The second rest day of the Giro d’Italia is a chance for the riders to enjoy an easy day before the final mountain stages but for rider agents, the day is one of the busiest of the spring and early summer, as they visit riders and managers to push forward negotiations and talk about future salaries, bonus structures and contracts for 2016.
Under UCI rules riders can’t formally sign new contracts until much later in the year. Of course talks, negotiations and speculation goes on virtually all year. The Giro d’Italia traditionally marks the point when many teams decide on their team leaders for the following season after seeing how they performing in the spring races and the Corsa Rosa.
Several rider agents were seen in and around Madonna di Campiglio during the rest and shared some of their rumours and analysis about possible changes in the peloton for 2016 and beyond with Cyclingnews.
Fabio Aru announced at the start of the Giro d’Italia that he has extended his contract with the Astana for 2016 and 2017, meaning the young Italian will stay in Kazakhstani sky blue despite the team’s licence problems. Alberto Contador’s future has also been decided after he agreed to stay with Tinkoff-Saxo for 2016 –probably his final season in the WorldTour, before Tirreno-Adriatico and before Oleg Tinkov got rid of Bjarne Riis.
It seems the market for Grand Tour team leaders is concentrated on Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran and eventual decisions on which teams they will ride for in 2016. Both are out of contract this season but both have failed to perform as expected at the Giro d’Italia due to illness, injury and bad luck.
Porte pulled out of the Giro d’Italia on the second rest day and so his potential as a Grand Tour contenders remains unclear. It also remains unclear if he will stay with Team Sky.
World champion Michal Kwiatkowski is widely expected to join Team Sky for 2016 and so Porte’s opportunities could be reduced and any salary offer lower than he and his agent Andrew McQuaid are hoping for. However Cyclingnews understands that Etixx-QuickStep and especially BMC could be interested in signing Porte as a stage race team leader. He could replace Uran at Etixx-Quickstep or become BMC’s second team leader for stage races and Grand Tours, alongside Tejay van Garderen. Any chance of Porte joining Orica-GreenEdge seem to have lessened, with the Australian team insisting that it is focused on developing Johan Esteban Chaves and the Yates brothers as Grand Tour leaders. Time will tell if this is true or just a distraction strategy.
Porte was hoping to land a two million Euro contract for both 2016 and 2017 if he performed well at the Giro d’Italia. It seems negotiations will be much tougher now, even if his success and WorldTour ranking points scored at the Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya carry significant value.
Uran remains in the Giro d’Italia but lost eight minutes on the stage to Madonna di Campiglio, slipping to 15th overall, 12:15 behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). The Colombian finished second in the 2013 and 2014 Giro d’Italia but has again failed to make the step up to cycling’s exclusive club of Grand Tour winners.
He could yet ride the Tour de France or opt to target the Vuelta a Espana but his future remains in the air as Etixx-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevere tries to decide which of his many team leader he decides to keep for 2016. Uran could stay as Etixx-QuickStep sole Grand Tour contender or could possibly even return to Team Sky, crossing paths with Porte.
The future of BMC
The long-term future of the BMC team is also a hot topic at the Giro d’Italia, with several agents going as far as asking Cyclingnews if the rumour was true that the bike brand could opt to join forces with Swiss team IAM Cycling.
Cyclingnews investigated and understands that rumours of a merger have been circulating since team owners Andy Rihs and Michel Thetaz were seen talking together last year. It seems that Andy Rihs is considering the size of his future investment in the BMC team, with the doubts about the structure of the WorldTour also a factor, as is perhaps a desire to create one strong Swiss WorldTour team for the future. The BMC team is currently registered in the USA and managed by Jim Ochowicz.
Cyclingnews understands that numerous rider contracts are in place at BMC for 2016 and so any merger is only likely in 2017, when the UCI finally complete its planned reforms and gives potential sponsors a long-term vision for the sport.
IAM Cycling refused to comment about a possible merger when questioned by Cyclingnews and BMC did not reply to questions via email.
Cyclingnews understands that Ochowicz is not able to offer riders new contracts beyond the 2016 season but is trying to entice riders to join the team with an offer of a good one-year contract for 2016 and an option to extend for 2017 and beyond.
Other names on the transfer market include Tour de Romandie winner and Giro d’Italia stage winner Ilnur Zakarin, Carlos Betancur and Mikel Landa.
Zakarin is expected to stay at Katusha but Betancur’s future at Ag2r-La Mondiale remains up in the air, as does his future destination.
Landa’s future could depends on his loyalty to the cause at Astana and how much teams believe he can perform at the same level in future Grand Tours. However he could boost any future contract considerably if he manages to finish on the Giro d’Italia podium.