The rumor mill has been churning in recent weeks following reports suggesting Chris Froome may be looking for a move away from Team Ineos, possibly as soon as this summer.
But where might he go, how soon, and how may a move from his super-team affect his chances of gaining a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title? While a number of wealthy and powerful teams have been slated to show interest in the grand tour star, Eddy Merckx has written off Froome’s chances of yellow jersey number five without Ineos.
And it’s not just Froome that could be with a new team in 2021, as hundreds of pros are out of contract at the end of this season. How will the impact of coronavirus affect cycling’s transfer market?
There’s plenty to chew over — let’s roundtable!
NTT Pro Cycling, Israel Start-Up Nation, Movistar, and Bahrain-McLaren are hot favorites for getting Froome’s signature – which do you see being the most feasible option for him, and how do you think he would fit into the current dynamic of the team?
Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): Something in my brain doesn’t let me compute the idea of Froome at Movistar. They do have a bit of a leadership void this season, but cutting-edge Ineos to old-school Movistar seems a huge cultural step. Bahrain-McLaren makes a lot of sense given the connections with Ellingworth, Landa, and Poels, but if they’re cutting salaries this year, can they afford Froome? I bet eternal second-best Mikel Landa is hoping they can’t. My money would possibly be on Israel Start-Up Nation. They’ve got the dollars and Sylvan Adams is on a mission to take the team to the top. Sure, they’re a new squad but they have a reasonable set of riders to support Froome with the likes of Dan Martin, Rory Sutherland, James Picolli, and Nils Politt.
Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): I have serious doubts he will leave Ineos, especially in a mid-season transfer. First off, he’s damaged goods. No team, especially in today’s economic uncertainty, is going to wager millions on a rider who might not be able to perform at previous levels, and even more so with no guarantee that there will be racing in 2020. Froome’s best chance of winning a fifth yellow jersey is at Ineos, even with Bernal and Thomas there. Having said that, if behind-the-scenes things have fractured between Froome and team manager Dave Brailsford, a move for 2021 could be possible. There certainly would be suitors for a rider of Froome’s caliber, and the money would be there from someone. I still see Froome in an Ineos jersey to conclude his career. Leaving Ineos would be like exiting the Yankees to join the Baltimore Orioles (sorry O’s fans).
James Startt: I like NTT Pro Cycling. I like the African connection because Chris is just much more African than he is British. Every time I have spoken to him about Africa a warm smile comes across his face. So I think he would respond to that. And then as you can see in my conversation with NTT manager Bjarne Riis, I think there would be a great match-up on the sporting level. Riis was working on marginal gains years before Sky coined the word. Obviously Bahrain-McLaren would be a logical choice as it would reunite him with former Sky staff. But to win the Tour without Ineos, Froome needs to think out of the box and Riis will do just that.
Eddy Merckx thinks Froome can’t win the Tour without Team Ineos. If Froome moves to a new team in the coming months, will he be able to take his fifth yellow jersey this year?
James: If he is clearly the strongest then he can beat an army, and he can even beat the armada that is Ineos, or others like Jumbo-Visma. But if he is not head and shoulders above the others, then things will be complicated. And this year’s Tour, in particular, will be complicated with its lack of high mountains and long time trials. Obviously he best chance of winning the Tour is starting as the undisputed leader of Ineos. But there are too many cooks in that kitchen.
Andrew: That really depends on Froome’s recovery from his crash. The COVID-19 delay is working into his favor, giving him even more space to be ready to race. In the Tour, the strongest man usually wins, but a very strong team can be hard to overcome. Ineos with Bernal is just as strong as Froome on another team would be, if not more so. Pre-crash Froome would have a slight TT advantage on Bernal or Thomas, but the Tour these days sees few TT kilometers. So in a Tour decided in the mountains would be a dazzling fight between Bernal and Thomas against Froome. Could Froome do it? Yes, but it won’t be easy.
Jim: First things first, I don’t think Froome will move that soon. If he was going to go, he would have done it by now – transferring team three months before trying for the yellow jersey seems far too rushed. If Froome does race the 2020 Tour with a new team, I can’t see him winning it. Ineos and Jumbo-Visma have the experience and knowhow, and with Froome coming back from a one-year layoff, adapting to a new team, and taking on Bernal, Thomas, Roglic, Dumoulin, etc it all seems too much at once.
Not only Froome, but nearly 400 pros will be off-contract at the end of 2020: what implications will COVID-19 and the calendar disruptions have for riders looking for new contracts?
Andrew: It’s going to have massive implications across the entire sport. The pinch will be felt in all disciplines, men’s and women’s, with fewer jobs and lower salaries. Not only will sponsors have less money to back cycling, so too will local and regional governments, which are the backbone of most backing for races. On the upside, more people than ever are riding bikes, so brands could become an even more important backstop for the sport. Professional racing won’t go away, but it will shrink. By how much depends on if there is some sort of racing in 2020, and how bad the larger socio-economic impacts are for the global economy. Teams will be using money to keep their winners and to recruit young talent. Riders who will be most impacted will be those middle-tier helpers and team players who might not get that final contract, and be forced into leaving racing before they would have liked.
Jim: I could see the fallout from the pandemic deepening the divide between the haves and the have-nots. While some teams and their sponsors seem to be coming through the year unscathed, other outfits are cutting salaries and sponsors such as CCC are on the brink. While some financially solid teams can snap up the top riders demanding big bucks, smaller squads may be left hoovering up riders who are having to take pay cuts just to ensure they get a contract for 2021. Riders in a contract year will be under a lot of pressure to prove themselves in a short space of time when the season resumes. It could literally be a case of racing for their career.
James: Well, I am not worried about Froome finding work. In a worst-case scenario, the Tour happens and he rides poorly. That will cost him dearly in negotiations and he will have to settle for millions less. But he won’t be out of a job. I am much more concerned about the dozens of lesser-known riders. We just have to see when the dust settles how many teams are really still standing.