Rest days at the Giro d'Italia are often a hotbed of activity. While riders pause for breath, team managers roll out their red carpets for cycling's most important figures of all: the agents.
Whether in hotel lobbies or nearby restaurants, these days are all about scoping out the market, reaffirming budgets, looking for bargains and, of course, the golden-ticket signing that could transform your team for next season. Once one meeting is finished, another begins. It's like speed dating - only more uncomfortable.
From what Cyclingnews has gathered, from riders and those in the know, sub-sponsors Sophos and Swisse Vitamin are set to step up and provide a budget of between 15-16 million Euros, with Giant supplying bikes. That's still way short of the team's current financial status, but one current team rider told us that the squad's initial plan was to either go down the path of building around Greg Van Avermaet, or stick with Richie Porte and the stage racing squad. However, we understand that, contrary to earlier reports, Porte has a contract for 2019 but is still free to discuss a possible move with other teams, should a better offer be presented.
The squad's management have remained silent. They were planning on informing the riders of their plans on May 15 but that communication never took place. However, the team did confirm to the staff a few days ago that the rumour linking Deloitte to BMC Racing was untrue. Van Avermaet, meanwhile, has also hinted at staying. This appears to be his preferred option, with Bahrain-Merida and Lotto Soudal still monitoring the situation.
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"We don't know their future, and that makes the situation very complicated," one general manager told us. "In the next 15-20 days we will find out for sure what's happening but at the moment the situation with that team is clearly blocking the market. If the team doesn't carry on then the cost of the riders on that team will drop, so a lot of people are waiting and waiting."
There is talk of UAE Team Emirates dropping Colnago for Bianchi, but that has yet to be confirmed by any party. "We have several options on the table," the team told us. "We spoke with different possible partners but at the moment we are still with the actual sponsors of the team, nothing new is on the way."
Which Yates is the better bargain?
The hottest rider on the market right now is understandably Simon Yates, who goes into the final few days at the Giro d'Italia with a more than decent chance of winning the race. The Mitchelton-Scott rider, still just 25, is out of contract this year and has drawn attention from Katusha-Alpecin, UAE Team Emirates, Astana, and Trek Segafredo, the latter of which offered him a deal before the Giro.
His current team are obviously keen on renewing him but one team manager told Cyclingnews that they have been priced out of the market, with teams willing to pay 3.5-4 million Euros a season for the rider. Few teams can afford such a sum but, with a week to go at the Giro, the price could fluctuate depending on the final result in Rome.
Bahrain and their hunt for a Classics contender
Bahrain-Merida's management have confirmed to Cyclingnews that the team met with Van Avermaet during the Ardennes to discuss a possible move. The team are in the hunt for a Classics rider and have also considered Michael Valgren, who is out of contract at Astana. Van Avermaet was Bahrain's first choice, but negotiations stalled after April because the rider wanted to give BMC Racing more time to secure sponsorship. Bahrain would be open to re-starting talks but money is another stumbling block.
The sprinter market is very much alive and kicking. Mark Cavendish is out of contact and we have learned that he has several options on the table. Speculation at the Giro suggested that he would leave Dimension Data but that appears to be misguided, and there remains a possibility that he stays with the South African team. The former world champion has also been linked to UAE Team Emirates in the last few months, but that option seems to be over.
Team manager Carlo Saronni told Cyclingnews that, "In this case, I can say that we are look at a different type of rider to improve the team at the moment."
Other rumoured moves include Tejay van Garderen - out of contract for the first time in his career - who has predictably been linked with a move to Jonathan Vaughters' EF-Drapac team. Trek have also shown interest in the past. Vaughters rushed to hire several riders after EF stepped in to save the team last year but has yet to begin to implement a long-term strategy for the team.
Egan Bernal is set to be rewarded with a new and improved contact at Team Sky at the end of the season. Andre Griepel is set for talks with Lotto Soudal. The veteran rider has regained form after an injury-hit spring. The Lotto management have told Cyclingnews that if Griepel stays it is likely to be on a two-year deal. The Belgian team were linked to Van Avermaet after his former agent became the Lotto boss at the turn of the year. However, the team believe that they are currently third in line - after BMC and Bahrain - for the Olympic champion's signature.