MADRID (VN) — Cycling’s sometimes bizarre transfer window is popularly known as the “silly season,” and not without reason as riders and teams play a game of cat and mouse in a mad rush of musical chairs to fill rosters and find jobs.
There’s nothing silly about this year’s transfer season, however, with major teams shuttering doors and squads tightening belts across the peloton.
That means jobs and contracts are more scarce than ever.
Dozens of names big and small are seeing their 2014 plans come down to the wire as teams are filling up and slamming doors with the end of the 2013 racing calendar approaching.
On one end of the spectrum is Chris Horner, who became the oldest winner of a grand tour in September with victory in the Vuelta a España. Horner, who turns 42 next week, is still stranded without a job after he had hoped to move to the failed Fernando Alonso rescue of Euskaltel-Euskadi.
A frustrated Horner vented on Twitter last week to spell out his plight, posting a series of two dozen bitter and sarcastic Tweets over two and a half hours with the hashtag, “#didthat.”
Others are not garnering so much attention, but are in equally dire straits. Dominique Rollin, the strong-as-a-moose Canadian who’s ridden three years on domestique duty for FDJ.fr, is looking at ending his career at 30.
“It’s been two months, and both sprinters are pushing to keep me. Last I heard two weeks ago is that they are not keeping me. They might find an option, but at the moment, the team is full and they are not re-signing me,” Rollin told VeloNews contributor Gregor Brown at the Tour of Beijing. “They didn’t say what for, the reason, but we are seeing that the sprint train is working well, we have confidence amongst each other, but we see the management don’t see it that way. It’s a bit paradoxical and frustrating.”
That story is repeated across the peloton this season, especially with the closure of both Vacansoleil-DCM and Euskaltel at the WorldTour level, and Sojasun, Crelan-Euphony, and Champion System at the Pro Continental level.
Several top names have been forced into early retirement, such as Juan Antonio Flecha and Mikel Astarloza, from Vacansoleil and Euskaltel, respectively, while others, such as Samuel Sánchez, are still hunting for a ride. Last week in Madrid, Saxo-Tinkoff boss Bjarne Riis said there had been “no contact” with Sánchez, meaning the 2008 Olympic champion might be looking at early retirement as well. Juan José Cobo, who beat back Chris Froome to win the 2011 Vuelta, also looks likely to fade away without a deal for next season.
In cycling, you’re only as good as your latest results. Tyler Farrar, arguably America’s most successful sprinter ever, had to sweat it out until October before confirming he was re-upping with Garmin-Sharp for 2014 after ending a frustrating two-year run without winning in Europe when he snagged a stage at the former Franco-Belge stage race.
Thomas De Gendt, the Belgian rider who won an epic stage up the Stelvio, bouncing to third overall in the 2012 Giro d’Italia, was forced to take an 80-percent pay cut to find a spot on Omega Pharma-Quick Step, and he was grateful for that.
There were reported pay cuts for the Schleck brothers at the new-look Trek Factory Team for 2014, and it was also reported that Alberto Contador took a pay cut to help keep together the Saxo team in the wake of the departure of Russian Oleg Tinkov’s Tinkoff Bank. Saxo Bank stepped up last week to guarantee the team’s budget moving into 2014, giving Contador and Riis solid footing as they try to take on Sky and Chris Froome next season.
That’s not to say that this year’s transfer season hasn’t been without some major moves.
Behind the desperation, a few established stars have shopped up to better deals.
Top among them is newly crowned world champion Rui Costa, who will move from Movistar to Lampre-Merida. His new Italian bosses believe the 27-year-old Portuguese rider can challenge in grand tours. Costa’s not so sure, but he’s ready to give it a try.
“With Lampre I will have opportunities I never would at Movistar, like having a chance to ride for my own goals at the Tour,” Costa told VeloNews recently. “I still have a long way to go before I can aspire to truly fight for the Tour, but I hope to begin moving in the direction of racing for grand tours.”
Omega Pharma has also bolstered its GC options by picking up Colombian ace Rigoberto Urán, who was second in this year’s Giro d’Italia after Sir Bradley Wiggins flamed out for Sky. De Gendt, Wouter Pouls (Vacansoleil), and Jan Bakelandts (Radioshack-Leopard) are other top arrivals.
Another big move is Sylvain Chavanel leaving Omega Pharma and the WorldTour for Pro Continental team IAM Cycling, which enters its second season with some other choice signings, including Chavanel’s teammate, Jerome Pineau, Roger Kluge (NetApp-Endura), Vicente Reynes (Lotto-Belisol), and Mathias Frank (BMC Racing).
Tony Gallopin and Maxime Monfort will move over from RadioShack to Lotto, while Omega Pharma has added some firepower to its sprint train, most notably the arrival of Mark Renshaw, who will resume his role of leading out Mark Cavendish in the mass gallops after two years of sub-par results at Rabobank/Belkin.
Several teams are keeping their core bases intact, including Astana, which has added Mikel Landa (Euskaltel), Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli), and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil), but keeps most of its squad in place. The same goes for Sky, which will see the arrival of Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel) and Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthCare), who returns to the bigs, and the departure of classics workhorse Mathew Haymen to Orica-GreenEdge.
Garmin-Sharp is undergoing a major retooling with established stars like Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie retiring. Nearly a dozen new faces will be in decked out in argyle next season, including some promising young talent such as Tour Down Under winner Tom-Jelte Slagter, Colombian sensation Janier Acevedo, former U.S. road champion Ben King, and Sebastian Langeveld.
With Frank’s departure and veteran Marco Pinnoti’s retirement, BMC Racing will also see major changes. Among the young talent arriving in 2014 will be Peter Stetina (Garmin), Rick Zabel, Peter Velits (Omega Pharma), Ben Hermans (RadioShack), and John Darwin Atapuma (Colombia).
Matthew Busche, at least for now, represents the lone American on the new-look Trek Factory Team for 2014, with established stars such as the Schleck brothers, Fabian Cancellara, and Jens Voigt staying on when the team transfers from current RadioShack-Leopard owner Flavio Becca at the end of the year. It remains to be seen if there will be a place for Horner as the clock continues to wind down.
As Horner knows so well, it’s a never-ending tussle of intrigue, politics, and alliances off the bike to stay in the game on the bike. Riders who last as long as Horner and Jens Voigt are the lucky ones. There will be more than a few riders over the next few weeks that will not be so lucky, and they will have to leave the sport earlier than they had ever hoped.