Top 10 men's transfer successes of 2021

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin Fenix) Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën Team)
Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin Fenix) Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën Team) (Image credit: Getty Images)

With the 2021 season now over, and with 2022 rosters having taken shape already, it’s time to look back and reflect on the success stories of the past men’s transfer window.

Hundreds of rider trades were made between professional teams last winter and, while not all of them paid off, several struck gold. Team changes can mean teething problems, but not for the 10 riders here on our list.

We have riders who resurrected their careers, riders who saved their teams’ seasons, and riders who fitted in so well you’d have thought they’d been there for years.

In due course we’ll be looking at the successes of the women’s transfer window, plus the flops on both sides, but for now read on for a closer look at the men who made an instant impact at their new homes.

Mark Cavendish

  • From: Bahrain McLaren
  • To: Deceuninck-QuickStep
  • Wins: 10
  • Highlights: 4 stage wins at the Tour de France

CHATEAUROUX FRANCE JULY 01 Mark Cavendish of The United Kingdom Green Points Jersey Julian Alaphilippe of France and Team Deceuninck QuickStep celebrates at arrival during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 6 a 1606km stage from Tours to Chteauroux LeTour TDF2021 on July 01 2021 in Chateauroux France Photo by David Stockman PoolGetty Images

Cavendish has been reborn in his second stint at QuickStep (Image credit: David Stockman/Getty Images)

This might not just be one of the best transfers of last season, but in the history of cycling. Mark Cavendish’s forthcoming book sees his 2021 season dubbed ‘the greatest comeback in sports history’ and while that’s probably a stretch, his resurgence at Deceuninck-QuickStep has been nothing short of miraculous. 

Cavendish’s career appeared over as 2020 fizzled out. He’d not won a race since early 2018, he’d barely even got close, and he resorted to riding doomed breakaways while openly and tearfully telling us he feared he’d ridden his last race at Gent-Wevelgem. 

QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere, who had victories courtesy of Cavendish when he rode for the team between 2013 and 2015, was torn between his head and his heart but eventually decided to hand his old rider a lifeline. He could never have imagined what would happen next.

Slowly but surely Cavendish returned to life and then, suddenly, he had his arms in the air again, winning four times at the Tour of Turkey. This was a good enough story in itself but more stars then came into alignment when Sam Bennett was forced out of the Tour de France. Everyone knows the rest with four stage wins – taking him to 34 and level with Eddy Merckx’s record – and a second green jersey. It was unthinkable at the start of the year.

The transfer worked so well because Lefevere essentially got four Tour de France stage wins, and six others through the season, for free. Cavendish was so out-of-demand that he brought his own sponsor on board to cover his salary so, while Lefevere talked of a punt, it was as risk-free as they come, with the added rewards of the tidal wave of publicity and goodwill that came in July.

Meanwhile, for Cavendish, there was a sense that this could only have happened at QuickStep. He credited the family atmosphere and the Belgian racing roots in putting him in the perfect headspace to re-release that dormant talent. And then there’s the lead-out factor, with the Belgian squad unquestionably the top sprint collective and Michael Mørkøv unquestionably the best lead out man in the world at the moment.

The alchemy was just right, every star came into unlikely alignment, and both parties achieved beyond their wildest dreams. A new deal for 2022 still hasn’t been signed, with the constellation now changed so drastically but, whatever happens next, they’ll always have 2021. (PF)

Ben O'Connor

  • From: NTT Pro Cycling
  • To: AG2R Citroën
  • Wins: 1
  • Highlights: Stage win and 4th overall at the Tour de France

TIGNES FRANCE JULY 04 Ben Oconnor of Australia and AG2R Citron Team stage winner celebrates at arrival during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 9 a 1449km stage from Cluses to Tignes Monte de Tignes 2107m LeTour TDF2021 on July 04 2021 in Tignes France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

O'Connor in disbelief at winning stage 9 of the Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

Another rider who was at risk of being washed up towards the end of 2020, Ben O’Connor has taken his career to new horizons in 2021. The Australian burst onto the scene at the 2018 Giro but couldn’t finish that one off and, for various reasons, struggled over the following couple of years. His NTT team were on the brink of folding at the end of last season and, even when he won a stage of the late-season Giro d’Italia, he wasn’t spoilt for offers, with a one-year deal at AG2R Citroën Team the pick of the bunch. 

