In previous years, the rider transfer market has been dictated by the uncertainty over the future of several teams. This year, there isn’t such a level of urgency in that regard, with teams now awarded three-year licenses by the UCI.
There are still question marks over several long-term projects – like NTT Pro Cycling – and, as Team Sky illustrated at the end of 2018, any team – even the best in the sport – can face a crisis.
However, the most significant factors in the early-season transfer market, as teams plan and build for 2021, are the need to strengthen and stabilise rosters, the pursuit of UCI ranking points, and the search for the next Remco Evenepoel.
The market will intensify over the coming months but the first part of spring will be dominated by rider agents pushing teams for contract renewals, while at the same time dispersing their list of clients to as many team managers as possible.
Grand Tour contenders
Froome hasn’t signed a new deal at Team Ineos since just before the 2017 Tour de France and his career has been a rollercoaster ever since. Soon to be 35, the four-time Tour de France winner’s future will depend on how he responds to racing after a lengthy injury lay-off caused by his terrible crash during the Critérium du Dauphiné last June.
His motivation will be the most important factor in whether he re-signs with Team Ineos, moves teams, or even retires. It’s highly unlikely that he will finish his career on another squad but Team Ineos’ transfer plans for this year are likely to be modest by their standards. Their core of young Grand Tour riders looks set for the coming years and they should have no problems in retaining the services of Tao Geoghegan Hart and Filippo Ganna.
The Yates brothers both agreed to stay at Mitchelton-Scott in 2018 but their two-year deals are soon to be up, leaving them and the Australian team free to explore options for the future. Mitchelton-Scott only have a handful of riders under contract for next year so their primary aim will be on keeping riders and consolidation.
As in 2018, much will depend on how Simon Yates performs at the Giro d’Italia. If the British climber has a successful race then he could demand improved terms, which would obviously have a knock-on effect when it came to other riders.
There are a host of other Grand Tour specialists on the market, too, with Rigoberto Uran, Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet, Richie Porte, Fabio Aru, Miguel Angel Lopez, and Bauke Mollema all available for 2021.
Although there are several question marks around the future of Aru, he is destined to leave UAE Team Emirates at the end of the year. Movistar have already been put forward as potential candidates to sign him but it would be far too early for the Spanish squad to make a move for rider who has been so inconsistent over the last few years.
The Spanish team certainly needs to sign reinforcements when it comes to stage racing after Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana jumped ship. The squad’s reliance on Alejandro Valverde will once again be put to the test, and although Enric Mas and Marc Soler have shown flashes of brilliance, they are far from certainties when it comes to podiums in week-long stage races and especially Grand Tours.
When it comes to the French squads, few would envisage Pinot leaving Groupama-FDJ. However, Bardet and AG2R La Mondiale are in a slightly different position. The French climber has faltered in recent times, and although he has decided to downgrade his ambitions and target the Giro d'Italia this year, the pressure to succeed will be just as intense. With teammate Pierre Latour and all-but two or three of their 2019 Tour de France roster also out of contract, team manager Vincent Lavenu has a number of important decisions to make in the next few months.
However, the busiest player in the transfer market when it comes to stage racing talent could be Bahrain McLaren, one of the few teams with the budget to compete with Team Ineos for the best Grand Tour riders on the market. Bahrain McLaren’s publicly stated aim of winning the Tour de France in the coming years is a burden that currently sits on the shoulders of Mikel Landa. The Spaniard has a knack of falling out of contention before the GC battle truly ignites, and while there’s often a dramatic resurrection that falls heroically short, the reality is that such antics won’t cut it at his new team. Anything below a Tour de France podium will be seen as a disappointment at Bahrain McLaren.
New team manager Rod Ellingworth, who didn’t personally sign Landa, has given the former Team Sky rider his complete backing but the team’s management will no doubt already be looking for reinforcements for 2021. There’s certainly room for Ellingworth to play with. Only around half of the current roster are under contract for 2021, with Dylan Teuns and Ivan Cortina currently high on the management’s list of riders they want to re-sign.
Jungels and other big names
There are several other stand-out riders on the market worth monitoring. Bob Jungels is perhaps the pick of the lot, especially as he has a proven track record in both one-day and stage races. The 27-year-old won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in 2019 but was never able to replicate that form in the Monument Classics and, by the time the Giro d'Italia came around, he was already a spent force.
He enters 2020 with his ambitions firmly set on the Classics and then stage hunting at the Tour de France in July. Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere is notorious for playing a waiting game when it comes to riders’ futures and that approach is unlikely to change when it comes to Jungels.
A major win in the Spring Classics might force Lefevere’s hand but the Belgian manager is also on the lookout for climbing talent as he attempts to build a future around Remco Evenepoel. Joao Almeida has already been added to the Belgian team’s armory and it will be fascinating to see how Lefevere balances his stage racing commitments with veterans Iljo Keisse (37) and Dries Devenyns (36), who are both out of contract. Yves Lampaert, 28, is also out of contract, and the Belgian media have also insinuated that Lefevere may also dip into the market and sign another lead-out man to help relieve the burden placed on Michael Morkov.
