’s a quick scan of the market…
* The magnificent seven are: Rigoberto Uràn (likely to renew with Slipstream, Trek-Segafredo interested), Mikel Landa (Movistar unless Sky make him an offer he can’t refuse), Fabio Aru (UAE Emirates), Daniel Martin, Louis Meintjes (a return to Dimension Data), Alberto Contador (very likely exercising an option to remain at Trek-Segafredo for one more year) and Warren Barguil (more below).
Transfer season? It never ends. Wages for the biggest part of any team budget and by a long way meaning that recruitment is something that gets a lot of management attention and well before August. By now budgets and rosters are in place rather than being cobbled together. The UCI rules may allow teams to sign riders for the upcoming season from today onwards but the rider market has been bubbling away since the start of the season already – cyclingnews.com had a handy 50 riders out of contract in February – and reached boiling point in July. Officially teams cannot sign riders in March but they can reach agreements, whether a handshake or a pre-contract long before the 1 August date. The rule is flouted in practice but it also makes sense allowing existing employers the chance to match rival offers before anything official is signed.
2017-8 market: it should be a quieter year for transfers where the defining moves are about buying in leaders and talent rather than defensive moves to shore up their rankings to avoid relegation. After the UCI bungled its ever-changing plans for the World Tour the story is the status quo: the 18 teams in the World Tour are guaranteed their place for 2018 and 2019. This means there’s no mad dash for riders with UCI ranking points to avoid relegation. This can be lucrative for some riders but for the teams these are forced signings, defensive moves based on a rider’s points haul rather than their promise.
Quiet market: there’s activity but a lot of it isn’t leaking out as much as it did before. Some of the stories that do go public like Elia Viviani moving mid-season to UAE Emirates turn out to be duds.
Musical chairs: with Fabio Aru set to leave Astana for UAE Emirates it leaves the Kazakh squad in search of a marquee grand tour rider which in turn means whoever they sign could have to be replaced in their old team… although Dan Martin is being mentioned in today’s L’Equipe newspaper as an Astana target and it’s not unlikely that Quick Step go into the market for a new stage racer. Similarly if Mikel Landa goes to Movistar then will Nairo Quintana stay? L’Equipe today links the Colombian to Team Sky but if Landa is leaving because he wants leadership why would Quintana join? A similar story for some sprinters with Alexander Kristoff linked to UAE Emirates – is being linked to UAE the new linked to Astana? – which means Katusha-Alpecin could fill the void by signing Marcel Kittel, no doubt to the satisfaction of their German shampoo sponsor.
Quick Step: they are re-signing riders for the future, we’ve know for some time the team’s future is secured but they’ve yet to make a big announcement. Is their budget settled?
Theme: spot a connection so far? The game of musical chairs is played by the big teams. A lot of the teams mentioned are the bigger budget outfits like Sky, Movistar, Katusha, Astana, Quick Step and UAE Emirates. BMC Racing already have Greg Van Avermaet and Richie Porte so seem unlikely to enter the market. Team owner Andy Rihs, who is gravely ill, has decided to back the squad for another season.
Beyond The Headlines, Part I: for all the gossip and intrigue let’s consider the teams who are not splashing the cash. Take Team Sunweb which brings on riders with long term development plans. They’ve now got a headache because of Tom Dumoulin and Warren Barguil and how to combine them if they both race the Tour de France next summer. A luxurious problem and it seems Barguil could leave despite having a year left on his contract with them. Why? Well it suits the management because they’ve signed Tom Dumoulin through to the end of 2021. The Dutchman is the cornerstone around which the team is built and his riding style is predicated on steady, linear climbing efforts which contrast with Warren Barguil’s lively accelerations and attacks. It also suits Barguil because he’s now able to command a much higher salary than he was a month ago so he can sign elsewhere for a much higher rate. Other teams that don’t make a splash include Ag2r La Mondiale whose discreet signing of Oliver Naesen last year turned out to be a great move, so much that they’ve already given him a new long term deal to the end of 2019. Meanwhile FDJ are quietly adding foreign support around their core French riders with Dutch champion Ramon Sinkeldam said to be on his way (update: Sinkeldam’s move is confirmed)
Beyond The Headlines, Part II: spare a thought for all those riders not making the headlines today. While star signings and contracts worth millions make the headlines the reality for most pros is hoping for a renewal and this can be a nervous time for domestiques and gregarios. With teams putting in a lot of work into securing the services of the star riders now they can tend to the contracts of their helpers. If a team doesn’t notify a rider in writing by the end of September then the rider can assume they’ve got a contract for the following season but to sit back and wait for the post is risky. It’s a background theme during the Vuelta with the Spanish race as a shop window.
Beyond the World Tour: run a Pro Continental team? Want an invitation to a grand tour? It’s getting harder than ever with more and more teams in cycling’s second tier and the way to stand out is to sign a marquee rider. We’re used to seeing at least one Italian team grumble about the lack of an invitation to the Giro but signing a big name rider could help their chances. Now the same scenario is going to apply in France because Direct Energie, Cofidis, Fortuneo-Oscaro and the new Vital Concept team being assembled by Jérôme Pineau team can’t be sure of a start unless they’ve got a star name and if they want to ride the Vuelta too in order to guarantee plenty of their riders can bank a grand tour in their legs then they need more riders too.