Rest days at the Giro d'Italia are often a hotbed of activity. While riders pause for breath, team managers roll out their red carpets for cycling's most important figures of all: the agents.
Whether in hotel lobbies or nearby restaurants, these days are all about scoping out the market, reaffirming budgets, looking for bargains and, of course, the golden-ticket signing that could transform your team for next season. Once one meeting is finished, another begins. It's like speed dating - only more uncomfortable.
From what Cyclingnews has gathered, from riders and those in the know, sub-sponsors Sophos and Swisse Vitamin are set to step up and provide a budget of between 15-16 million Euros, with Giant supplying bikes. That's still way short of the team's current financial status, but one current team rider told us that the squad's initial plan was to either go down the path of building around Greg Van Avermaet, or stick with Richie Porte and the stage racing squad. However, we understand that, contrary to earlier reports, Porte has a contract for 2019 but is still free to discuss a possible move with other teams, should a better offer be presented.
The squad's management have remained silent. They were planning on informing the riders of their plans on May 15 but that communication never took place. However, the team did confirm to the staff a few days ago that the rumour linking Deloitte to BMC Racing was untrue. Van Avermaet, meanwhile, has also hinted at staying. This appears to be his preferred option, with Bahrain-Merida and Lotto Soudal still monitoring the situation.
- Transfer Mechanics: The lay of the land in 2018
- Transfer mechanics: Daniel Martin to UAE Team Emirates
- Transfer mechanics: Warren Barguil to Team Fortuneo-Oscaro
- Transfer mechanics: Elia Viviani to Quick-Step Floors
- Transfer Mechanics: Alberto Contador into retirement
- Transfer mechanics: Marcel Kittel to Katusha-Alpecin
The uncertainty over BMC's future has stalled other elements with the market. Rival team managers appear willing to wait longer in order to drive down rider values.
"We don't know their future, and that makes the situation very complicated," one general manager told us. "In the next 15-20 days we will find out for sure what's happening but at the moment the situation with that team is clearly blocking the market. If the team doesn't carry on then the cost of the riders on that team will drop, so a lot of people are waiting and waiting."
A source within Dimension Data has told us that the team will be riding BMC bikes in 2019. That comes after reports that Team Sunweb will be racing on Cervelo in 2019. We understand, however, that this deal still needs to be signed off. Sunweb would not comment on this but our information is that the deal is likely and it stems from the team's desire to move in a new direction in a bid to make a further step forward, not just in terms of equipment but also the commercialization of pro-level gear. Cevelo are owned by Pon Holdings, a hugely significant and wealthy conglomerate that also owns Gazelle, Santa Cruz Bicycles and Focus Bikes.
There is talk of UAE Team Emirates dropping Colnago for Bianchi, but that has yet to be confirmed by any party. "We have several options on the table," the team told us. "We spoke with different possible partners but at the moment we are still with the actual sponsors of the team, nothing new is on the way."
Which Yates is the better bargain?
The hottest rider on the market right now is understandably Simon Yates, who goes into the final few days at the Giro d'Italia with a more than decent chance of winning the race. The Mitchelton-Scott rider, still just 25, is out of contract this year and has drawn attention from Katusha-Alpecin, UAE Team Emirates, Astana, and Trek Segafredo, the latter of which offered him a deal before the Giro.
His current team are obviously keen on renewing him but one team manager told Cyclingnews that they have been priced out of the market, with teams willing to pay 3.5-4 million Euros a season for the rider. Few teams can afford such a sum but, with a week to go at the Giro, the price could fluctuate depending on the final result in Rome.
"If you tried to sign him before the Giro you'd be taking a bet but now you have to pay for his value because of what he's doing at the Giro and because he's just 25 years old," one team boss told us.
"I still think that his preferred option is to stay where he is, and for a lot of money. A lot will depend on what Mitchelton can do. If they can find the budget then that's it, they will keep all their riders."
Adam Yates is a less expensive option, having recently come back from injury. He has a different agent to his brother and all indications are that he will stay at Mitchelton beyond 2018. The Australian team's priority is, obviously, to keep their most talented riders, including the Yates brothers, before looking elsewhere on the market to plug any possible roster gaps for 2019. Both Yates' are currently contracted at around 1.5 million Euros a season, and Adam is likely to wait until the Tour de France before looking at his options. Simon, on the other hand, is likely to decide his next move - if it hasn't been made already - at the end of the Giro, when his value should be at its highest.
