The announcement just over a week ago of a three-year contract extension for Oliver Naesen at AG2R La Mondiale sent shockwaves through the Classics community, and the transfer market as a whole.
The Belgian had signed a big long-term deal at a time when some riders were waiting to see if their teams would even survive the coronavirus pandemic and continue into 2021.
As Naesen's agent told Het Nieuwsblad, "When the news of Oliver became known, I got the message from several riders, saying, 'Ah, is the transfer market finally open? What about me?'"
In contrast to Grand Tour riders, Classics specialists often sign contracts earlier in the season, with their market value at its highest in the spring. With the exception of Naesen, however, a number of big names are currently in uncharted territory: in June and with no contract offer in place for next year.
After taking a look at the top climbers, young riders, and WorldTour and ProTeam riders on the market, here is Cyclingnews' pick of the best one-day riders up for grabs for 2021.
Team: Israel Start-Up Nation
The German is considered one of the rising stars of the Classics contenders, having ridden into the spotlight with his runner-up finish behind Philippe Gilbert at last year’s Paris-Roubaix. The tall, 80kg German has a big engine that makes him perfectly suited to the Paris-Roubaix pave but showed last year that he can also cope with the hills of the Flemish Classics, with fifth place at the Tour of Flanders and sixth at E3. Having only recently turned 26, he should only get better and will be considered one of the best investments on the market.
Politt joined Israel Start-Up Nation because he still had a year left on his contract when they took over Katusha last year, but he already had other offers, and nearly wound up at Movistar.
ISN are understood to have the resources to put a decent new deal in front of him but sporting concerns will play an equal part. Director Dirk Demol said last year that Politt deserved to have a team built around him, but that hasn’t happened yet.
This will, however, be Israel’s first clean run at a transfer window as a WorldTour outfit. They’ll have to convince Politt they’re serious about strengthening that Classics core, as there will be no shortage of other suitors. Bora-Hansgrohe, who have assembled the finest array of German talent in Schachmann, Buchmann, and Ackermann, will surely be interested, especially with just one year left on Peter Sagan’s contract.
Team: Total Direct Energie
Victories at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix leave little doubt over Terpstra’s class but his career has stalled since leaving QuickStep after his commanding performances in the 2018 spring.
He dropped down a division in 2019 to join French team Total Direct Énergie and while it’s understood the pay cheque was a big incentive, it’d be unfair to say the Dutchman had put his feet up. Crashes derailed his first season there, as he left the Tour of Flanders and Tour de France in ambulances.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away the opportunity to prove himself this spring and, as such, Terpstra faces uncertainty over his future options, which is only enhanced by the fact he turned 36 last month.
Team: Bahrain McLaren
The Australian hasn’t won a race in five years but, despite turning 36 in February, seems to be enjoying something of a resurgence rather than a decline.
His injury troubles of 2017 seemed to spark a new wave of motivation and he started this season in better shape than he’d had for years. In fact, after attacking displays at the Opening Weekend, he said: "I haven't had these legs since 2009".
That would be the year he won six races and finished second at both Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders. Further to that, Mark Cavendish picked him for Paris-Roubaix victory, had it taken place as planned in April.
Haussler, then, should have options, but with uncertainty over Bahrain McLaren’s finances, he will face something of a waiting game.
Team: UAE Team Emirates
Having been touted as one of the brightest young sprint prospects after developing via the Hagens Berman Axeon team, Philipsen's debut season as a professional in 2019 didn’t go quite as smoothly as planned, with lessons learned in terms of over-racing and finding his optimal race weight. He has so far racked up plenty of placings but his sole victory came at last year’s Tour Down Under after Caleb Ewan’s relegation.
Still, few will doubt the talent and potential of Philipsen, who is primarily a sprinter but someone who crosses over comfortably to the cobbled Classics.
His future path will come down to what he feels is best for his development. UAE Team Emirates still have solid resources and are investing in youth, but Philipsen does find himself in the same team as Fernando Gaviria and Alexander Kristoff and so some times misses out on the big races and protected status.
It’s arguably too early for Philipsen to be demanding a pure leadership role, so if he feels he was on the right track this season – in terms of diet, programme, training and the rest – then he maybe inclined to stay put.
The Luxembourger has flirted with Grand Tour contention in the past, with two top 10s at the Giro d'Italia and 11th at the Tour de France, but seems to now be honing in on the Classics.
