Until recently the overriding theme set to dominate the transfer market was Team Sky. Their previously uncertain future was expected to act as the catalyst for significant changes to rival team rosters. However, the announcement of Ineos as owner and title sponsor has taken some wind out of the market.
Transfers are still being agreed and there is a general hunt for ranking points that secure team places in the WorldTour for 2020-2022. Teams must confirm their intent to be in the WorldTour by April 1 and that means the teams towards the bottom echelons of the rankings, and the well-placed Pro Continental squads with expanding budgets, must act if they are to secure enough UCI ranking points and a place in the WorldTour.
The fact that Team Sky riders - for the most part - are not available also means that the prices for riders who are still on the market remain high due the fact that there are fewer options available.
The GC contenders
The most high-profile GC riders on the market are Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana. Below these two are a raft of athletes including Daniel Martin, Wout Poels, Ilnur Zakarin, Esteban Chaves, Enric Mas, Davide Formolo, Louis Meintjes, Jakob Fuglsang and Mikel Landa. Each of those come with strengths and weakness, but only two from the entire list above have won Grand Tours.
Cyclingnews understands that Trek-Segafredo, Astana, Bahrain-Merida and UAE Team Emirates are all looking for potential Grand Tour winners.
Some riders such as Zakarin and Meintjes, are unlikely to move but the remaining riders have different factors determining their futures. For example, Quintana's fate will be linked to whether Landa departs. The indications are that the Spaniard has already discussed a move to Astana and that Quintana is being pursued by UAE Team Emirates and CCC Team. Movistar are already preparing for a world without both riders but will have the financial power to match any offers.
Nibali has already been heavily linked to Trek Segafredo due to relations with Bahrain-Merida senior management turning sour and his desire to retain his current salary and race on until 2021, when he will be 36.
Chaves is still returning to his best, but he signed a big contract on the back of his 2016 success. Unless he can justify that salary to Mitchelton-Scott then his head might be turned by a squad like UAE Team Emirates, who have Neil Stephens in their management. The Australian has been a long-term admirer of Chaves, worked with him at GreenEdge, and will be aware that the Colombian could be a cheaper alternative to Quintana. Another strong climber on the market is Mikel Nieve, who despite his age, is regarded as one of the most consistent riders in the peloton.
Over at Deceuninck-QuickStep, Patrick Lefevere will have to appease a number of his high-profile riders with new contracts - more on that below - and with Enric Mas attracting attention last season when Lefevere was briefly short of cash, interest in the Spaniard will almost certainly peak again. Movistar are leading the chase on that front.
Within Team Sky the likes of De la Cruz, Diego Rosa, and Poels are all free. Smaller teams may pursue those options in the hunt for points and reinforcements when it comes to stage racing capabilities, but they will have to pay over the odds given Team Sky's financial resources.
Sam Bennett leads the way in terms of being the most sought-after sprinter on the market. Still raw from his Giro d'Italia omission, and with Bora-Hansgrohe backing Pascal Ackermann, it's only a matter of time before the Irishman seeks a fresh start. His agent has riders within most WorldTour teams, including EF Education First, Trek-Segafredo, Sunweb, Mitchelton-Scott, and Team Sky. Not all of those squads need or want a leading sprinter, but Bennett is likely to have a number of options.
Marcel Kittel is also out of contract, after two underwhelming years at Katusha. He has time to turn things around but the rider he replaced at Katusha, Alexander Kristoff, is also out of contract. Mark Cavendish and his ageing posse of Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel are also out of contract. There could be a raft of changes on the South African team with Edvald Boasson Hagen and Steve Cummings also free.
Nacer Bouhanni - another out of contract sprinter - is in an entirely different position to someone like Bennett. His team are clearly planning on a future without him and will be looking to invest the millions of Euros tied into the Frenchman's current contract into other areas and hope to step up to WorldTour level. Bouhanni, given his start to the season, hasn't yet twigged that despite his looming departure it would be mutually beneficial for him to up his game. No team will be willing to match his current salary given the results he has.
The most high-profile all-rounder on the market is Julian Alaphilippe, who can expect a significant boost in wages and attention from rival teams after his Strade Bianche and MIlan-San Remo victories.
Lefevere is unlikely to let the Frenchman go, and given the Belgian's track record in the transfer market, he will most probably offer Alaphilippe an improved deal sooner rather than later. Lefevere has a number of other riders out of contract, including Zdenek Stybar and Philippe Gilbert but the canny team boss will bide his time before looking to extend with either of those options.
Lefevere's next headache comes in the form of Italian national champion Elia Viviani. The sprinter is also out of contract, and after a strong start to 2019, and an incredible campaign last year, he will be looking for an improved deal. Lefevere has let top-ranking sprinters depart in the past - with Kittel and Cavendish as prime examples - and it will be interesting to see how the Belgian boss plays this particular issue.
Three riders on the market with similar sprinter-Classics skill-sets are John Degenkolb, Matteo Trentin, and Michael Matthews. Trentin recently spoke of his happiness at Mitchelton, and Matthews has begun to find his groove after a difficult start to the season. However, this spring is crucial to all three riders. Tiesj Benoot is another exciting and available all-rounder. His teammate, and Hour Record attempt rider, Victor Campenaerts is also out of contract.
Best of the rest
There are a number of other interesting prospects that could attract attention in the transfer market: Richard Carapaz is out of contract at Movistar, while the Katusha duo of Nathan Haas and Ian Boswell are also free. Dylan van Baarle is also available, while so too is Chris Juul Jensen - although he's very likely to stay at Mitchelton-Scott.
Magnus Cort Neilsen, Jen Kuekeleire, Tom Jelte- Slagter, Danny van Poppel, Matti Breschel, Matej Mohoric, Jasha Sutterlin, Toms Skujins, Larry Warbasse, Dan Mclay, Peter Kennaugh, Tim Declercq, Chris Lawless, James Knox, Logan Owen, Marco Haller, Michael Albasini, Sebastian Henao, Rory Sutherland and Eddie Dunbar are also on the market.
Additional riders out of contract
All these riders are in a contract year and so will have to decide their future in the coming months.
Adam Hansen, Chad Haga, Michael Storer, Michael Hepburn, Valerio Conti, Kristijan Durasek, Jan Hirt, Simone Petilli, Ivan Santaromita, Jan Bakelants, Enrico Barbin, Davide Martinelli, Roberto Ferrari, Dries Devenyns, Frederik Frison, Bjorg Lambrecht, Senne Leysen, Edward Thuens, Nico Denz, Johannes Frohlinger, Alex Kirsch, Jonas Koch, Jelle Vanendert, Maarten Wynants, William Bonnet, Nicolas Fabbro, Peter Stetina, Lawson Craddock, Lachlan Morton, Joe Dombrowski, Brandon McNulty, Nicolas Roche, Ben Swift, Aleksandr Vlasov, Ben Hermans, Jordi Warlop, Floris De Tier, Niklas Markl, Kevin Geniets, Michal Schlegel, Filippo Zaccanti, Juan Jose Lobato, Marco Canolo, Valerio Agnoli, Luca Wackermann, Andrew Guardini, Petr Vakoc and Jan-Willem van Schip.