The likelihood of Peter Sagan riding for the Bora-Hansgrohe team for 2017 has received a boost after Astana team manager Alexander Vinokourov confirmed that talks to sign the world champion have not moved forward since the Giro d'Italia.
Cyclingnews understands that Sagan will decide his future during the Tour de France, with a final deal to be thrashed out in the following weeks. It seems that Astana and Bora-Hansgrohe are the only two teams under consideration for Sagan's future, with the German team now the favourite to secure his signature and so pay him the highest salary in the professional peloton.
Sagan is about to start the Tour de France with the Tinkoff team and target stage victories in the sprints and another green points jersey. Victory during the opening weekend of racing could also give Sagan the race leader's yellow jersey, one of the rare goals the Slovakian has to still achieve.
On the second rest day of the Giro in late May, Cyclingnews revealed that the Astana team was in talks to sign Sagan, with confirmation coming from within the Kazakhstan team and other sources. Vinokourov was keen to sign Sagan to fill the hole in the team's line-up left by Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali, who is set to lead the new Bahrain Cycling team in 2017. Now Vinokourov has admitted that he expects Nibali to leave Astana after 2016 and conceded that negotiations with Sagan's agent Giovanni Lombardi have fizzled out.
"We started talks with Sagan at the time of the Giro d'Italia but things haven't really moved forward since then. I think it's difficult that Sagan will join Astana," Vinokourov told Cyclingnews and Gazzetta dello Sport on Friday after the Astana team's final press conference before the start of the Tour de France.
"I don't know if he's made a final decision yet, so perhaps there's still a chance. We've made an offer, let's see what he decides. We like to sign good riders but if Peter doesn't join our team then we'll be fine. We've got some hugely talented riders in the team already. We've got Fabio Aru, who is only 25 but who won the Vuelta a España and we've got Miguel Angel Lopez, who is only 22 but recently won the Tour de Suisse."
On Thursday Bora Argon 18 team manager Ralph Denk confirmed that German sanitary fittings company Hansgrohe would become the team's co-title sponsor for a three-year period. Denk plans to strengthen the team considerably and secure a place in the WorldTour for 2017 and beyond.
Sagan's arrival would revolutionise the German team but it seems the deal could happen thanks to the arrival Hansgrohe and especially the support of Specialized. The major US brand is determined to continue to work with Sagan and their sponsorship would help fund much of Sagan's salary, which could be close to €5 million a season for the next three years.
Denk suggested that Sagan was "too big a name for our team" when asked during the presentation of Hansgrohe but confirmed interest in signing him.
"From what I've heard it's huge money. For sure it would be a dream to have rider like him in the team but we'll see," Denk explained. "From the beginning of August we can talk about riders but at the moment he's too big of a name. We've a serious budget but we're not sponsored by a Russian company like Tinkoff."
Nibali to exit Astana for the Bahrain Cycling team
It seems that Vinokourov has been fighting a front and rear-guard action in recent weeks and months, trying to hire Sagan but also trying to convince Nibali to stay with Astana. He now seems resigned to losing both battles, with Specialized unlikely to remain with the team if it invests funds in Sagan's move. Vinokourov admitted he has still to confirm a bike sponsor for 2017 but said two or three brands were in talks. He revealed that Bianchi was no longer a possibility despite initial talks. The Italian brand is expected to stay with LottoNL-Jumbo after a successful Giro d'Italia with Steven Kruijswijk.
"I think Vincenzo has already taken his decision [to leave] but it's not a problem," Vinokourov said trying to hide his disappointment at losing the 2014 Tour de France winner.
"He still hasn't formally told us anything but I understand that he wants to go there [the Bahrain Cycling Team – ed.] It's a pity that he's going to leave but when you're a manager, you've got to have the budget to pay all the wages in the team…. He's a great rider but I think he wants to move to another team for other reasons, not sporting reasons. It's his decision. But change is part of cycling, you can't stay in the same team all your life."