Greg van Avermaet is in the yellow jersey at the Tour de France after BMC Racing won the Cholet team time trial, but his success is unlikely to help him find a new team for 2019, with teams baulking at his request for a two-year deal and an annual salary of at least one million euro.
Van Avermaet has been with BMC since 2011, but with the team's future up in the air following the death of patron and backer Andy Rihs, the Olympic champion is keen to find a new team, just like fellow team leaders Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis, and other riders in the US-registered WorldTour team.
Van Avermaet has been linked to Dimension Data, Bahrain-Merida, Astana and even a new team that former BMC sponsorship manager Marc Biver is trying to create, apparently with the support of wealthy Israeli/Belgian businessman. However, Cyclingnews understands that any plans for the team have been put off till 2020, partly due to no new WorldTour spot available under the current UCI rules in 2019.
Van Avermaet's agent, Dries Smets, is trying to put pressure on teams to quickly agree to a two-year deal to secure his rider the highest possible salary. However, teams are either unable or are unwilling to pay the estimated €2 million salary request and prefer to offer the 33-year-old Belgian a one-year deal plus an option. Van Avermaet failed to win a spring Classic and teams are afraid to commit a significant chunk of their budgets beyond 2019.
Dimension Data have been widely linked to Van Avermaet in the media, especially after he took the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, with L'Equipe suggesting that bike brand BMC will join the African team as a jersey sponsor and so help cover the costs of Van Avermaet's significant salary. Van Avermaet also owns a bike shop in Belgium that is a major BMC dealer.
However, while Dimension Data are working on their long-term rider strategy, both Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen are also out of contract. Cyclingnews understands that no deal has been done with BMC to replace Cervelo bike sponsor, and team manager Doug Ryder is still awaiting a final decision from Deloitte on if they will continue their sponsorship or quit the sport.
Ryder has the long-term support of Dimension Data and recently presented their plan to target a Tour de France podium by 2020. It seems he is willing to pass on Van Avermaet to build a bigger and better roster for the future.
Bahrain-Merida is also focused on other riders, preferring Wout van Aert – widely considered the biggest future talent in Belgian cycling, to Van Avermaet, who, while being Olympic champion and a Paris-Roubaix winner, is already 33 and perhaps past his very peak.
Cyclingnews understands that Bahrain-Merida last spoke to Van Avermaet's agent during the Ardennes Classics and have since switched strategies. They hope to secure Van Aert for 2020 and have been given guarantees that he will respect his contract and stay with Verandas Willems-Crelan in 2019 despite recent interest from LottoNL-Jumbo for next season.
Van Aert is likely to secure a basic contract close to €1 million as he steps up to WorldTour level in 2020, with Bahrain-Merida happy to let the Belgian ride a reduced cyclo-cross programme in the winter and keep the estimated €400,000 he earns via appearance fees. Merida has recently launched a cyclo-cross bike and the team want van Aert to spearhead their Classics campaign.
Van Aert is one of the hottest properties for 2019 and beyond but is likely to stay with Verandas Willems-Crelan Pro Continental team until September of 2019 to avoid sinking the Belgian team managed by former Quick-Step rider Nick Nuyens. Van Aert again confirmed his road race credentials on Tuesday by finishing second on stage 4 of the Tour of Austria.
Others interested in van Aert apparently include Lotto Soudal, who hope their Belgian roots are important, Trek-Segafredo – the US bike brand organises a round of the cyclo-cross world cup, LottoNL-Jumbo, who want Van Aert to focus 100 per cent on road racing, and even Team Sky.
In contrast to Van Avermaet, his young compatriot seems to have plenty of options, and has youth on his side.
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