He won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2018 but then showed he was just as good, if not better, on the cobbles last year, with a solo win at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, fifth at the E3, and third at Dwars door Vlaanderen. He's a winner of the U23 Paris-Roubaix, but that was his first taste of the pavé as a pro.
"I have a big cross on the [dates of the] Flemish Classics," Jungels said at the start of this year, and Deceuninck-QuickStep would seem the best fit for those ambitions, especially with the likes of Philippe Gilbert, Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra having moved on in the past couple of years.
That said, Jungels is one of the pricier names on the QuickStep payroll. Lefevere is holding off on signings and new contracts for now, but the likes of Marcel Kittel, Elia Viviani and Fernando Gaviria have shown that the manager is willing to let his stars move on.
Team: Bahrain McLaren
Teuns is another highly versatile rider who will be among the most sought-after in this year's transfer market.
He won the time trial at this year's Ruta del Sol, while there's evidence of his climbing skills in his stage win at last year's Tour de France, along with 12th overall at the Vuelta a España and sixth at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
His punch arguably makes him more suited to the hilly Classics, with a podium at Il Lombardia in 2018, but he also finished fifth at last year's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and was considered a favourite for this year's cobbled campaign. Put simply, he'll get results anywhere and everywhere and, at 28, should be entering his prime.
Bahrain McLaren are among the teams affected by the pandemic, with oil and gas prices crashing in the Middle East and McLaren forced into sweeping cuts in the UK.
The door is very much open, then, for other offers, and Teuns will be near the top of most shopping lists.
Team: NTT Pro Cycling
This was set to be a key season for the Dane, who had a storming spring in 2018 – with wins at the Omloop and Amstel – but slumped in 2019. The change in fortunes coincided with a change of teams, and Valgren did not settle in well at a Dimension Data team that misfired across the board.
However Bjarne Riis has taken over team management and several new riders have been signed making it feel like a new team. The season was cut off too early to really see the Riis effect, but significant change is certainly afoot.
For Valgren, in particular, that Danish connection could be key in convincing him he's in the right place. Committing his future to a team where he had such a rough season will entail a certain risk, but then so would changing teams again. Either way, managers will look past his 2019 troubles and he should have some decent options.
With victory at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and fifth at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Stuyven made his mark on the Opening Weekend of the 2020 Classics season and seemingly set himself up for a successful spring.
That in turn would have set him up for a nice new contract, but the pandemic now puts him on the back foot. Trek-Segafredo aren't among the teams badly affected but nor are they able to slap new contracts in front of riders like AG2R La Mondiale have.
"I must admit that I would have liked to be in Oliver Naesen's shoes," Stuyven recently told Het Nieuwsblad. "When I was contracted over the past few years, the new deal was already signed in May. I will not have that early certainty now..."
Stuyven is understood to be happy at Trek-Segafredo, where he remains at the head of the cobbled Classics pecking order, despite the rainbow jersey on the shoulders of Mads Pedersen. He won't have any serious worries, but he'll have to play a waiting game.
The Belgian's stock has risen considerably in the last three years. When he won his first Classic at Dwars door Vlaanderen in 2017, it was a moment in the spotlight for one of the 'lesser' riders in QuickStep's spring juggernaut. Philippe Gilbert, Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Štybar and Matteo Trentin would command the headlines a week later.
The man from a Flanders farm, however, now arguably sits near the top the QuickStep hierarchy, at least alongside Stybar and Jungels. That's thanks to a repeat Dwars win in 2017, podiums at Paris-Roubaix and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, plus stage wins at the Vuelta a España and Tour de Suisse.
Lampaert has revealed he has already been in contact with other teams, but would favour staying at his local team where he has worked hard to climb the pecking order. That said, that depends on Patrick Lefevere being able to put a decent contract in front of him in good time, and the longer things drag on, the more Lampaert may be swayed by other offers.
Team: EF Pro Cycling
The Belgian is a thoroughbred cobbles rider who has been the nearly-man of Belgian cycling over the past decade. His class on the pavé is undoubted, although, for one reason or another, things have never quite come together in a way that would seem to justify his talents.
Vanmarcke's room for manouevre might be limited this year. He turns 32 next month and is arguably no longer the focal point for EF's Classics squad after Bettiol won Flanders last year. Bettiol's value will have risen, and resources are hardly rich at EF, where the title sponsor is understood to be continuing, but more backing is being sought.
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