Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
After defending his crown in the Volta ao Algarve, Geraint Thomas provided further evidence of his growing stage race credentials with a win in Paris-Nice. While several of his teammates have struggled with illness, in just a few weeks Thomas has solidified himself as Team Sky's second most consistent stage racer after Chris Froome.
Success, however, fuels speculation. After all, Richie Porte departed in order to free himself of chaperoning Froome, and unless the defending Tour de France champion capitulates this summer, that's exactly where Thomas will find himself this July. In theory, at 29, the best time for a move would be now.
However, it must be said that several teams have monitored Thomas over the last few years, from Riis's Saxo to Vaughters' Garmin, but the Welshman has signed contract extensions with Team Sky whenever rivals have come calling. It is not unimaginable that Thomas could leave his current squad but given Sky's deep pockets and the small clique of teams the Welshman would probably consider riding for, staying put seems the most likely scenario.
Andrew Talansky (Cannondale)
Once the leading American stage race rider of his generation, Talansky's star and market value has waned in recent times. A concoction of bad luck, crashes and a lack of results have stunted progress but at 27 years of age, time is still on his side. This year, however, is pivotal, and it is hard not to draw comparisons between the American's career trajectory and his former teammate Daniel Martin, who departed Cannondale for a fresh start at Etixx. Talansky will not be shy of suitors.
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing)
Like Thomas at Team Sky, Phinney is somewhat of a poster boy at BMC Racing. He is seen, in the Anglophile Twittersphere, at least, as an athlete the common fan can rally round.
Phinney, of course, has been with BMC since turning pro, and is very much seen as a blue-chip member of the team. His horrific injury appears to be behind him, and his ties to team boss Jim Ochowicz, appear personal as well as professional. It would take a major change in the current situation for the American not to stay. The Classics may well prove the bedrock for negotiations but with Tejay van Garderen already re-signed, there's clearly a continued appetite for the team to keep hold of their American assets. Phinney nonetheless needs a strong spring campaign.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing)
Staying with BMC and Gilbert's position is slightly less clear. Once one of the team's marquee signings, the 33-year-old is no longer the prolific threat he once was. Greg Van Avermaet's rise – more on him later – has only pushed Gilbert further out of the limelight.
The rider's class is not under question but a recent crash and illness have dented his spring after what had been a promising start. A major win in the Ardennes would quickly arrest any talk of ageing legs, bolster the rider's contract negotiation position and give BMC food for thought as they look to build for the future. He has been linked to Lotto-Soudal but it's unlikely they could afford him and one has to ask the question as to whether they need him.
Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEdge)
At this moment in time Matthews is probably the hottest prospect on the market. That said it would take an almighty offer to prize him away from a team that has nurtured him towards his current levels of success. Orica put vast resources into not just developing talent but also keeping it. Team Sky and Katusha are probably the only teams that could afford the Australian at this present moment but can you see him riding for either of those two teams?
Matthews has already enjoyed a successful start to the season and his ride at Paris-Nice once again demonstrated that he is more than just a sprinter. With Simon Gerrans' age – but not his legs – moving on, Matthews is the central figure of Australia's new generation.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)
There are few genuine Grand Tour riders around and even fewer of them on the market this year. However, Nibali's position is somewhat complex. On the wrong side of 30, the Giro d'Italia is central to his bargain position with several teams. As a former Tour winner he will always have a certain stock value but if he fails to win the Giro – second or third would be seen as failure to many – then it may open the door for more, rather than lesser teams, who could therefore afford the Italian at a lower price. Lampre, Trek and Riis' project have all been linked. One sticking point could be that Nibali is keen to bring several members of Astana with him.
Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo)
There are a host of riders out of contract at Trek - including Bauke Mollema and one-year dealer Ryder Hesjedal – but the most exciting prospect is Stuyven. His win in Kuurne shone the spotlight on a Trek Classics rider other than Fabian Cancellara, and proved that the American outfit do indeed have a crop of riders coming through. With Boonen possibly set to retire, Lotto-Soudal already tying down many of their home-grown youngsters, Stuyven's card becomes a rather appealing one. He is almost in a win-win situation too. Help Cancellara bow out in glory or forge ahead if his leader falters.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin)
He may not return to racing until May but that should not affect the German's value, especially given the nature of his injury, which has effectively given him a pass for the first block of the year. Wins on Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix last year are still relatively fresh in the memory and after Kittel's departure to Etixx, Giant-Alpecin have marked Degenkolb as one of their triumvirate of leaders including Tom Dumoulin and Warren Barguil. Both Degenkolb and his current team are already talking about a contract extension, which says a lot about the rider's willingness to stay as well as his team's intentions.
Nicolas Roche (Team Sky)
Roche has ridden for several teams in his career but the 31-year-old appears settled at Team Sky. He has carved out an important role that weaves together his attacking instincts but also his willingness and ability to sacrifice for others. Given that he's also one of the most experienced riders in the team and that the talk of the Irishman one day winning a Grand Tour has finally subsided, the inclinations are that he will stay where he is.
Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing)
Less expensive than Nibali and Thomas, and younger than both, Dennis is unquestionably one of the most prized riders on the market. His two-and-a-half years at BMC are almost over, and while 2015 proved a breakthrough, more is expected of the former UCI Hour Record holder. His ambition and his talent are what differentiates him from the pack and the only question is whether BMC have too many heavy hitters to provide Dennis with the room he needs. That's not been a problem until now but Dennis is on the cusp of becoming a rider any team could be built around.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing)
From under Gilbert's and Boonen's shadows, Greg Van Avermaet has established himself as Belgium's leading light. He still needs one major spring Classic – a Monument – to cement that place but gone are the days when the BMC rider was considered a plucky underdog. After his ride in Tirreno and his win in Het Volk, Van Avermaet has added the final ingredient that has been missing so far – a killer instinct
His ability to finish of races comes at the optimal time with his current deal set to expire this year. He has put off talk of contracts in the press so far, instead focusing on the Classics but his position will be greatly enhanced if he can finally land one of Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix.
Bauke Mollema (Trek Segafredo)
The Dutchman has quietly, and at times impressively, gone about his business at Trek over the last year. He claimed a credible seventh in the Tour and backed that up with a win at the Tour of Alberta. This season has started well enough with the 29-year-old taking third in Ruta del Sol, and talks with Trek have already started as the rider looks to cement his future for the next two seasons.
Other riders on the market:
Moreno Hofland, Luke Durbridge, Ben Hermans, Matthew Goss, Leigh Howard, Johan Vansummeren, Gianni Meersman, Sep Vanmarcke, William Bonnet, Maxime Bouet, Peter and Martin Velits, Tom Boonen, Lars Boom, Simon and Adam Yates, Wout Poels, all of Tinkoff if the team folds.
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