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Transfer Mechanics: Froome and COVID-19 shape the market

Chris Froome of Team Ineos cycling team signs the board before the start of the second stage of the UAE Cycling Tour from Hatta to Hatta Dam on February 24 2020 Photo by Giuseppe CACACE AFP The erroneous mentions appearing in the metadata of this photo by Giuseppe CACACE has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner February 24 instead of February 23 Please immediately remove the erroneous mentions from all your online services and delete it them from your servers If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it them to third parties please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACEAFP via Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Professional cycling's transfer window officially opens on Saturday August 1, with a number of high-profile moves set to be announced as teams publicly unveil their new signings for 2021.

The transfer market has been dominated by a number of factors, from Chris Froome’s already-announced move to Israel Start-Up Nation, to a raft of U23 prospects being snapped up, and a steady flow of riders opting to stay with their current teams. Of course, the overriding theme has been the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its effect on every aspect of professional cycling.

Over the last few months, the effects of the pandemic have exposed the financial weaknesses within the sport, leading to pay cuts, wage deferrals and, in the most extreme cases, such as CCC Team, the end of a title sponsor’s involvement in the WorldTour.

Those effects can be seen above the water line but there are strong undercurrents, too, such as the financial problems facing bike brands and other sponsors that could have a huge effect if more races are cancelled, especially the Tour de France.

NTT Pro Cycling, Bahrain McLaren, and EF Pro Cycling are among the teams that face questions about their finances for 2021 and, as a result, their strategies around rider recruitment have either been paused or scaled back. 

Grand Tours riders and team stability

There are teams that have weathered the COVID-19 storm surprisingly well. Jumbo-Visma are set to bring in Sam Oomen from Team Sunweb to replace the departing Laurens de Plus, who leaves for Team Ineos, while their Classics squad has also been boosted by the arrival of David Dekker from SEG Academy. They’re also likely to re-sign Tony Martin and, with all their Grand Tour leaders under contract until at least the end of 2021, their management have been lucky enough to look several years down the line rather than fixate on the short term.

Team Ineos, as Cyclingnews reported on Friday, are in talks with Adam Yates, as they decide how best to fill the Froome-sized hole within their squad. They are also set to extend a number of contracts for riders such as Filippo Ganna and Tao Geoghegan Hart. 

Their Grand Tour leaders Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz and Geraint Thomas all have at least one more year under contract, and although Jim Ratcliffe’s team were initially linked to Bob Jungels, Cyclingnews understands the talented all-rounder is unlikely to come onboard. Richie Porte, however, is set to return as a super domestique, after he reportedly turned down an offer to reunite with Chris Froome at Israel Start Up-Nation.

Mitchelton-Scott, with their future secured until at least the end of 2021 by team owner Gerry Ryan, are in somewhat of a holding pattern. Ryan has once again dipped into his pocket and saved the team, offering riders on the squad at least one more year if they stay, while both Yates brothers and some of the other high-profile riders have been offered longer deals.

Interest in Simon Yates from Trek-Segafredo has cooled, even with Porte set to leave, but if Adam Yates does leave then Mitchelton-Scott will have a stronger opportunity to move into the market. They’re said to be interested in a number of possible one-day specialists and, with Jack Haig also out of contract, they have a potential replacement for Adam Yates should he decide to take up Ineos’ offer.

ALCAL DE LOS GAZULES SPAIN FEBRUARY 20 Start Simon Yates of United Kingdom and Team Mitchelton Scott Adam Yates of United Kingdom and Mitchelton Scott Team Presentation during the 65th Ruta del Sol 2019 Stage 1 a 1705km stage from Sanlcar de Barrameda to Alcal de los Gazules 213m RDS VCANDALUCIA vueltaciclistaandalucia2019 on February 20 2019 in Alcal de los Gazules Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images

Will the Yates brothers ride on different teams in 2021? (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Bora-Hansgrohe have been quietly efficient in the market, seemingly building for a post-Peter Sagan future and more focus on the Grand Tours.

Nils Politt, currently at Israel Start-Up Nation, was tied up months ago, according to several teams who approached his agent, while the signing of Wilco Kelderman to support Emmanuel Buchmann in Grand Tours, and the contract extension for Max Schachmann, were both important business. The German WorldTour squad still have a huge amount of wiggle room, with almost half of the current roster up for renewal. Gregor Muhlberger, Patrick Konrad and Rafal Majka have yet to announce their futures. Sagan's contract ends in 2021.

French teams AG2R La Mondiale, Groupama-FDJ and Cofidis have remained relatively stable over the last few months and few questions over their financial stability. Groupama-FDJ have simply re-signed all their leaders, while Cofidis have backed Elia Viviani and Guillaume Martin for at least one more year.

AG2R, however, have issues to solve. They have announced Citroën as a title sponsor for 2021 but, with Pierre Latour set to move to Total Direct Energie and Romain Bardet almost certainly moving to Team Sunweb, the French team are in need of a new leadership structure.

