Ask any of the men running World Tour cycling teams about the state of the rider transfer market this summer, and they’ll tell you ‘it’s complicated.’
Of course it’s complicated. A contract involves things like numbers, which almost always necessitates using a thing called maths. Then there’s logistics. A rider may have to ride a different bike, wear a different kit, do some different races, live in a different place, and do it all with different teammates.
It’s bloody complicated.
But what the team owners and Directeur Sportifs are getting at is the chaos in the transfer market thanks to a perfect storm of retirements, contract expirations, team dissolutions, and team formations. More on all of those in just a minute.
First of all we need to deal with one hard fact. A fact that by it’s definition is a certainty. A truth. A fact, if you were. That fact is that rider transfers need to be confirmed sometime between August 1st and October 20th. What that actually means is they need to be signed during that time. There is absolutely nothing stopping a rider’s agent negotiating contracts at any point during the year. Just so long as nothing is signed.
So now that we’ve established that the transfer window is effectively meaningless, let’s get into that chaos that I was talking about. Here it is broken down into handy factors. 5 of them.
1. Fabian Cancellara
Ok so he’s not had the farewell year that many of us wanted to see. He didn’t win Flanders and Roubaix. He didn’t win the Giro TT or wear the Maglia Rosa. But we can forgive him as his career palmares is that of a bonafied legend. Also he did get his third Strade Bianchi win, which earns him a section of road bearing his name for eternity, or as a long as the race lasts. Spartacus is hanging up his wheels at the end of this season, most likely after the World Championships in Qatar.
Spartacus’ retirement leaves a gaping hole in Trek-Segafredo’s roster for 2017. It’s the hole that sets the domino rally of rider transfers in motion. So who might step in to fill the Cancellara void? Names in the frame have included unlikely candidates like Vincenzo Nibali and Peter Sagan, but a better bet could be John Degenkolb. He added to the transfer window chaos after a training accident wiped out his spring, and almost his career. This has lead to his current team, Giant-Alpecin waiting to see how he recovers before offering him a new contract, allowing other teams to take a chance and get in there first. His two top 10s at the Amgen Tour Of California suggest that we’ll soon see the Degenkolb of 2015. The Degenkolb that won Paris-Roubaix. We might be seeing that in the white of Trek-Segafredo. If that happens then Giant-Alpecin will have a gaping hole to fill. And so it goes.
2. Teams folding.
IAM Cycling will be no more in 2017, which adds to the chaos. They were already a big contributor as all of their riders are on 1-year contracts. Gone is the uncertainty about whether they will have a job with IAM for next season, replaced by the uncertainty about whether they will have a job for next season. Retirements and having better things to do with their lives, aside, this books the best part of 30 riders onto the transfer merry-go-round. There may not be any marquee names on the list but there are some handy riders better suited to a supporting role, rather than that of team leader. Matthias Frank is probably the biggest name but he is yet to bring big wins. A place as a luxury domestique with occasional chances to ride for himself in stage races probably awaits at the World Tour level.
IAM cycling folding also has another impact in that it may relieve some of the pressure on existing World Tour teams. Dimension Data currently sit at the bottom of the World Tour rankings, but with IAM disappearing, and possibly Tinkoff too, then they may not need to worry about chasing points, or signing riders who have those points, in order to maintain their place at the top table.
I just mentioned Tinkoff, and they’re another team that will disappear from the World Tour in 2017, in name at least. Oleg Tinkov will no longer be funding the team, possibly because he’s spent all his money on Peter Sagan and Alberto Contador, so it remains to be seen if they exist next season. That depends on finding another sponsor to fund the team. If it’s not found then that’s another 28 riders without a team and on the market. If there is to be a savior of the team then it could come in a familiar form. Enter chaos factor number 3….
3. Bjarne Riis’ new new, or new old team.
Riis was the former manager and owner of Tinkoff-Saxo. When Oleg took over he reverted to just manager until one inevitable fall out too many lead to him leaving the team. In perhaps the least surprising turn of events in cycling, sinceDanilo De Luca’s third positive doping test, Riis is back in the game. This time he’s got former World Time Trial Champion, Michael Rogers, alongside him as CEO. Lars Seier Christensen is on board too. He’s the founder of Saxo Bank and so was involved in Riis’ previous team. However, Tinkoff riders shouldn’t get too hopeful as the Riis-Seier project have denied that they will be buying back the team from Oleg Tinkoff. That dovetails nicely into chaos factor 4…..
4. A new Bahrain based team
Where there is sport, there are Arab-Petrodollars as cycling has found with the increasing amount of time spent racing in the gulf. Now the inevitable looks set to happen, with a new Bahrain based cycling team. The head of Bahrain’s Olympic Association, Royal Prince Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, is a keen cyclist and the man said to be behind the team. He’s also accused of being a keen torturer of political opponents but we’ll get to that further down the line. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but it has been reported that this will be the team that the Riis-Seier project is a part of. That would see Riis go from teaming up with one rich man with money to spend on a cycling vanity project, to another. What could go wrong?
There’s no guarantee that this team will come into existence or find a place on the World Tour, we learned that with Fernando Alonso’s failed team, but if it does then they’ll want some star names. Right on cue here’s chaos factor 5.
5. Nibali and Sagan
Two riders who are definitely on the move for 2017 are two of the biggest names in the sport. Sagan’s Tinkoff team will cease to exist in its current form, and whoever takes over would have to cough up many millions of euros per year to keep him. He’s good but he surely doesn’t sell that many bikes, bank accounts, mining infrastructures, or whatever it is that team sponsors are involved in these days.
What Sagan does get you is entertainment, big wins, lots of media coverage, and star quality. He’s a match made in heaven for a team backed by a load of petrodollars. If he was a footballer, Man City would be all over him. There are rumours that he’ll be at Astana next season. That brings with it several worries, not least the doping record of that team, and the way Sagan would look in that shade of blue. There are also petrodollars involved in that team, though, so they’re one of the few out there who might be able to afford him. Depending on who you believe, the deal is already done, although the Cycling Podcast’s Daniel Friebe thinks the gun may have been jumped, there.
Almost certain to be leaving Astana is Vincenzo Nibali. He’s had his troubles with Astana, who seem to favour Fabio Aru as their team leader for the next few seasons. Nibali’s won all three Grand Tours but he’s not doing his new contract any favours with his current showing in the Giro D’Italia, where he’s rapidly fading from contention for even a podium place. Lampre and Trek-Segafredo have both been linked with him, but any deal would be dependent on them signing up his whole entourage. The wrong side of 30, the Shark of Messina now looks like a risk rather than a certainty.
That’s 5 Chaos factors and I’ve not even found time to mention what might happen to Alberto Contador now that he’s probably going to carry on for another couple of years. The Tour De France will be a good indicator of how that decision is going to go for him.