One year on, he’s signed up through 2024 and is one of the central figures in the group, having almost single-handedly made a success of their season. He signed that new three-year deal as early as June, before that dizzying Tour de France that saw him win a stage in the Alps and ride on to place fourth overall in Paris. That was proof that this was a relationship that clicked from the start and one that reached heights that, like with Cavendish, neither party would have dared to imagine at the start of the year. 

AG2R’s recruitment strategy last year revolved around the Spring Classics, with the likes of Greg Van Avermaet and Bob Jungels brought in, while the stage race department appeared to be relegated amid the departures of Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour.

And yet, the Classics core fell largely flat while O’Connor took the torch, placing top 10 at the Tour du Var, Tour de Romandie, and Critérium du Dauphiné ahead of his Tour de France exploits. He has proved an immensely popular figure at what is still overwhelmingly a French set-up, and that’s not just down to his results. 

Until he crashed out of the 2018 Giro, O’Connor looked like a top Grand Tour rider in the making. Still only 25, that’s now the case again. (PF)

Richie Porte

  • From: Trek-Segafredo
  • To: Ineos Grenadiers
  • Wins: 1
  • Highlights: Winning the Critérium du Dauphiné

LES GETS FRANCE JUNE 06 Alexey Lutsenko of Kazahkstan and Team Astana Premier Tech Richie Porte of Australia Yellow Leader Jersey Geraint Thomas of The United Kingdom and Team INEOS Grenadiers celebrate at podium during the 73rd Critrium du Dauphin 2021 Stage 8 a 147km stage from La LchreLesBains to Les Gets 1160m UCIworldtour Dauphin dauphine on June 06 2021 in Les Gets France Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images

Porte topped the podium at the Critérium du Dauphiné (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Richie Porte's 2020 Tour de France podium place with Trek-Segafredo might have been his final flourish as a Grand Tour leader, but the 36-year-old proved on his return to Ineos Grenadiers this year that he had plenty left to give outside of the big three-week races.

His first half of the season were a match for almost any rider in the peloton as Ineos dominated several of the spring stage races. He was there to take second place behind Yates in the team's 1-2-3 at the Volta a Catalunya and then took second behind Geraint Thomas in Romandie.

The highlight of his return to the British team, though, came at June's Critérium du Dauphiné where he rode solidly through the week before taking control in the summit finishes that rounded out the race. The performance, especially his ride at la Plagne, had some questioning whether he might rise to the role of leader in the Thomas- and Carapaz-led Tour de France team, though he played dutiful lieutenant there as Carapaz finished third.

Nevertheless, Porte said afterwards that his win in France was a "dream come true" for him.

Ineos newcomer Dani Martínez also deserves a mention after his move from EF. The Colombian was instrumental in helping Egan Bernal take victory at the Giro d'Italia – and finishing fifth himself – with his riding and motivation on Sega di Ala a key moment in particular. He didn't race much afterwards, but the Giro made his move well worth it for his new team. (DO)

Jasper Philipsen

  • From: UAE Team Emirates
  • To: Alpecin-Fenix
  • Wins: 9
  • Highlights: Scheldeprijs victory and two stages at the Vuelta

ALBACETE SPAIN AUGUST 18 Jasper Philipsen of Belgium and Team AlpecinFenix celebrates at finish line as stage winner during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021 Stage 5 a 1844km stage from Tarancn to Albacete lavuelta LaVuelta21 on August 18 2021 in Albacete Spain Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

Philipsen is starting to win regularly (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Philipsen has been touted as a big Belgian talent for a few years now, so it seemed surprising to see him leave UAE Team Emirates and the WorldTour, and move down division to the Alpecin-Fenix team. On paper, it was a step down but on the road it was a massive step forward. 