Oliver Naesen has wisely been re-signed but he cannot be expected to generate enough results to satisfy a team that two years ago was genuinely challenging at the Tour de France. Jungels and Greg Van Avermaet have both been linked to the team but neither solve the problem of GC leadership. The problem facing AG2R, and other teams for that matter, is that there are very few proven Grand Tour riders on the market. Fabio Aru, Rigoberto Urán, Miguel Angel López, and the Izagirre brothers are all free but they represent gambles.

Team Sunweb seem determined to sign Romain Bardet but they have only a handful of roster spaces for 2021, with Nikias Arndt, Jai Hindley, Robert Power and Florian Stork out of contract.

Trek-Segafredo have already re-signed the underrated Bauke Mollema for a further two years and are willing to see Porte leave if the Australian doesn’t want to target the GC in Grand Tours. The American team have a raft of young riders on their books and, having already re-signed Jasper Stuyven, are likely to follow on with Matteo Moschetti and the experienced Gianluca Brambilla.

Middle East and Froome

The three teams from the Middle East begin the transfer window in very different positions.

UAE Team Emirates have re-signed a raft of riders over the last few months and are in a much stronger place than they were two years ago. They appear to have learned from their mistakes, expanded their backroom staff and plunged into the market to sign talented young riders. They are financially sound at present, too. 

Jasper Philipsen and Fabio Aru are their two most high-profile riders out of contract, with the Italian expected to move on after two injury hit-seasons. He was linked to Movistar at the start of the year but is still on the market. Jan Polanc is another rider still without a contract offer, despite his respectable palmarès.

Bahrain McLaren started the year with big ambitions and talked about beating Ineos at the Tour in the next few years. While that still might happen, they have been forced into the transfer market with one hand tied behind their backs. McLaren are increasingly likely to step away from their co-sponsor role due to major financial issues at the motorsports company and the team are actively pursuing a replacement.

The majority of the team’s Grand Tour riders are still under contract but their Classics core and sprint train – riders like Mark Cavendish, Phil Bauhaus, Heinrich Haussler, and the increasingly popular Ivan Cortina and Dylan Teuns – are out of contract. The biggest high-profile rider in contention to join the team is Jungels.

Mark Cavendish rides with Bahrain McLaren teammate Mikel Landa at the Vuelta a Burgos

Mark Cavendish rides with Bahrain McLaren teammate Mikel Landa at the Vuelta a Burgos (Image credit: Getty Images)

So far, the departure of Froome to Israel Start-Up Nation hasn’t sparked the flurry of transfers that many outsiders expected. Porte turned down an offer and, despite the glaring gaps in the team’s roster, few additions have been made so far.

As reported by Cyclingnews last week, Daryl Impey is set to choose between joining Froome and seeing out his career at Mitchelton-Scott, while EF’s Simon Clarke is another rider on the team’s radar.

The management have been busy re-signing riders from their current roster but if they are serious about supporting Froome in the Tour de France next season then they must bolster their climbing contingent. There has been interest in the Izagirre brothers who are both free to leave Astana but several other teams, including Arkéa-Samsic, have also expressed interest in signing at least Gorka. One rider destined to join Nairo Quintana at Arkéa is Miguel Eduardo Florez, who currently rides for Gianni Savio’s Androni Giocattoli team.

Cyclingnews understands that the move for Froome has prompted the team to begin discussions around potential new kit and equipment. They see Froome as an investment and an opportunity to attract more lucrative deals now that they have a four-time Tour winner on board.

Playing a waiting game

The market is relatively slow, with sponsors and teams waiting a few more weeks to reveal their cards. The consensus, having talked to teams and agents, is that September and October will be incredibly busy.

EF Pro Cycling are waiting to finalise their budget and have rider agents that they will offer contracts to when the Tour de France happens, while Patrick Lefevere at QuickStep always leaves things late. The Belgian team manager has limited options this year, with most of his 2021 roster already decided.

He can afford to wait, though. If negotiations between CCC Team and the Manuela Fundación fall apart and Continuum Sports – the group behind CCC’s WorldTour license – fail to secure a sponsorship deal, then almost 30 riders will be on the market. The situation is similar at NTT, where Bjarne Riis is yet to announce a new sponsor.

There were rumours that Astana were also in trouble due to the fall in oil prices and Kazakhstan exchange rates but, according to several rider agents, Vinokourov has finally started to make noises about contract offers. Miguel Angel López is the team’s biggest rider out of contract, while Rigoberto Urán over at EF is also free to negotiate with potential suitors.

EF Pro Cycling work hard for Sergio Higuita at the 2020 Tour Colombia 2.1

EF Pro Cycling work hard for Sergio Higuita at the 2020 Tour Colombia 2.1 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Bike sponsor merry-go-round

It’s not just riders changing teams; there will be a merry-go-round of bike sponsor changes for 2021.

Jumbo-Visma will ride Cervélo in 2021, while the Dutch team’s current bike sponsor, Bianchi, are in advanced discussions with Mitchelton to replace Scott. 

Argon 18 have been linked to Sunweb, who are losing Cervélo,  but the team have denied this, while BMC could be on their way to AG2R, even if NTT retain the Swiss brand’s services.