Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere often jokes that riders' agents only work one day at the Tour de France: on the rest day.
If so then today is their big day, their finish at the summit of the Tourmalet, as they negotiate with teams to try and seal deals for their clients and so secure their 7 percent fee of any contracts agreed.
The Tour de France is the biggest race in cycling and this phase of the negotiations is all about the big teams trying to secure their Tour leader and decide their Tour de France strategy for the next two years.
The events of the last two and a half weeks have already indicated who really is a Tour de France podium contender, who is a rising star and who was overvalued and over the hill.
One well-known team manager and very able negotiator recently accused the media of dealing in speculation, while he deals in facts.
At the moment there is a lot of speculation, rumours and spin, with riders' agents inflating the qualities and the value of their riders, and team managers trying to do exactly the opposite. We'll only know the full facts on September 1, the official date that teams and riders can reveal their new line-up for 2011.
Alberto Contador's contract with Astana ends this year and so the Tour de France leader is naturally at the centre of all the transfer rumours and speculation. Whatever Contador decides to do will have a huge effect on the rest of the peloton, on the transfer strategy of the other teams and the future of other big-name riders.
It had seemed that Contador was close to renewing his contract with the Astana team after a key meeting on the first rest day in Morzine. Fran Contador, Alberto's brother and manager, held talks with Kairat Kelimnbetov, the President of the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation and CEO of the team's main sponsor, Samruk Kaizna. Contador was reportedly again offered five million Euro per season but the Kazakhs wanted Contador to sign a new deal in Paris, immediately after the Tour de France. Fran Contador baulked at putting pen to paper so hastily and that has sparked rumours that other teams still have a chance of securing the best Tour de France rider of the current generation.
L'Equipe newspaper has reported that bike sponsor Specialized may step up and back Riis' team and help bring Contador to the Danish team. Contador already has a personal sponsorship agreement with Specialized and Riis is set to use Specialized bikes again in 2011. Andy Schleck would love to use Specialized bikes at his new Luxembourg team but the US company may prefer to put all of its sponsorship cash in one team if it can secure them Contador.
Of course it could all be a clever ploy by Fran Contador to extract some extra cash from the Astana team. The Astana team is still controlled by Alexandre Vinokourov but it has rapidly become Contador's team on the road.
The Menchov, Sanchez and Gesink merry-go-round
Although he has failed to emerge overall at the Tour de France – he is currently 13th at 8:19, it seems that Spain's Luis Leon Sanchez is also a key figure in the rider market.
Caisse d'Epargne will end its backing of the team this year and team manager Eusebio Unzue has admitted he has little chance of finding a new backer and holding onto his star riders.
Sanchez is fifth in the UCI world Ranking and his points give him extra value because it will help teams secure riders in the major Tours in 2011. Sanchez is rumoured to be joining Rabobank. The Dutch squad is expected to build it's Tour de France team around Robert Gesink and let Denis Menchov go, even if he manages to finish on the podium in this year race.
Menchov and his agent are still playing the market but the Russian is almost obliged to join the Katusha team, even if he seems almost scared of team boss Andrei Tchmil.
New team manager Brian Nygaard and chief directeur sportif Kim Andersen have made only fleeting visits to the Tour de France but have been actively chasing riders for the new Luxembourg team that will be lead by Andy and Frank Schleck.
Bjarne Riis must be worried by all the rumours that many of his most experiences and key riders are about to jump ship and ride with the Schlecks. Jens Voigt, Stuart O'Grady, Chris and Niki Sorensen, Jakob Fuglsang have all been linked to the new team, as have Linus Gerdemann and Gerald Ciolek of Milram.
Of course Riis claims he has his own big budget sponsor and is reportedly offering good money as he searches to rebuild his team. However he has still to reveal his main sponsor. Matti Breschel is keen to stay but also has an offer from Rabobank and has not forgotten how Cancellara blocked his own ambitions in classics this spring.
The French Connection
The success of French riders in this year's Tour de France has left Bernard Hinault beaming like a proud father on the podium but is causing problems for French teams.
Bbox Bouygues Telecom are still trying to secure a new sponsor but the back-to-back stage wins by Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fédrigo, and Anthony Charteau leading the mountains competition, have left manager Jean-René Bernaudeau wondering if he should celebrate with champagne or drown his sorrows with Pastis.
All three riders have become national heroes and now expect the salary to go with it. If Bernaudeau can't find the cash to pay them, then rival teams Francaise des Jeux, Cofidis and Ag2r-La Mondiale probably will. Other international teams are also waiting in the wings and helping to grow French rider values.
Sylvain Chavanel and Jerome Pineau have already agreed to stay with Quick Step and so any French rider showing a whiff of talent can hope for a good two-year deal.
RadioShack, Garmin-Transitions, HTC-Columbia, BMC and Team Sky
The major English-speaking teams are also playing the market but tend to keep their cards a lot closer to their chest.
RadioShack apparently had an option on the Schleck brothers if the Luxembourg team did not work out. However with Armstrong about to finish his last ever Tour e France, there is a massive void to fill in the US team.
The team still has Levi Leipheimer, Janez Brajkovic, Chris Horner and Andreas Kloden. Luis Leon Sanchez is one reported possibility but surely Johan Bruyneel will be looking to land a new team leader to avoid putting a lot of expectation on the broad but still very young shoulders of stagiaire Taylor Phinney.
HTC-Columbia manager Bob Stapleton is playing a quiet game, insisting he is not in the market but other team managers know that he is a hard negotiator and good at playing bluff, even for very high stakes.
Jonathan Vaughters is hoping he can rebuild Christian Vande Velde again after his crash early in this year's Tour de France but main sponsor Garmin is a global brand and needs a presence in every major cycling market. Hence the apparent interest in Damiano Cunego. With Lampre further embroiled in scandal and dodgy signing, no one should be surprised to see Cunego jump ship and finally try his luck away from Italy.
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford and BMC co-owner Jim Ochowicz have money to spend for 2011 but have to yet to fully implement their strategy for 2011 after both Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans failed to secure a top-ten placing in the Tour de France.
For them and everyone else, it is a case of watch this space. The Tour de France is almost over but the transfer season, and consequent speculation, is just getting into full swing.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.