Transfer Mechanics: Analysing teams 2020 - Part 1
How AG2R, Astana, Bahrain, Bora played the market
With the European road season now firmly behind us, and most rosters secured for next season, Cyclingnews takes a look at the 2019-20 transfer market. We delve into the ins and outs, and the analysis of who's gone where and which teams have dealt themselves a stronger or weaker hand.
In this first installment, we take a look at the French AG2R La Mondiale team, the Astana Pro Team, a much-changed Bahrain-McLaren, and the Bora-Hansgrohe squad of three-time world champion Peter Sagan.
AG2R La Mondiale
Overview: Another low-key window from Vincent Lavenu's French team, with no marquee signings that significantly alter the complexion of the team. The Classics department is strengthened and two elder statesmen head for retirement, while another young Chambery graduate steps up.
In: Lawrence Naesen (Lotto Soudal), Andrea Vendrame (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Clément Champoussin (Chambéry Cyclisme Formation)
Out: Samuel Dumoulin (retires), Nico Denz (Team Sunweb), Hubert Dupont (retires)
Extended: François Bidard (2021), Julien Duval (2021), Tony Gallopin (2021), Alexis Gougeard (2021), Clément Venturini (2021), Stijn Vandenbergh (2020), Larry Warbasse (2020)
Analysis: The main area of strengthening is the Classics department, with figurehead Oliver Naesen wielding his influence and bringing along his brother, Lawrence, while his fellow Belgian Stijn Vandenbergh gets another year and breakaway-magnet Alexis Gougeard gets another two.
Vendrame, a slightly punchier rider, gets his ticket to the WorldTour after winning the Tro Bro Leon and finishing second at the Tour du Finistere and GP Industria & Artigianato.
Samuel Dumoulin's victories may have dried up a while ago and Hubert Dupont may never have won a race, but the team are saying goodbye to two of their elder statesmen who were particularly influential figures.
The most eye-catching change here, though, might be the incoming Cément Champoussin, even if he won't ride for the team until August. The 21-year-old has finished fourth and fifth at the past two editions of the Tour de l'Avenir and is considered one of the brightest talents in French cycling. Champoussin even managed 9th among the elites at last month's Gran Piemonte – won by Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) – while riding as a stagiaire for AG2R.
The youngster is the latest to graduate from AG2R's development set-up, Chambéry CF, following in the footsteps of Romain Bardet, Pierre Latour and Benoit Cosnefroy, who are all now key parts of the team. So while flashy swipes in the market will never be AG2R's thing, their production line remains in rude health.
Astana Pro Team
Overview: Getting Jakob Fuglsang to sign a new deal means the priority has been ticked off, while poaching Aleksandr Vlasov was a nice piece of business, but the departure list is slightly concerning.
In: Vadim Pronskiy (Vino-Astana Motors), Davide Martinelli (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Harold Tejada (Medellin), Aleksandr Vlasov (Gazprom-RusVelo), Alexander Aranburu (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo), Oscar Rodriguez (Euskadi-Murias)
Out: Dario Cataldo (Movistar), Davide Villella (Movistar), Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Andrey Zeits (Mitchelton-Scott), Magnus Cort Nielsen (EF Education First), Jan Hirt (CCC Team), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Merida)
Extended: Jakob Fuglsang (2021), Merhawi Kudus (2021), Hugo Houle (2022), Nikita Stalnov (2020), Dmitry Gruzdev (2020), Yevgeniy Gidich (2020), Hernando Bohorquez (2020), Daniil Fominykh (2020)
Analysis: With Miguel Angel Lopez and Alexey Lutsenko still under contract, the priority was to retain the services of Jakob Fuglsang, who has just enjoyed the best season of his career. Despite his 34 years of age, the Dane's market value will have risen as a result of finishing the year as the number-three-ranked rider in the world, and Astana faced stiff competition for his signature. Fuglsang himself revealed how close he came to signing for Movistar, but Astana are able to offer the continuation of the environment in which he's thrived in the past three years.
Among the one- and two-year extensions, it's interesting to note that Hugo Houle gets three – proof of the Canadian's growing stature as a key domestique at the team.
The biggest signing is that of Vlasov, the 23-year-old Russian who won the U23 Giro d'Italia last year and won a stage of the Tour of Austria this year. Vlasov still had a year to run on his Gazprom-RusVelo contract but Astana manager Alexander Vinokourov "found an understanding" with his counterpart to pluck a promising future Grand Tour rider.