Jan Polanc at UAE Team Emirates, Patrick Bevin (CCC Team), Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma), Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain McLaren), Sebastian Langeveld (EF Education First), Alex Dowsett (Israel Start Up Nation), Simon Clarke (EF Education First), Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First) and Stefan Kung (FDJ) are all worth keeping tabs on, too.
A large chunk of the world’s best sprinters either changed teams in 2019 – Sam Bennett and Elia Viviani – or are still tied down to long-term deals – Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen, Fernando Gaviria, Pascal Ackermann.
However, there are a few high-profile fast men available. Phil Bauhaus and Mark Cavendish at Bahrain McLaren are up for renewal, while Jasper Philipsen, Matteo Moschetti, Giacomo Nizzolo, Connor Swift, Arnaud Demare and Juan Sebastian Molano are all out of contract.
At this point in the year, it’s the Classics stars that attract the most attention and drive the early transfer market activity. Their main focus is on the races between February and the end of April and that’s when their value is at its highest, with each victory fresh in the minds of the team bosses under pressure to either renew or sign new talent.
This is typically when agents like to do their first bit of business and it’s during the Ardennes week when hotel lobbies are brimming with the sound of clicking briefcases, as agents reach for new salary and contract terms for their assets.
Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet both still have one year each on their existing deals, with Bora-Hansgrohe and CCC Team respectively, but there are a number of high-value riders who are available.
Teuns will have no shortage of suitors after his progression at Bahrain McLaren last year, while Nils Politt remains on the radar for several teams. The German has been linked with Lefevere on a number of occasions over the years, and Israel Start Up Nation will be under pressure to keep their star. Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie) is also free to talk to other teams but he will need to make up for an injury-hit 2019 before looking to maximize his value in the market.
Oliver Naesen is another Classics rider who will have no shortage of offers. The 29-year-old has been on the cusp of a Monument win for a number of seasons but has yet to reach his full potential. AG2R La Mondiale have clearly looked to keep the Belgian on board by signing his younger brother Lawrence from Lotto Soudal, but the French team also lost Nico Denz to Team Sunweb during the winter. Naesen may encourage the French outfit to sign Classics support before committing his long-term future to the team.
Jasper Stuyven is in a similar position in so much as he has plenty of potential but has yet to win a Monument. He is a close friend of world champion Mads Pedersen and will form a key part of Trek-Segafredo's Classics strategy. Having let John Degenkolb go last winter, the American team might be more reluctant to offload another cobbles specialist, but there will be teams out there willing to give Stuyven a leadership role should he decide to look elsewhere.
Sep Vanmarcke at EF Pro Cycling is another name to watch. His teammate Alberto Bettiol signed a fresh deal after his Tour of Flanders win in 2019, but Vanmarcke usually looks to renew around this time of year.
The return of Bjarne Riis to WorldTour management comes at a time when the future surrounding NTT Pro Cycling remains unclear. It’s hard to envisage that Riis would have come back if there wasn’t a long-term plan, and Danish window brand Velux has been linked as a new sponsor with the Tour de France set to start in Copenhagen in 2021.
Riis will no doubt have a busy few months as he looks to reinvigorate a squad that has stagnated and struggled for a number of years. Almost all their leaders are out of contract and they could do with strengthening in a number of areas.
Top of Riis’ list will be Michael Valgren, who is at a pivotal moment of his career. The Danish rider won Amstel Gold and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2018 but his Classics season a year later was a washout due to illness. Still just 28, he should be entering the best years of career. His best bet would be to let the Classics campaign play out before he making a decision on his next move. That’s not to say he will leave NTT Pro Cycling. Riis worked with Valgren at Saxo Bank and could be a key figure in retaining his fellow Dane.
Riis will also need to consider the futures of Nizzolo, who has been one of the few successes at the team in recent times, Ben King, and Roman Kreuziger. The toughest question facing the team surrounds Louis Meintjes, who is out of contract this year and hasn’t delivered results since his return to the team at the start of 2018.
Subtle touches elsewhere
At Lotto Soudal, most of the team leaders are under contracts for 2021 and 2022 but Tim Wellens is the rare exception. The Belgian is out of contract this year, alongside 2019 breakout rider Karl Fredick Hagen.
Several other squads are relatively well-balanced and are likely to make modest changes for 2021. Team Sunweb will look to keep both Wilco Kelderman and Sam Oomen, but it’s unlikely that the team’s management will try and sign a proven GC rider to replace Tom Dumoulin. Instead, Iwan Spekenbrink will look to develop the young riders at his disposal.
Bora-Hansgrohe have most of their bases covered and will wait until next year and try to better understand Sagan’s next move before a possible restructure takes place. Patrick Konrad, Jay McCarthy, and Max Schachmann are all out of contract this year, however.