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Down to the wire. It happens every fall. Cycling’s transfer window, called the “silly season,” is a time of tension and nerves for dozens of riders heading into the winter still sitting on the bubble.
What happens over the next few weeks will decide the fate of plenty across the peloton, ranging from older riders trying to hang on for one more season, to young guns still scratching to secure their place in the big leagues.
“If you do not have a contract by now for next year, it’s very complicated,” said rider agent Andrew McQuaid, who represents such riders as Richie Porte and Nicolas Roche. “Team budgets are mostly closed, and plans are already set for the coming year.”
Cycling’s musical chairs is a high-risk game built on relationships, luck, and connections, all played out in the brutal reality of a wide-open, free-agent market. Injuries, crashes, and a few inches away from a big win and second place can mean the difference between staying in the game or going home, usually for good. Once on a top team, riders are forever playing a nervous balancing act of staying in the game, especially in a sport where contracts longer than two years are reserved for a handful of top superstars, such as Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan.
Every season has its wrinkles and quirks. Last year saw the closure of two UCI ProTeams, with Euskaltel-Euskadi and Vacansoleil-DCM both shutting down. With the WorldTour shrinking to 18 teams, there was a flood of riders trying to secure contracts.
A few high-profile deals
Going into 2014-15 saw relative stability in the free-agent market. Despite a few high-profile moves, including Sagan’s transfer to Tinkoff-Saxo for three years, and Edvald Boasson Hagen’s move to MTN-Qhubeka, this year sees most major teams in the peloton relatively quiet on the transfer market.
“We were quiet this year in terms of transfers. We only have two new riders for 2015,” said Orica-GreenEdge sport director Matthew White. “We are building the young talent we have, and don’t have a lot of new guys entering the team. We’re happy with what we have right now.”
The major exception was the merger of Garmin-Sharp and Cannondale at the WorldTour level, which saw a few riders squeezed out as the two teams combined rosters. Plus, the on-again, off-again project involving Formula One driver Fernando Alonso, which looks to be targeting 2016, added another unknown twist to the market.
“There were three major factors in the market this year,” McQuaid said. “First, the Alonso team didn’t happen, and second, the Cannondale, Garmin merger. Another big factor is teams are starting to look at reducing their teams in light of possible reduction of squads to 22 riders in the future.”
McQuaid was referring to ongoing discussions to reform the UCI racing calendar, which could see a major reduction from team rosters from 30 to as low as 22 per day. Those details still need to be hammered out, but a new-look calendar could be in place by as soon as 2017, so teams already have that on their radars. If that plays out, the game of musical chairs will only get tighter in the coming seasons.
Several teams were active in the rider market, including MTN-Qhubeka, which saw the African-based team pick up Boasson Hagen (Sky), Theo Bos (Belkin), Tyler Farrar (Garmin), and Matthew Goss (Orica). In addition to Sagan, Tinkoff picked up Ivan Basso (Cannondale), Robert Kiserlovski (Astana), and Pavel Brutt (Katusha).
Most of the high-profile transfer deals are tacitly agreed upon months before the official August 1 opening of the trading season. Giovanni Lombardi, the ex-pro who is now Sagan’s agent, said it took months to hammer out all the details in Sagan’s move from Cannondale to Tinkoff.
This season also saw a flood of high-profile retirements, including Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), who retires in February, Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing), Jens Voigt and Danilo Hondo (Trek), David Millar (Garmin), Karsten Kroon and Nicki Sorensen (Tinkoff), and such U.S.-based riders as Jeff Louder, Ben Day, Martijn Maaskant, and JJ Haedo.
Nervous on the bubble
By November, anyone still sitting on the sidelines is rightfully nervous they might have to find a new line of work.
There are a few big names still waiting to see how their future shakes out. On Sunday, Baden Cooke confirmed to VeloNews that 2013 Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner, 43, has signed with a U.S. team. 2008 Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez, 36, will not be returning to BMC after one season with the U.S.-registered team, and is waiting to see whether or not he continues competing.
Veteran Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, 42, was not re-upped with Omega Pharma-Quick Step, and is among several Italians considering his options.
“I’d like to race for another year or two, but I could stop and start a new life,” Petacchi told Tutto Bici. “What can I say? I hope that I can find a team that works out for me, an ‘old man’ who doesn’t feel so old, and who would like to continue.”
Other riders with uncertain futures include Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma), former Tour of Flanders winner Nick Nuyens, Thomas Dekker, and Steele Van Hoff (all Garmin). Valerio Agnoli (Astana), Davide Vigano (Caja Rural), Sylvester Szmyd (Movistar), Vladimir Gusev (Katusha), Paolo Longho Borghini (Cannondale), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), and Thomas Peterson (Giant-Shimano) are other veterans who have not extended with their respective teams and whose futures remain unconfirmed.
It helps to have an agent, and there are dozens of representatives working on the behalf of riders. A good agent is well-connected and is constantly trolling the peloton looking for leads and securing rides for their riders, which allows the racers to focus on racing while the agent does the “dirty work” of negotiating salaries and conditions.