Similarly, 24-year-old Oscar Rodriguez is a talent who'd caught the eyes of other WorldTour teams. Felline is something of a gamble, given he's floundered in the last two years – partly due to illness – but the class is there.
Over on the departure list, things don't look quite so rosy. Even if Cataldo and Zeits, two key support riders in recent years, are ageing, Bilbao has been brilliant in the past two years. Magnus Cort is a highly-rated versatile rider, Hirt is still improving as a climber, and much is expected of Ballerini. They still have their chief breadwinners but, overall, you'd have to say Astana are weakened.
Overview: All-change for Sheikh Nasser's team, with McLaren on board, Rod Ellingworth at the helm, and Vincenzo Nibali and Rohan Dennis gone. Mikel Landa is free, but Mark Cavendish represents a gamble.
In: Mikel Landa (Movistar), Pello Bilbao (Astana), Wout Poels (Team Ineos), Rafael Valls (Movistar), Eros Capecchi (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Scott Davies (Dimension Data), Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin), Kevin Inkelaar (Groupama-FDJ Continental), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)
Out: Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Antonio Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Rohan Dennis (contract terminated)
Extended: Matej Mohoric (2021)
Analysis: In losing Vincenzo Nibali, who they refused to offer a two-year contract, Bahrain-Merida bid farewell to the talisman around whom the team was created in 2016. That first cycle, which saw victory at Milan-San Remo and podiums at the Giro and Vuelta, is now over, and 2020 represents something of a new dawn. McLaren are coming on board to lend technical expertise as well as increased funds, while the most important transfer here perhaps doesn't even involve a rider: Rod Ellingworth joins as manager after several years as performance director at Team Ineos and will be expected to put a fresh stamp on the team.
Ellingworth's success will, in part, be judged according to Cavendish, his old protégé at British Cycling. The 34-year-old sprinter has 30 Tour de France stage wins to his name but has won just two races in the past three years. Can he rebound from his health issues to rediscover his powers of old, or is he, as those he's out to disprove claim, 'finished'? The signing of Cavendish, who has deep-rooted ties with both Ellingworth and McLaren, is perhaps justifiable simply from a marketing perspective, but there's surely greater ambition from all involved. If he can return to winning big races – such as, whisper it, Tour de France stages – it would be a remarkable achievement and story.
Elsewhere, Mikel Landa is Nibali's replacement as the team's marquee Grand Tour rider, now seemingly free of the hierarchal shackles he found at Astana, Sky and Movistar. Poels can also step up after shining as a luxury domestique at Ineos. The Dutchman is less tested as a Grand Tour leader but should at least be in the hunt for a number of week-long WorldTour races. Pello Bilbao is a quality acquisition. A good friend of his Basque compatriot Landa, the 29-year-old has found a new gear in the past couple of years, finishing sixth at the Giro last year before winning two stages this year.
Overview: Losing Sam Bennett is a blow while gaining Lennard Kämna is a coup as reliance on Sagan lessens.
In: Lennard Kämna (Team Sunweb), Ide Schelling (SEG Academy), Matteo Fabbro (Katusha-Alpecin), Martin Laas (Team Illuminate)
Out: Peter Kennaugh (contract terminated), Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), Christoph Pfingsten (Jumbo-Visma), Sam Bennett
Analysis: When Bora stepped up to the WorldTour with the signing of Peter Sagan in 2017, they were something of a one-man team, but not this year: the three-time world champion has contributed just four of the team's 47 wins. As such, when his contract expires at the end of 2021, there's a sense Bora could manage without.
In 23-year-old Kämna, a former junior world champion who enjoyed an impressive Tour de France debut this year, they have another top German talent to go alongside Pascal Ackermann, Max Schachmann and Emanuel Buchmann, who were all on fire in 2019. It's that group of riders who will come to represent the core of the team.
Losing Bennett nevertheless remains a big blow, wth the Irishman having won 13 races in 2019, despite playing second fiddle to Sagan and Ackermann. Bora were able to manage his initial discontent and still get the best out of him but, in the midst of a legal dispute over a preliminary agreement on a new deal, they decided not to keep the rider against his will. They may yet regret it. They'll say Ackermann and Sagan give them ample options, but the fact they made a grab for Alvaro Hodeg suggests there is a hole in the roster.
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Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
By Josh Ross