There’s nothing silly about cycling’s “silly season” of rider transfers and contract signings going into 2021.
Agents warned months ago that the coronavirus pandemic was going to create turbulent market conditions for teams and riders going into 2021. And those warnings are playing out as true for some unlucky riders as the peloton continues with its annual high-stakes game of musical chairs.
Scores of top WorldTour pros in the men’s peloton still do not have their respective futures secured. And though 2020 was a very different kind of season in many ways, anyone entering mid-November without a signed contract going into next season has reason to be worried.
One top team manager confirmed to VeloNews that their team is reducing its roster by a few riders going into 2021, and said they expected other teams to follow suit.
One agent said teams with spots remaining are waiting longer than usual to sign riders next season to angle for the best deals, and that some riders might have to settle for less money to secure contracts. Another agent expressed confidence that most quality riders will still be able to find contracts, though they might be coming later than in a typical season.
As the 2020 season comes to a close, it’s a tale of two pelotons.
Some pro cycling teams have seen their budgets pinched through 2020, and are reducing their rosters for the coming season. Others, however, such as Ineos Grenadiers and the major French WorldTour teams, have full budgets going forward and have signed some choice names.
The closure of the CCC Team and the uncertain future of NTT Pro Cycling certainly isn’t helping. Reports out of the Belgian media, however, suggest that NTT is on the verge of finding new backers to keep the African team in the WorldTour.
According to ProCyclingStats, which compiles a running list of confirmed contracts, more than 100 riders still do not have contracts for next season. Yet many of those appearing on that list seem to have deals that remain officially unconfirmed. For example, Michał Kwiatkowski, a stalwart of Ineos Grenadiers, is listed as a rider without a contract for next season, but he told VeloNews earlier this season his future is secure.
Many of the NTT riders, including Domenico Pozzovivo and Giacomo Nizzolo, are anxiously waiting to see if team manager Douglas Ryder pulls something out of the hat to save their futures.
Spanish media has reported that the Izagirre brothers are expected to stay with Astana, which confirmed Monday a new co-sponsor that will assure the team’s immediate future. Miguel Ángel López, who turned pro with Astana in 2015, has been linked to a move to Movistar for 2021.
The Spanish WorldTour team confirmed it has 25 riders on contract for 2021, including a contract extension for Matteo Jorgenson until 2023, meaning that Movistar has room to sign a few more key names before cycling’s “silly season” is over.
Last week, the UCI released an updated list of teams requesting WorldTour licenses for 2021, and only CCC and NTT were missing from the list, with Circus-Wanty Group taking over CCC’s license. That means that most teams have survived the worst of the COVID crisis, yet some are seeing reduced budgets for 2021, and are taking their time in filling out their rosters.
Some WorldTour riders are taking a step down to secure their futures. Fabio Aru, who continues to be dogged by health issues, is expected to sign with a second-tier Italian team for 2021. Others are not waiting, with the likes of Michael Valgren signing for EF Pro Cycling rather than wait for the fate of NTT.
Dozens, however, could be caught out in what remains a very challenging rider market. Even marquee names are having problems. The future of Mark Cavendish, who’s won 30 stages at the Tour de France and a world title, is still not confirmed despite his insistence that he’d like to keep racing.
More than 20 riders have already announced their respective retirements, and not all of them were voluntary. Some expect that number to swell before the signing season is concluded.