Mitchelton-Scott team owner and long-standing backer Gerry Ryan arrived at the Giro d'Italia for the final week. He confirmed he will continue to bankroll the team via his many companies and seems determined to try to keep Simon Yates. Ryan highlighted the added value the Mitchleton-Scott team has given, and will continue to give, the rider. Yates' agent, Andrew McQuaid, was at the Giro d'Italia time trial on Tuesday and will return for the final stage in Rome on Sunday. Yates could possibly agree to a new deal as soon as Monday, before Ryan heads home to Australia. Victory would also project him forward as major Tour de France contender for 2019 and so perhaps help Mitchelton-Scott finally secure a title-sponsor in Asia.
Trek-Segafredo, on the other hand, have the financial resources after saving a year's worth of Alberto Contador's wages. They're desperate to buy a long-standing GC candidate, while their current Tour leader Bauke Mollema is out of contract and has drawn interest from several teams, including Bora-Hansgrohe. Trek's fixation with Simon Yates is understandable for other reasons. If Porte remains at a new-look BMC then the GC options on the market begin to look scarce.
Geraint Thomas is, according to one source, no longer on the market, with the Welshman set to stay at Team Sky for the foreseeable future. The rider had received interest from several teams over the last two years but the sentiment from one manager, who did not want to be quoted, is that teams have started to grow tired of chasing a rider for several seasons without interest being shown in the opposite direction. Team Sky, on the other hand, are determined to keep hold of Thomas, especially given the uncertainty over the future of their biggest British star, Chris Froome.
Thomas was apparently top of UAE Team Emirates' shopping list last year but ultimately backed away, apparently concerned about how difficult life would be away from Team Sky.
Bahrain and their hunt for a Classics contender
Bahrain-Merida's management have confirmed to Cyclingnews that the team met with Van Avermaet during the Ardennes to discuss a possible move. The team are in the hunt for a Classics rider and have also considered Michael Valgren, who is out of contract at Astana. Van Avermaet was Bahrain's first choice, but negotiations stalled after April because the rider wanted to give BMC Racing more time to secure sponsorship. Bahrain would be open to re-starting talks but money is another stumbling block.
It seems Bahrain-Merida are concerned about Van Avermaet's age, the Olympic champion having turned 33 in April. The team are also keen to sign a British rider for 2019 to help Merida in the UK market.
Bahrain are set to re-sign Heinrich Haussler, who will ride the Tour de France this year, while Vincenzo Nibali is set to stay for an additional period of two years. The form of Domencio Pozzovivo at the Giro has cooled the team's interest in signing another GC rider, although they have kept tabs on Richie Porte. Giovanni Visconti is likely to step down from WorldTour level and leave Bahrain-Merida after two seasons. He is expected to return to the Tuscan-based Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia squad managed by Angelo Citracca and Luca Scinto. The Wilier Triestina bike brand will remain only as a technical sponsor, with an Italian brand expected to keep the team alive for another year.
Wout Van Aert is another rider Bahrain have been talking to. The Belgian is a highly sought-after young talent and the latest information is that he could remain at Veranda's Willems Crelan for the cyclo-cross season before moving to a WorldTour team for the spring and the start of the road campaign. Several teams have looked at this option and have contacted the UCI for clarification over the rules surrounding a potential swap.
The sprinter market is very much alive and kicking. Mark Cavendish is out of contact and we have learned that he has several options on the table. Speculation at the Giro suggested that he would leave Dimension Data but that appears to be misguided, and there remains a possibility that he stays with the South African team. The former world champion has also been linked to UAE Team Emirates in the last few months, but that option seems to be over.
Team manager Carlo Saronni told Cyclingnews that, "In this case, I can say that we are look at a different type of rider to improve the team at the moment."
Other rumoured moves include Tejay van Garderen - out of contract for the first time in his career - who has predictably been linked with a move to Jonathan Vaughters' EF-Drapac team. Trek have also shown interest in the past. Vaughters rushed to hire several riders after EF stepped in to save the team last year but has yet to begin to implement a long-term strategy for the team.
Egan Bernal is set to be rewarded with a new and improved contact at Team Sky at the end of the season. Andre Griepel is set for talks with Lotto Soudal. The veteran rider has regained form after an injury-hit spring. The Lotto management have told Cyclingnews that if Griepel stays it is likely to be on a two-year deal. The Belgian team were linked to Van Avermaet after his former agent became the Lotto boss at the turn of the year. However, the team believe that they are currently third in line - after BMC and Bahrain - for the Olympic champion's signature.