Androni Giocattoli team manager Gianni Savio has confirmed that he is ready to negotiate the transfer of Egan Bernal to a major WorldTour team, as he looks to make a return on his investment in the talented Colombian climber.
Cyclingnews understands that Team Sky, Movistar and Bahrain-Merida have all shown an interest in signing Bernal, with the first two most likely to complete an eventual deal with Savio and Bernal's agent, Giuseppe Acquadro, who assists many of the best riders in Colombia.
There is no regulated transfer system in professional cycling, with smaller teams generally not rewarded for discovering and developing young riders. Instead, riders are free to change teams at the end of their short-term contracts with only a few opting to buy their way out of existing contracts to move to a new team.
However, Savio, as he looks to survive as an Italian-based Professional Continental team, is determined to make a profit from his investment in Bernal and wisely included several financial clauses in his contract with Bernal.
Savio signed the 20-year-old thanks to his knowledge of the South American cycling scene. Bernal won a silver medal in the junior mountain bike World Championships but preferred to focus on road racing, signing a four-year contract with Savio in 2016. He is reported to have a Vo2max of 88.8 and has quickly shown his climbing ability with a series of placings, including seventh overall at this year's Tour de Langkawi and second at the recent Giro dell'Appennino. He won the Tour of Bihor and finished fourth overall at the Tour de l'Avenir in 2016 and also won a series of best young rider jerseys. He is currently second in the best young rider competition at the Tour of the Alps, behind Britain's Hugh Carthy.
"We've had several offers for Egan Bernal, even with the idea of him transferring teams this summer so that he can ride the Vuelta a Espana, Savio confirmed to Cyclingnews at the Tour of the Alps.
"However, we've decided to keep him for the rest of the 2017 season because our huge goal for the season is the Coppa Italia classification so that we can secure an automatic place in the 2018 Giro d'Italia after unfortunately missing out this year.
"In Bernal's contract registered with the UCI there's a 'premio di valorizzazione' – a 'bonus for his development'. It's not a get out clause but recognition for the work we've done to help him. I signed Bernal when he was little known and had raced little on the road. We helped him develop gradually last season and are doing the same this year. I think it's only right that our hard work is financially recognised.
"I'm happy that Bernal has a chance to move to a great team. We're also considering a series of bonuses if he goes on to win certain races but most of all I'd be proud and happy if he can go on to win a Grand Tour."
A transfer system
Savio argues that cycling should have a transfer structure like that in many other professional sports. His local Italian football team Turin is reported to be considering offers for their young Italian striker Andrea Belotti, with Chelsea apparently ready to offer Torino £55 million for his contract.
"I come from the world of football, and I compare my Androni Giocattoli team to Torino or Leicester in Britain. I'm a fan of Claudio Ranieri and think his sacking was much of an injustice as Androni Giocattoli being snubbed for a place in the Giro d'Italia," Savio said.
"I'm trying to evolve the rules for transfers in professional cycling to help teams like ours. We sometimes need to 'sell on' rider or secure payment for our development work so we can survive. That's sad, but it's the truth. I managed to save my team in 2014 despite our second sponsor Venezuela only paying a third of the amount they'd agreed. For two seasons I pulled off a miracle. If we could help develop talented riders and then be rewarded for our work by the richest WorldTour teams I think everyone would benefit."
Savio is attending the Tour of the Alps as a simple spectator after being suspended for the 'Pay to Race' investigation. He again denied any wrong doing and is planning to appeal against his three-month ban, insisting that he never signed riders because they brought a sponsor and funding to his team.