Philipsen struck nine times in 2021, trebling his tally from the previous season. There were a couple of lower-level wins – which are nevertheless important to get a young sprinter rolling – but there were also top-level scalps in the form of Scheldeprijs and two stages at the Vuelta a España. If there was an area of disappointment, it was the fact the finished in a podium position on no fewer than six occasions at the Tour de France. 

Converting just one of those would have made his season a resounding success. As it is, we have a young sprinter who perhaps struggled with the weight of expectation and the environment at his former team but who now appears to have found the right platform to start delivering on his potential. (PF)

Jack Haig

  • From: Mitchelton-Scott
  • To: Bahrain Victorious
  • Wins: 0
  • Highlights: First Grand Tour podium at Vuelta a España

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA SPAIN SEPTEMBER 05 A general view of Enric Mas Nicolau of Spain and Movistar Team Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and Team Jumbo Visma red leader jersey his son Levom and Jack Haig of Australia and Team Bahrain Victorious celebrate winning on the podium ceremony in the Plaza del Obradoiro after during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021 Stage 21 a 338 km Individual Time Trial stage from Padrn to Santiago de Compostela lavuelta LaVuelta21 ITT on September 05 2021 in Santiago de Compostela Spain Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Haig (right) on the final Vuelta podium (Image credit: Getty Images)

Haig could be forgiven for wondering what on earth he’d done when the new year ticked over and he official became a Bahrain Victorious rider. He’d felt it was the right move for his career but the team suddenly looked a lot different to the one he’d signed for a few months previously.

Title sponsor McLaren was on it way out, while team manager Rod Ellingworth, who’d been instrumental in attracting Haig, beat a sudden retreat back to Ineos Grenadiers. However, despite the initial sense of vertigo, Haig ends the year having clicked into his new surroundings and having broken out as a Grand Tour contender. 

Despite top 10s at Tour de la Provence and Paris-Nice, it was at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June that things really clicked for the first time. The team as a whole reached new heights across the board while Haig rode to fifth overall at the leading week-long stage race. He started the Tour de France on a strong footing with fourth on the opening stage but his race and his season were thrown off the rails when the broke his collarbone two days later. He returned to ride the Vuelta a España, but with no real expectations. 

When he stood on the final podium in Madrid, having ridden solidly in the mountains and time trials and having tactically dislodged Movistar’s Miguel Angel López, there must have been a sense of disbelief.

Haig looked like a huge talent in his early years at GreenEdge, but his early opportunities were somewhat stifled by the presence of the Yates brothers. Even at Bahrain, he went into the Vuelta and Tour to work for Mikel Landa as it was his return to racing following his Tour de France injury. Now, there's no doubt he will be a leader of choice for the team at a three-week race next year. (PF)

Michael Valgren

  • From: NTT Pro Cycling
  • To: EF Education-Nippo
  • Wins: 2
  • Highlights: Wins at the Giro della Toscana and Coppa Sabatini

Giro della Toscana 2021 6th Edition Pontedera Pontedera 1915 km 15092021 Michael Valgren DEN EF Education Nippo photo Luca BettiniBettiniPhoto2021

Valgren celebrates his solo win at the Giro della Toscana  (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The Dane left it very late to secure his spot on this list, having scored only one top five placing at a race – his National Championships – in the opening eight months of 2021. His September was a special one, though, adding an eighth of EF Education-Nippo's season wins in the course of two days in the middle of the month.

Valgren headed to Italy for the Giro della Toscana on September 15 and ended the day with his first win in the bag in over three years, having soloed to the line 1:13 ahead of Alessandro De Marchi. The next day brought a second win – see the old adage about waiting for buses – as he beat Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) in the uphill sprint finish at the Coppa Sabatini.

There was more to come 10 days later in Belgium, too, as Valgren grabbed bronze in the men's road race at the World Championships in Leuven. The 29-year-old, who has twice before finished in the top 10 at the Worlds, edged out hometown rider Jasper Stuyven to take his first career Worlds medal and save Denmark's crash-marred race.