But even that is no guarantee, especially for riders who work as “gregarios” and post few individual results.
“It is wrong that a rider like Longo Borghini doesn’t have a contract for next season,” said Lombardi, who is Longo Borghini’s agent. “Teams would rather have a rider who can win a race or two a season, and not work at all, rather than someone who will give their body and soul for their team captains. Teams are wrong in this point. A big captain needs to have riders with whom they can be 100 percent confident, and always be at their side.”
The importance of relationships cannot be underestimated. Francisco Ventoso was “saved” last week by Movistar when the team found a slot, and money, to keep him in the bigs for another season. Ventoso was a former winner who slotted into a leadout role for Juan José Lobato and almost got squeezed out.
“Running a team today is much more complicated than it was in the 1980s,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué. “In 1987, our entire team budget was 70,000 euros. Today, the teams are much bigger and more international. It’s not easy to make all the pieces fit. Ventoso is an important rider to us, and we made it work.”
Riders can also find contracts thanks to key financial backing. It’s not uncommon for sponsors to pay a team to slot a rider on their lineup. The latest example was Dan Craven from Namibia, who joined Europcar mid-season in 2014 after a new team co-sponsor from Africa signed on. He quickly proved his worth, finishing the Vuelta a España, and is already confirmed to stay with the team for 2015.
Then there’s always hope. After 2013, Horner didn’t sign with Lampre-Merida until January. Adam Blythe went from the WorldTour in 2013 with BMC Racing to the Continental level, a no-man’s land that’s usually a one-way street, but Orica picked him up for 2015. Even more dramatic was Dominique Rollin, who didn’t even race in 2014, only to be picked up by Cofidis to help ex-FDJ teammate Nacer Bouhanni in the sprints.
Coming into December, there’s nothing trivial about “silly season” for riders who are caught out without a contract as 2014 comes to a close.
MILAN (VN) — Italy’s rising grand tour star Fabio Aru is meeting this week with his Astana teammates in Tuscany and building toward the Giro d’Italia.
“The reality,” he told Tutto Bici, “is that I’ve been building for the 2015 season since I finished the Giro di Lombardia on October 5.”
The 2015 season could be huge for the 5-foot-11, 143-pound Aru based on this season’s results. In only his second full year as a professional cyclist, he won the mountain stage to Montecampione and placed third overall in the Giro d’Italia behind Colombians Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
The 24-year-old comes from southwest Sardinia, one of the most inconvenient places for a budding cyclist. Tour de France winner and Astana teammate Vincenzo Nibali also happens to come from Italy’s other major island, Sicily. Like Nibali, Aru had to move to the mainland in order to pursue his career.
Aru moved to Bergamo as an amateur, won the Giro della Valle d’Aosta in 2011 and 2012, and finished second in the 2012 Baby Giro behind American Joe Dombrowski. With the 2014 Giro, though, he confirmed his arrival to Italian cycling.
Aru used this summer’s Vuelta a España to spread his name. He won two mountain stages, one in front of Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and one ahead of Briton and 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Sky).
“2014 was fundamental for my career,” Aru continued. “I had some new experiences, riding in the Vuelta and the worlds, that will help me quite a bit as a cyclist. Clearly, though, I’m very happy with the results I achieved in the Giro and Vuelta.”
This week, Astana will likely talk about the four recent doping cases within the team. News that the fourth cyclist, Victor Okishev from the Astana’s feeder team, tested positive arrived last week.
The team in turquoise will also talk about where it will send its men to race in 2015. Aru is slated to race the Giro and return to help Nibali in the Tour or the Vuelta.
“The responsibility does not scare me, rather it’s pleasing to have it because it means that the team believes in me,” Aru added.
“I like the Giro course for 2015. It’s hard and has more climbing meters than in 2014. The 60-kilometer time trial does not scare me and we are planning specific training to get the best result.
“The most important days of the Giro? For sure, it’s going to be the time trial and the Sestriere and Mortirolo stages.”
The 59.2km time trial, the longest race against the clock in six years, could entice Froome to race the Giro along with Aru and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) instead of the Tour. Nibali and Quintana have their eyes on the Tour.
The Giro d’Italia will also feature seven mountain stages. Four are in the high mountains and they are all summit finishes: Madonna di Campiglio, Aprica, Cervinia, and Sestriere.
- Event Details
Join GORC for a fundraiser Happy Hour sponsored by Mesa Cycles!
Friday December 12th, 5-9pm
The Happy Hour will be held during Mesa Cycles annual holiday party and is sure to be quite an event. They will be offering party-only sales discounts. The Happy Hour is simple: Buy a pint glass for a $10 donation to GORC and receive unlimited refills of New Belgium beer all evening long. The donations directly benefit GORC and will keep the trail building club moving forward in 2015 with several projects in St. Charles and St. Louis counties.
GORC will be on hand with a table and information but the Happy Hour is all about the comraderie and socializing so be sure to bring your friends and some new faces! See you there!
This event is being held at
1035 South Big Bend Road
St. Louis MO 63117
1/2 block south of Clayton Road
Post up if you plan on attending!
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