It might only be the second week of February, with a number of riders yet to even start their racing campaigns, but that hasn't stopped the transfer market waking from its winter hibernation. Money never sleeps, as a poor sequel once said.
At this point in the season, riders and teams are not yet dwelling on contracts and futures. Instead, it's the agents who are lining up their ducks before approaching teams on their clients' behalves. Some riders might be negotiating with agents, but the rider-team talks typically don't roar into action until the Classics.
Going forward, the big trends look to be centred around the scramble for Grand Tour riders, with Richie Porte, Mikel Landa, and Fabio Aru all out of contract. There are also question marks over Quick-Step Floors as Patrick Lefevere is yet to secure a title sponsor for next season. Most of his riders are out of contract, although we understand that a few have options to extend if the team carries on. All indications so far are that the squad will ride on in 2018.
We've identified over 50 riders on the market for 2018 – though there are of course more – and picked out 10 to watch over the coming months.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
It's hard to imagine Geraint Thomas anywhere other than at Team Sky but the coming months will determine the next phase in the Welshman's career. An opportunity to lead at the Giro d'Italia has finally presented itself and a successful ride – top-five or above – would leave Thomas with a choice to make. With Chris Froome on the team until at least 2018, it's almost unthinkable to imagine Team Sky going to next year's Tour with two leaders. Thomas has also indicated that he wouldn't change teams simply for the money and the chance to lead a weakened team around France. Dave Brailsford will almost certainly fight tooth and nail to ward off any possible approach from a rival in order to kick-start the option on Thomas' current contract to extend for another year.
Richie Porte (BMC Racing)
At 32 years of age Porte has one, or possibly two contracts left in his WorldTour career but, given the faith that BMC Racing have shown in him so far, there is little chance – at this stage – of him leaving the team. That said, at the start of 2015 Team Sky appeared confident of keeping him, too, until a poor Giro and a move to BMC changed the entire landscape of the transfer market. Forward to 2017 and the marriage between rider and team looks as steady as ever. BMC has signed riders to support Porte at the Tour and they have a track record of remaining loyal to their leaders even after they move deeper into their 30s. Of course, a big-money offer could tempt Porte away, but it would have to be significantly higher than his leadership salary at BMC. Alongside Thomas, he looks the safest bet on this list to stay where he is.
Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)
When Marcel Kittel and Giant tore up their contract in 2015, Patrick Lefevere swooped in and, if reports are to be trusted, picked up the sprinter for a relatively affordable sum. Since then, Kittel has re-established himself as one of the best in the business and his electric start to the 2017 campaign bodes well for another year of success. The problem – and it's a nice one for Lefevere to have – is that Kittel’s continued success will have only driven his price skywards, while in Fernando Gaviria, the Belgian team boss has a younger and possibly better replacement waiting in the wings. It will come down to numbers. If Lefevere can secure sponsorship, while keeping his budget at least on par with 2017, it will be a matter of trying to hold onto all his talent. Julian Alaphilippe, Dan Martin, Bob Jungels and Niki Terpstra all have expiring deals. Something may have to give.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)
There is a glut of riders at Team Sky out of contract at the end of the season, with Ian Stannard, Peter Kennaugh, Philip Deignan, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, Vasil Kiryienka, Michael Golas, Danny van Poppel, and Kenny Elissonde [he only signed a one year deal, with an option of a second -ed] all up for renewal. Of the most established names, Landa is the most likely to leave given his salary, his failure to delivery at last year's Giro d'Italia, and rumours that his contract could have been bought out last year. However, it's Kwiatkowski who may well attract the most interest. Last year was blighted by illness but his palmares between 2014 and 2015 marked him out as one of the most complete riders in the peloton. He is still only 26 and, with a skillset that would fit into almost any WorldTour team, inquiries for his services will quickly tally up.
Fabio Aru (Astana)
The question seems to be: will Trek-Segafredo stick with Alberto Contador and the option of a second year on the Spaniard's contract, or will they move for Aru and quench Segafredo's thirst for a homegrown leader? Having missed out on Vincenzo Nibali last year, and given that team boss Luca Guercilena has already made noises about strengthening his team for 2018, one could envisage an offer being made. The dilemma Trek face is whether they wait until after Contador races the Tour, and therefore risk missing out on Aru, or roll the dice and risk losing the potential reigning Tour champion a few months later. Holding both riders in 2018 isn't a realistic option and if Aru wins the Giro it might be too tempting to wait. Even at this point, he is probably the safer bet simply based on the fact that he's not considering retirement.
Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis)
After spending a prince's ransom on Bouhanni at the end of 2014, and effectively building a leadout train around him in the process, it's little wonder that the Cofidis team is having second thoughts when it comes to offering the sprinter a new deal. The last two seasons have been far from a disaster, with the former FDJ rider consistently winning after a rocky start at the team. However, Cofidis signed Bouhanni on the back of his five Grand Tour stage wins in 2014. Since then he has abandoned the Tour once, not made it to the start line the following year due to rather irresponsible circumstances, and picked up zero GT stage wins along the way. This isn't what Cofidis were looking for when they outbid Quick-Step. That said, Bouhanni still remains an unpolished diamond and, despite his divisive personality, plenty of suitors will be interested in his services.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin)
The quandary facing the management at Katusha is whether or not they've already seen the best of the Norwegian. At 29, he is hardly past his prime but a lackluster 2016 saw him miss out at the Classics, with a subdued Tour de France following suit. In fact, after a stage win in the Tour of California in May, Kristoff didn’t win outside of Norway for the rest of the year, with a head-scratching fallout with Edvald Boasson Hagen at the Worlds ending his season. On his day, and with the right course, however, Kristoff can be unbeatable, and if he enjoys a successful spring it's hard to see Katusha letting him go. The signing of Tony Martin spreads the pressure and should help act as the perfect foil in a number of spring Classics.
Steve Cummings (Dimension Data)
You don't sign Steve Cummings for his ability to win stage races, time trials, or sprints. You don't even sign him because of his domestique capabilities, because frankly there are more dedicated workers already available for less money. You sign Cummings because if you let him do his thing he will more often than not come up trumps. Last year was without doubt his best season since turning professional with a Tour de France stage, wins in the Criterium du Dauphine, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Vuelta al Pais Vasco, and the overall title in the Tour of Britain. He may turn 36 in March but if this Indian summer continues, and he still wants to ride, he is certainly worth another deal. In theory – and in practice for that matter – Dimension Data appears to be the best home but plenty of approaches will be made.
Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac)
It wasn't that long ago that Rigoberto Uran was touted as a future Grand Tour winner and when he finished second at the Giro – twice – he looked on course to fulfil that promise. However, since his last Giro podium in 2014 his star has waned and, although his first year at Cannondale was consistent, he failed to win a single race, with illness dropping him to seventh overall at the Giro. This year he is apparently targeting stage wins and one-day races but at 30 he stands at a cross-roads both in terms of teams and career path. Interestingly, there are so few legitimate GC riders on the market, and with few teams able to financially compete for the marquee names, such as Porte and Landa, the Colombian is in a position to exploit a potential gap. That's how he ended up at Cannondale after all. With teams interested in GC back-ups or consistent top-tenners in Grand Tours, Uran will feature on a number of bosses' shopping lists.
Nathan Haas (Dimension Data)
Haas is an interesting rider and makes the list because of what he could win rather that what's already in his palmares. At 27, he's no spring chicken but his consistent improvements over the last 18 months have been noteworthy. A number of team bosses were surprised by his ride at the Tour Down Under, and the consensus within the peloton is that the Australian is capable of podiums in races like Amstel Gold, Canada's WorldTour events, and other such hilly one-day races. The marriage with Dimension Data appears to be working but a number of teams might see Haas as an investment worth buying into.
Riders out of contract at the end of 2017: Riders out of contract at the end of 2017: Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), Mikel Landa (Team Sky), Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky), Mikel Nieve (Team Sky), Ian Stannard (Team Sky), Danny Van Poppel (Team Sky), Philip Diegnan (Team Sky), Michal Golas (Team Sky), Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky), Ian Boswell (Team Sky), Christian Knees (Team Sky), Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky), Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors), Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors), Jack Bauer (Quick-Step Floors), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors), Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors), Fabio Aru (Astana), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac), Tom Jelte Slagter (Cannondale -Drapac), Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Drapac), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac), Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac), Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Michael Woods, (Cannondale-Drapac), Ryan Mullen (Cannondale-Drapac), Alex Howes (Cannondale-Drapac), Toms Skujins (Cannondale-Drapac), Stephen Cummings, (Dimension Data), Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data), Youcef Reguigui (Dimension Data), Mekseb Debesay (Dimension Data), Nathan Haas (Dimension Data), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Michael Hepburn (Orica-Scott), Simon Gerrans (Orica-Scott), Chris Juul Jensen (Orica-Scott) Magnus Cort (Orica-Scott), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Louis Meintjes (UAE Abu Dhabi), Marko Kump (UAE Abu Dhabi), Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal), Rafael Valls (Lotto Soudal), Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal), Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal), Kris Boeckmans (Lotto Soudal), Sean De Bie (Lotto Soudal), Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal), Frederik Frison (Lotto Soudal), Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal), Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal), Ben Hermans (BMC Racing), Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Ryan Anderson (Direct Energie), Tsgabu Grmay (Bahrain Merida), Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Vitel Concept), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Julien Simon (Cofidis), Javier Moreno (Bahrain Merida).
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