Before his storming finish to the season, Valgren had recorded top 10 placings at stages of the Volta a Catalunya, Critérium du Dauphiné, and the Tour de France. Not quite 'signing of the season' stuff at that stage, but his September made up for that. (DO)

Michael Woods

  • From: EF Pro Cycling
  • To: Israel Start-Up Nation
  • Wins: 2
  • Highlights: Stage win at Tour de Romandie

THYON 2000 LES COLLONS SWITZERLAND MAY 01 Michael Woods of Canada and Team Israel StartUp Nation celebrates at arrival during the 74th Tour De Romandie 2021 Stage 4 a 1613km stage from Sion to Thyon 2000 Les Collons 2076m TDR2021 TDRnonstop UCIworldtour on May 01 2021 in Thyon 2000 Les Collons Switzerland Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Woods wins a big mountain stage at the Tour de Romandie (Image credit: Getty Images)

Michael Woods perhaps lacked the major top-level victory he’s capable of, but his first season at Israel Start-Up Nation still provided consistent evidence of his class. 

The Canadian himself made something of a leap into the unknown, leaving the EF set-up where he’d effectively learned the ropes since making the late switch from elite running. However, his links to Canadian-born Sylvan Adams led him to describe Israel Start-Up Nation as something of a home team, and he slotted in instantly. 

He won on his second outing, taking stage 2 of the Tour du Var, even if there was disappointment in missing out on the overall. He went on to register top-fives at one-day WorldTour races La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, before doing the same in the GC at Tour de Romandie – where he won the major summit finish – and Tour de Suisse.

Woods never sounded convincing about going for GC at the Tour de France and his mind was made up by a stage 1 crash, but he narrowly missed out on a couple of breakaway wins and was ridden out of the polka-dot jersey before leaving early to focus on the Olympics, where he placed fifth. He finished his season with more fifth places at Tour of Britain and Milano-Torino, along with third at Giro dell’Emilia and ninth at Il Lombardia. 

It wasn’t a truly stellar campaign but it was still strong enough to make a success of the move, not least since Israel Start-Up Nation – who attracted most attention for the signing of Chris Froome – came to rely on Woods to be a leading presence throughout the year. (PF)

Gino Mäder

  • From: NTT Pro Cycling
  • To: Bahrain Victorious
  • Wins: 2
  • Highlights: Fifth at the Vuelta, stage win at the Giro

TOPSHOT Team Bahrain rider Switzerlands Gino Mader celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win during the sixth stage of the Giro dItalia 2021 cycling race 160 km between Grotte di Frasassi and Ascoli Piceno San Giacomo on May 13 2021 Photo by Luca Bettini AFP Photo by LUCA BETTINIAFP via Getty Images

Mäder's Giro d'Italia stage win was among the many highlights of his season (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The second Bahrain Victorious rider on our list is the Swiss youngster who joined the team following at the conclusion of his neo-pro contract with NTT Pro Cycling. During his first two years in the peloton, the highlights were few and far between considering what has come this year and also what came before he turned pro.

A second place at La Covatilla on the penultimate stage of last year's Vuelta was the closest the NTT version of Mäder came to showing the ability that saw him win two stages and take third overall at the 2018 Tour de l'Avenir, finish second at the Tour of Hainan, and take fourth at the U23 Worlds road race in Innsbruck.

This year, however, he has taken a big leap forward. The infamous second place behind 'cannibal' Primož Roglič at Paris-Nice in March wasn't a one-off but a sign of things to come. He ended up 10th in the Race to the Sun and rounded off his spring at the Giro d'Italia, where he was among the countless riders to take a stage win from the breakaway, holding off the GC contenders to win solo at Ascoli Piceno on stage 6.

Another victory followed on home ground in June as he beat Michael Woods to take the mountainous final stage of the Tour de Suisse, but the biggest ride of Mäder's season came over three weeks at the Vuelta a España. There, he rode a consistent race in support of team leader Jack Haig, working his way from 31st after day one up to fifth and the white jersey in Santiago de Compostela.

