The Zaaf team races on, despite unpaid wages. Reports in the newspaper AS say that payments will be made to riders but we’ll see. It’s problematic for the riders here but also shows the gap between the World Tour and the rest where the top teams enjoy regulatory protection and oversight while the lesser ones have a much wilder time and this is much more pronounced for the women.
It’s worth remembering this is a Continental team, so it’s not subject to the World Tour rulebook (nor the Pro Continental rulebook, as the men have this extra tier) and so there’s less regulation and fewer protections for the riders. Conti team are overseen by their national federation, in this case Spain’s RFEC. One of the problems seems to have been is that the team hired extra riders in December which bumped up the wage bill but reports say the wage guarantee (think a bail bond for the salaries) wasn’t revised to match increased liability so even if the guarantee is drawn down it might not cover much. There’s a Catch-22 scenario where riders obviously don’t want to race without being paid, yet they need to race in order show performance to attract interest from other teams. Yet it’s not so simple as if wages are unpaid, the support at races is also lacking so just trying to perform is harder.
The list of differences are a whole blog post’s worth but it shows the massive gap between the World Tour and outside for the women’s teams. While the men’s squads raced to get into, or stay in, their World Tour last year largely for for sporting and marketing reasons, for women it’s very different as a team that moves up sees its riders granted all sorts of protections, guarantees and oversight. It means plenty for the sponsors too but the female athletes stand to gain or lose a lot depending on how their teams fare this year. The chart above shows the current standings as of Tuesday this week, the top-15 at the end of the season – above the red line – qualify and the teams with asterisks are the Conti squads eligible for promotion.
One rider that’s left already is Audrey Cordon-Ragot has moved to the Human Powered Health team, an ambitious squad to keep an eye on. HPH is a subsidiary brand of United Healthcare, currently the 11th biggest company by market capitalisation in the world.
One added disappointment of the Zaaf team’s demise is it associates the name of Zaaf with this negative outcome. Say “Zaaf” and you may well think of a tottering team with unpaid wages. Instead how aboutAbdel-Kader Zaaf? The Algerian cyclist was the French amateur champion in the 1940s and rode the Tour de France four times. Apparently the sponsor of the team Riad Belatreche is a grandson of Zaaf so he’s launched the team as a tribute. Nicknamed the Casseur de Baraque“, a phrase hard to translate literally so think “blowing the doors off” or “bringing the house down”, Zaaf was a regular attacker, the post-war Thomas De Gendt if you like, and also a Tour lanterne rouge. In 1950 in he collapsed in the heat of a Tour stage between Perpignan and Nîmes. Slumped by the road locals sprayed him with wine to revive him and he got up and rode off, only in the wrong direction and found the bunch coming towards him. An amusing anecdote and one that’s got several versions with embellishments and exaggerations. Anyway he was more than the guy who rode backwards and his name is certainly more than a flakey team.
Meanwhile in France – where all Conti teams have extra national rules to ensure everyone is salaried and effectively professional – today sees the first of three races in eastern France with the Classic Grand Besançon Doubs. There’s always been a Tour du Doubs race in this area and the organisers seem to have thought if they’ve got the peloton in the region for a weekend, they might as well have them for a long weekend and the teams are only too happy with three one day races for the points, although they’re each 1.1 and so “only” 125 points for the winner and so on. Today’s L’Equipe says it’s also part of Thibaut Pinot’s farewell tour – he lives nearby – and while he says he’s focussed on performance and the upcoming Giro d’Italia, he’s skipping the Tour of the Alps to race on home roads.
The Giro? If you want all the stage profiles on one page, see inrng.com/giro and there along with more info about the course and more. It’s a work-in-progress for now pending publication of the race rulebook with its scales for the points and mountains competitions and more but if you want lots of info on one page, it’s waiting.
One thing that’s harder to find ahead of the Giro is Remco Evenepoel’s training on Strava. He’s been sharing plenty but as his big appointment looms he’s not uploading his rides for public viewing any more. A team manager Klaas Lodewyck tells Het Nieuwsblad that “people know enough” by now. Perhaps he’s doing more specific efforts now, or just that he and his entourage want to keep a degree of mystery ahead of the race. Or save him from pressure as a rest day or a slow pace risks generating stories back back home.
Finally the transfer market’s busy. Christophe Laporte is happy at Jumbo-Visma with a report he’ll renew his contract and turned down a generous offer from Ag2r Citroën… despite Jumbo reportedly quitting the team so Laporte and team management alike must be pretty confident about the team’s future. Ag2r Citroën is clearly in the market for a big name rider now that Greg Van Avermaet’s contract is up and there’s beaucoup budget to spare. Do they try to tempt Julian Alaphilippe away from Quick-Step where Patrick Lefevere might be happy to unload him? Or make eye contact with Pavel Sivakov? That’s just one team in the news today. A lot of riders are out of contract across the peloton this year – before anyone thinks “sure, many are every year” last winter saw few big moves beyond Richard Carapaz, this year just has more churn – so it’s a defining period for the next couple of seasons. Soudal-Quickstep is at a crossroads needs a refresh for their classics team but 2024 is unlikely to see a big change. Who is Ineos’s best GC rider these days, if you answer Dani Martinez he’s on the market too. Anyway expect a lot of transfer talk in the news from now until the summer as teams find ways to take on the Fantastic Five.