The silly season has begun in earnest.
With many of the peloton’s top stars signing contract extensions and no major team closures or arrivals for 2018, it seemed that it would be a fairly quiet transfer market this year.
Things have quickly heated up in cycling’s annual game of musical chairs.
In a Tour de France that’s seen more rumors than attacks, the biggest thing making waves Wednesday morning in the paddock was a blockbuster report out of Colombia.
Colombian radio reported that Nairo Quintana is unhappy at Movistar and wants to break his contract with one year remaining. Citing “unnamed sources,” Astana and Sky are reportedly courting the Colombian superstar.
As far as rumors go, this is a big one. First off, Movistar has Quintana under contract through 2019, and would not be keen to see its franchise rider leave easily. Most big-name rider contracts have a big buy-out clause written into the deals, so that means it would be expensive. And finally Movistar, the Spain-based telecommunications giant, uses Quintana to promote its brand in the growing South American mobile phone market.
Is Quintana leaving Movistar? Maybe, but not until he finishes out his contract through 2018.
On Wednesday, Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué told ITV’s Daniel Friebe that Quintana “is with us 100 percent for 2018.”
When VeloNews editor-in-chief Fred Dreier asked Sky principal Dave Brailsford about the Quintana transfer rumor, he laughed it off and said, “Brilliant, along with the rest of the peloton.”
“We’re a friendly team and open to all comers. I’m sure Nairo and his agent will be in touch,” Brailsford said. “Everything is for speculation at this point.”
One Sky rider at the center of all kinds of transfer speculation is Mikel Landa. The Spanish all-rounder said this week, “wherever I go, I don’t want to be the second man anymore.”
Several teams have offered deals to Landa, reportedly Trek-Segafredo, Astana, Movistar, and UAE-Emirates. Many see Landa moving to Movistar, where he would take over as the franchise rider from Alejandro Valverde and the possibly-exiting Quintana. In an interview with El País, Unzué did his best to walk the tightrope on Landa, only saying, “any team would be interested in a rider of his qualities.”
The big player this year on the rider market is UAE-Emirates, which has pulled out the checkbook for 2018. Flush with petro-dollars, the new-look team that morphed out of the separation of Lampre-Merida last season is looking to step up. Sources say the team is expanding its budget to $30 million, which would put it alongside Team Sky with the biggest budget in the peloton.
That kind of money attracts attention. La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Fabio Aru, Daniel Martin, and Elia Viviani are all linked to the expanded UAE-Emirates program for 2018. That sounds more like a wish list at this point.
Aru is said to be deep into negotiations to stay with Astana. The Kazakh-backed team will want to keep the budding Italian star in its stable, and is said to be offering a healthy contract to keep him in-house. Jakob Fuglsang will also reportedly stay with Astana.
Viviani is said to be unhappy at Sky after being left off the Giro d’Italia squad, and is shopping for a team that will give him more support in the sprints.
Martin, meanwhile, will be fetching a higher price following a breakthrough Tour de France that is confirming his grand tour capability despite being impacted by a back injury.
The key to Martin’s future is Quick-Step Floors. The entire squad at the Belgian outfit is off-contract at the end of 2018, but team boss Patrick Lefevere is quietly telling riders he has sponsors lined up to continue the team despite not publicly revealing it at this point.
Quick-Step has a bounty of quality riders, but it might not have the money to be able to keep all of them happy. Marcel Kittel, Julian Alaphilippe, and Fernando Gaviria are all demanding more money, and one of them could fly the coop if a nice offer comes along.
Katusha has penned a deal to keep promising Russian GC star Ilnur Zakarin, but the future of classics and sprint star Alexander Kristoff remains unresolved. There are rumors of Kittel moving into a Katusha jersey, but those remain unconfirmed at this point.
Another big talking point during this Tour has been the future of Alberto Contador. Trek-Segafredo sport director Stephen De Jongh told Dutch TV NOS this week that the 2017 Tour is Contador’s last one, something Contador quickly shot down.
“Right now, nothing is settled,” Contador said of his future. “People are talking just to talk.”
Trek-Segafredo wants to exercise its option to keep Contador for a second year, with talk of sending him to the Giro and perhaps a swansong Vuelta a España in 2018. Bauke Mollema, who stepped aside this year to give Contador a clean run at the Tour, wants his top GC position back for next season. The team is said to still be shopping for another GC rider for 2018.
BMC Racing has already extended its contract with Richie Porte, so it remains to be seen what happens with Tejay van Garderen. The team does not reveal the length of its rider contracts, but van Garderen is said to be shopping for a team that will assure him grand tour options. With BMC Racing firmly backing Porte for the Tour, the American might be changing jerseys for 2018.
Orica-Scott already has its trio of emerging talent firmly under contract — Esteban Chaves and Simon and Adam Yates — so what’s not known yet is the future of veteran Simon Gerrans. He was overlooked for the Tour this year and wants to race one more season. It’s hard to imagine the Australians not working something out to make everyone happy.
Cannondale-Drapac boss Jonathan Vaughters confirmed to Business Insider he’s looking for a new title sponsor to take over by the end of 2018. Cannondale wants to reel back its commitment and stay on as supplier but not be the title sponsor. Davide Formolo, the budding Italian star, is said to be leaving. Rigoberto Urán’s asking price, already near $1 million, will surely increase following his impressive Tour ride.
Another rider sure to change jerseys next year is French sprinter Bryan Coquard. Direct Energie left him at home during the Tour, and he’s already indicated he will join a WorldTour team in 2018. The other top French riders are under contract, with Arnaud Démare and Thibaut Pinot staying at FDJ and Romain Bardet staying at Ag2r-La Mondiale. Cofidis continues with its bet on Nacer Bouhanni.
So where do these rumors come from? Many of them are directly from rider agents, who enthusiastically stoke the rumor mill with the hopes of upping their client’s asking price. Team managers will also whisper some news or even riders themselves, especially the ones off a contract for the coming season.
Any rider without a firmed-up contract by the end of the Tour de France will start getting nervous. Teams fill up their rosters early. Every season is a game of musical chairs. There are only so many seats at the WorldTour table.