It’s only March but shoots of spring are already visible in the transfer market, and this year looks set to be just as intriguing, complex and fraught as previous seasons. Although there are no new WorldTour projects on the horizon, at least two teams face uncertain futures, while a raft of squads have space and funds to reinvest with new riders.
The main storylines in 2018:
• BMC Racing’s long-term future
• The situation surrounding Chris Froome
• Question marks over Astana’s stability
• A raft of sprinters on the market
There are also a number of important subplots: Bahrain-Merida and Trek-Segafredo have significant wiggle room in the market, with both teams only holding five or fewer riders with contracts for 2019. Mitchelton-Scott have more riders under contract for 2019, but three of their biggest stars – Adam and Simon Yates, and Caleb Ewan are all on the market. There is also a glut of sprinters available, including Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Arnaud Demare, Matteo Pelucchi, Niccolo Bonifazio, and the aforementioned Ewan. In terms of other WorldTour teams: Dimension Data (21), EF Education first-Drapac (16), UAE Team Emirates (14), Astana (20), and Team Sky (14) all have spots to fill, with the numbers in brackets denoting the riders they have who are without contracts for next year.
But we start with the biggest talking point, BMC Racing. None of the 24 riders, nor the staff, have contracts beyond this year, and with the search for sponsorship proving to be an ongoing battle, the management is running out of time. It’s understood that a team will continue in 2019, but at what level and with what budget, remains to be seen. The current plan is for BMC to remain on-board as an equipment supplier and secondary sponsor. However, a title sponsor is still required. According to one source, the management is talking to two interested parties, and manager Jim Ochowicz recently communicated with his riders, asking them to hold fire until May when it came to contract negotiations with other teams. The long-term health of BMC’s owner Andy Rihs is key. He has been ill for some time, but the decision to cut the U23 programme in 2017 was seen by many as a cost-saving exercise in order to off-load responsibility from Rihs’ shoulders.
Specifically, on the rider front, Greg Van Avermaet told Cyclingnews at Tirreno-Adriatico that he would give Ochowicz until August to save the team, but that hasn’t stopped other teams from approaching the Belgian. Cyclingnews has learned that Bahrain-Merida are in the hunt for a sprinter and/or a Classics star, and have already approached Van Avermaet’s agent with a proposal for 2019. When contacted by Cyclingnews, Bahrain-Merida refused to comment on a possible Van Avermaet deal but they did admit that the Belgian would be an attractive signing for any WorldTour team. Van Avermaet’s agent - who looks after a number of other high-profile Belgian riders - has already sent out a list of available riders for 2019, with Van Avermaet’s name included. That list has been delivered to every WorldTour team in the peloton. As for the rest of Bahrain-Merida’s activity, they expect Vincenzo Nibali to sign a new contract before this year’s Tour de France. They may look for a secondary GC prospect if the right target becomes available but the consensus within the team is that, despite having Sonny Colbrelli and Heinrich Haussler, who should be given another contract, the team needs more in the sprint and Classics department. The team have financial stability for at least another two years and their strength or advantage is that when they started in 2017 they awarded most of their riders with two-year deals. The majority of those contracts are now up for renewal, leaving them with a large budget and clear canvas to rebuild.
While Van Avermaet is willing to give BMC time, other riders have expressed different views. Richie Porte - the squad’s marquee stage racer - told Cyclingnews he would begin to look at his options at the end of March, and his agency, Trinity Sports Management, has begun circulating their catalogue of clients, which includes Geraint Thomas, Rohan Dennis, Nicolas Roche, Joey Rosskopf, and Patrick Bevin, to other team managers. Interestingly, Simon Gerrans, who is on Trinity’s books, is not included, prompting the question as to whether he will retire at the end of this season. Other riders at BMC, such as Stefan Kung and Dylan Teuns will certainly attract attention. One team manager told Cyclingnews this week that Kung would fit perfectly with his squad, both in terms of ability and personality.
The role of agents
Trinity Sports Management, set-up by Andrew McQuaid, has become one of the leading rider agencies in the WorldTour. Along with Porte, and those mentioned above, they also handle contract negotiations for Simon Yates, Luke Rowe, Ben Swift, Joe Dombrowski, Damien Howson, Taylor Phinney, Mark Renshaw, Owain Doull, Job Dibben and Milan-San Remo star, Krists Neilands – all of whom are out of contract for next year.
Quite how the agency plays Porte’s and Thomas’ cards remains to be seen. Thomas briefly split with Trinity but came back to them ahead of this season. The Welshman and Porte are two of the leading GC candidates on the market this year, with Trek-Segafredo having already been linked to both men.
At this point in the year most agents are lining up their clients and making initial introductions to team managers. Agents are also busy re-signing riders to their own agencies. For example, one agent was at Tirreno-Adriatico earlier in March, not to sign one of his riders to a team, but to negotiate a contract between himself and a high-profile rider. The transfer activity will increase over the next few weeks and during the Ardennes a number of deals will be sealed for next year. By that point, the cobbled classics are over and the market value for those specialists will be at their highest.
- Transfer mechanics: Elia Viviani to Quick-Step Floors
- Transfer Mechanics: Alberto Contador into retirement
- Transfer mechanics: Daniel Martin to UAE Team Emirates
- Transfer mechanics: Warren Barguil to Team Fortuneo-Oscaro
- Transfer mechanics: Marcel Kittel to Katusha-Alpecin
Although Chris Froome is not out of contract this year, he will still play a part in the market’s activity. Geraint Thomas’ position is interesting because, like Porte, he has one last major pay-check before he enters the final years of his career. The safe bet would be to stay at Team Sky. They have the support and the financial clout to see off any offer, and if Froome is sanctioned for any length of time due to his salbutamol case, then the prospect of then losing Thomas to another team would be too hard to take. However, if Thomas has honest aspirations of leading a team at the Tour de France, then he has to leave if Froome is not sanctioned. Thomas leaving Team Sky could be the domino that sparks a chain reaction through the rest of the peloton.
