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Veteran riders struggle to secure contracts for 2017

For some riders over 40, the prospects of racing in the peloton next year are still up in the air as they seek contracts.

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A few big names are still looking for rides going into 2017, including some veteran riders who are well into their 40s.

Davide Rebellin, 45, and Matteo Tosatto, 42, are both on the bubble as teams across the peloton are finalizing their rosters for next season.

CCC – Sprandi Polkowice did not extend with Rebellin, who was stripped of his 2008 Olympic silver medal after testing positive for CERA, despite the fact the peloton’s oldest racer was among its top performers. So far, it appears no teams are willing to give Rebellin a lifeline for next season.

“I want to be an example of longevity,” Rebellin told VeloNews’ Gregor Brown earlier this season. “I’m showing that if one wants to, he can going into his 40s.”

And with Tinkoff closing down at season’s end, Tosatto is left without a contact despite his hopes of racing at least one more season. The Italian told Tutto Bici he was hoping to join Alberto Contador in his move to Trek – Segafredo, but nothing came of a possible deal.

“I am in talks with two WorldTour teams, but there’s nothing yet,” said Tosatto, who’s been linked to the new Bahrain – Merida team. “I wanted to end my career differently, and I could have finished off at the Tour de France, but I was persuaded to ride one more year with Contador, but the deal fell through. I have the motivation to race another year, but it’s already November and there are not a lot of places left.”

Riders are extending their careers longer than ever, but unless they find the right niche with a team, it’s often a challenge for older riders to find new contracts on the open market.

More and more teams are focusing on signing young, promising (and cheaper) riders to try to develop homegrown talent that will pay off in the future. Another reason that is making it harder for older riders to find contracts across the WorldTour is that teams are gradually shrinking their rosters from 30-plus to closer to 25 to 28. And some teams are also hesitant to buy into the baggage that sometimes comes with signing riders with a history, as is the case of Rebellin and his 2008 doping ban.

The 2016 season has already seen a wave of high-profile retirements as the peloton is in the throes of a generational change. Dozens of top-level pros are hanging up the cleats for good, a list that includes Fabian Cancellara, Ryder Hesjedal, Fränk Schleck, Jean-Christophe Péraud, Yaroslav Popovych, and Johan Vansummeren. Tom Boonen says he will put an end to his illustrious career at next year’s Paris-Roubaix.

Alberto Contador put off retirement, for at least one season after signing with Trek – Segafredo, while Joaquim Rodríguez came out of retirement to join Bahrain – Merida in part because the team wants his UCI points, with the offer of joining the technical staff in 2018. And then there’s Bradley Wiggins, who is racing this week in the Ghent Six Day track event in what he says will be his final professional outing despite hints he might race in 2017.

There are still a few veteran riders who would like to continue but have not yet secured their futures. La Gazzetta dello Sport reported this month that Bahrain – Merida turned down an offer from 45-year-old Chris Horner, who raced on a Continental team in 2016, to join the new WorldTour squad.

Others looking for a ride include Franco Pellizotti, 38, who joined Androni Giacotolli in 2012 following a doping ban. In five years with the Pro Continental team, he only won one race, the 2012 Italian road championship. The futures of Peter Velits, 31, (BMC Racing) and Marcel Wyss, 30, (IAM Cycling) also remain uncertain. Theo Bos, 33, the former sprint world champion who returned to the track this summer for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, is also on the bubble whether he will continue racing on the road.

Other veterans, however, have found secure homes across the peloton. Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek – Segafredo), and Svein Tuft (Orica – BikeExchange), all 39, will ride for at least one more season.

“I am proud to have competed 20 years as a professional,” Zubeldia said. “I cannot say that next year will be my last. I will go year-to-year, and I don’t know how many more years I have in my legs. I am going to try to enjoy every moment.”