It was the breakthrough ride of the race and capped off a wonderful year for the 24-year-old. With a stellar year behind him and a transfer to arguably the team of the season, it looks like the only way is up for Mäder. (DO)

Adam Yates

  • From: Mitchelton-Scott
  • To: Ineos Grenadiers
  • Wins: 2
  • Highlights: Stage and overall at Volta a Catalunya, 4th at Vuelta a España, 3rd at Il Lombardia

VALLTER 2000 SETCASES VALL CAMPRODON SPAIN MARCH 24 Arrival Adam Yates of United Kingdom and Team INEOS Grenadiers Celebration during the 100th Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2021 Stage 3 a 2031km stage from Canal Olmpic de Catalunya to Vallter 2000 Setcases Vall Camprodon 2125m VoltaCatalunya100 on March 24 2021 in Vallter 2000 Setcases Vall Camprodon Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images

Yates hit the ground running with Ineos (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

This one felt like something of a gamble. Twins Adam and Simon Yates had spent the entirety of their pro careers together at the Australian squad currently known as BikeExchange but, while Simon decided to stay put, Adam felt 2021 marked the time for a change. It was a bit of a leap into the unknown but Yates looked so natural in an Ineos Grenadiers jersey that it was easy to be drawn into thinking he’d ridden there for years. 

More controlled than his impulsive twin brother, Yates was a picture of poise as he hit the ground running with second place behind Tadej Pogačar at the UAE Tour and went on to win the Volta a Catalunya after a dominant win at Vallter 2000. He capped the first part of his season with fourth at Itzula Basque Country and resisted temptation to switch Grand Tour plans, sticking instead to targeting just the Vuelta a España. 

He missed out on the podium in Spain but fourth place was still far and away his best Grand Tour performance since his breakthrough fourth at the 2016 Tour de France. He finished his season almost as strongly as he started it, with fourth at Giro dell’Emilia, second at Milano-Torino, and third at Il Lombardia, his first Monument podium. 

It’s not like Ineos were crying out for a rider like Yates, given their staggering stage racing depth, but they ended up with a rider who took almost no time to settle in and who will surely play an even more prominent role next year. (PF)

Nils Politt

  • From: Israel Start-Up Nation
  • To: Bora-Hansgrohe
  • Wins: 3
  • Highlights: Tour de France stage win plus a stage and overall at Deutschland Tour

NMES FRANCE JULY 08 Nils Politt of Germany and Team BORA Hansgrohe stage winner celebrates at arrival during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 12 a 1594km stage from SaintPaulTroisChateaux to Nimes LeTour TDF2021 on July 08 2021 in Nmes France Photo by Christophe Ena PoolGetty Images

Politt hoists his bike aloft in celebration at the Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Nils Politt is back. Following a career-best 2019 which saw him take second at Paris-Roubaix  plus top five placings at the Tours of Flanders and Britain, the big German had an off-year in the pandemic-hit 2020, his sole season at Israel Start-Up Nation.

2021, on the other hand, saw the 27-year-old enjoy arguably his best year yet in the pro peloton, hitting the ground running for Bora-Hansgrohe all the way back in February with third place at the Etoile de Bessèges. The remainder of the first half of the season saw him grab several more top 10s, including seventh at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, but July brought the high point of his year.

During a Tour de France which saw multiple stages won by long-range solo efforts from the break, Politt added his name to the roll call in Nîmes, attacking solo from the break 12 kilometres from the line on the lumpy transition stage to grab the second – and easily the biggest – win of his career. The next month he added career wins three and four with a stage and the overall at the Deutschland Tour.

Elsewhere, his new teammate Wilco Kelderman enjoyed another very solid season of stage racing to add to his palmarès, taking fifth places at the Tour de France and Volta a Catalunya plus fourth at the Critérium du Dauphiné following on from his debut Grand Tour podium at last year's Giro. He and Politt represented a couple of shrewd additions to Bora-Hansgrohe this season. (DO)

Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets

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