Adam Yates is on the books of another agent, Andrew McQuaid’s cousin, Gary McQuaid. The latter has Bob Jungels (not out of contract until 2021) and a wealth of young talent on his books. Indications are that Mitchelton-Scott are keen to tie down both Yates brothers with multiple-year contracts. The team’s owner, Gerry Ryan, has bankrolled the team since their beginning, and although the team are looking for new sponsors, their future is not under threat.
Cyclingnews understands that riders will be offered contracts beyond 2019 during this year, but at some point the team will be banging on Ryan’s door shouting ‘show me the money Jerry (sic). Show me the money.’
Other GC riders on the market include Thibaut Pinot – who has also attracted interest from Bahrain-Merida, Sergio Henao, Ion Izagirre, Bauke Mollema, Tim Wellens – although he is perhaps more of an all-rounder - and Pierre Rolland.
Last year’s market was heavily weighted towards the GC riders. Dan Martin, Fabio Aru, Rigoberto Uran, Warren Barguil, and for a time Alberto Contador, were all available. Marcel Kittel, Elia Viviani and Bryan Coquard all moved teams but this year sees Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Caleb Ewan, Arnaud Demare, Christophe Laporte, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Ben Swift, Giacomo Nizzolo and Niccolo Bonifazio all emerge as potential transfers.
Talk of Ewan replacing Greipel at Lotto Soudal has cooled in recent months. Mitchelton-Scott announced the sprinter’s Tour de France participation back in January and his debut in the race – partially at least – was a tactical move to warn off interest from other teams. Lotto Soudal, despite Greipel’s recent injury and age, have told Cyclingnews that the German is in their plans for 2019, but whether he is offered a one or two-year deal is a matter for private negotiations. Demare is very unlikely to leave FDJ given his status on the team, while Laporte will attract interest given his start to the season. As for Cavendish, his patrol of Bernhard Eisel and Mark Renshaw are also out of contract. Given a number of factors, including his ties to the sponsors, it’s hard to see Cavendish changing teams, and as one manager pointed out this week, “if you take a sprinter, it’s not just him you need to think about, it’s three or four other guys they want as well.”
The next few weeks will define the market for the Classics riders. That said, Omloop winner Michael Valgren is out of contract at Astana and his early-season win will improve his value.
Niki Terpstra only re-signed with Quick-Step Floors for one more year and is free, and so too is Sep Vanmarcke, who is approaching the end of his second contract at Slipstream Sports. Both riders are part of the Dutch agency, SEG Cycling, who runs the successful development team under the same name.
Other interesting Classics riders include Lars Boom, Boasson Hagen, Mads Pedersen, Luke Rowe and possibly Gianni Moscon, although it’s unclear if the Italian was offered a multiple-year deal in 2017 or signed a one-year extension last year. When he initially joined Team Sky for 2017 it was on a two-year deal according to Sky News.
Jasper Stuyven is also free. Like Van Avermaet, he is tied to Squadra Sports Management, which is a Belgian operation previously run by Lotto Soudal’s new general manager, Paul De Geyter.
The majority of the company’s riders are Belgian and this year Jan Bakelants, Laurens De Plus, Floris De Tier, Yves Lampaert and Loic Vliegen are all available. Wellens is also with the agency, but there are a number of Australian talents listed on the books too. Mitch Docker only signed a one-year deal with EF Education First-Drapac, Luke Durbridge, Chris Hamilton, Adam Hansen, Jay McCarthy, Ben O’Conner and Miles Scotson are all free as well.
De Geyter’s position at Lotto Soudal has ruffled a few feathers in Belgium. He has already come out and stated his interest in signing Van Avermaet – a rider he, of course, used to negotiate on behalf of and it’s no coincidence that Tom Boonen was brought into Lotto Soudal as an advisor when De Geyter used to represent him as a rider.
Super domestiques and more all-rounders
Now that rosters have shrunk in WorldTour races the challenge for team managers to sign as many versatile riders as possible. The number of specialists may diminish over the coming seasons but there are a number of high-profile riders at WorldTour level who will attract attention.
Roman Kreuziger is available after two years at Mitchelton-Scott, Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Simon Gerrans (BMC Racing), Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), Fabio Felline (Trek Segafred), Mathias Frank (AG2R La Mondiale), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Alexandre Geniez (AG2R La Mondiale), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Marco Haller (Katusha Alpecin), Moreno Hofland (Lotto-Soudal), Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo), Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin), Alex Dowsett (Katusha-Alpecin) Baptiste Planckaert (Katusha-Alpecin), Lasse Norman Hansen (Aqua Blue Sport), Eros Capecchi (Quick-Step Floors), Remy Di Gregorio (Delko Marseille Provence KTM), Kanastantin Siutsou (Bahrain-Merida), Andy Fenn (Aqua Blue Sport), Winner Anacona (Movistar) and the recently injured Petr Vakoc (Quick-Step Floors) are also available.
This article is not a complete list of riders out of contract. There are a number of riders who have signed one-year deals for 2018 with options for a second in 2019. There are also older riders, such as Svein Tuft, Mathew Hayman, Daniel Moreno, and Daniele Bennati who may choose to hang up their wheels at the end of 2018. Over the coming weeks and months, Cyclingnews will bring you more analysis and news from the transfer market.
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