In an article published by L’Equipe on Wednesday about the relatively quiet transfer market among the world’s top riders this year, riders’ agent Joona Laukka says that it’s due to today’s UCI WorldTour teams being “more and more structured” and that team leaders are enjoying increased salaries.
While the majority of the WorldTour teams play it safe – and L’Equipe points out that Denmark’s Michael Valgren is the only rider inside the top 20 of the UCI ranking making a move, transferring from Astana to Dimension Data for next year – a number of French Pro Continental teams, on the other hand, have made big-name signings in preparation for the sweeping changes to come in 2020 in the guise of the UCI reforms.
The big exception among WorldTour teams is BMC Racing, who, with their new main sponsor, become CCC Team next season, and lost a number of riders during the time of the team’s uncertain future, but have now secured a number of new riders to support team leader Greg Van Avermaet.
The smaller French teams, meanwhile, says Laukka, have been actively trying to bring in big-name riders – such as sprinter André Greipel with his move to Fortuneo-Samsic for next year, and Tour of Flanders winner Niki Terpstra, who leaves Quick-Step Floors to join Direct Energie in 2019 – in readiness for the changes that will be introduced by the UCI for 2020.
Up for tender in the summer of 2019 will be the 18 WorldTour places for 2020, which the UCI will re-assign to teams based on ethical, administrative, financial, organisational and sporting criteria.
That latter criterion will ostensibly mean that teams need some big, winning names on their roster to qualify for WorldTour status, and the popularity of those riders within their ranks will be even more important for the non-WorldTour teams that won’t earn an automatic place for the Tour de France, for example, and will have to fight over the remaining wildcard places.
But while Tour organisers ASO currently choose who those four wildcard places are distributed to – often selecting two, or even three, French Pro Conti teams – under the new reforms, the two best-ranked ProTeams (as Pro Conti teams will be called from 2020) will automatically be given two of the four wildcard places for the Grand Tours.
“The French Pro Conti teams are getting ready [with new signings] because, while there will still be four extra invitations for the Grand Tours, two will be reserved for the best teams, and the organiser will only have two wildcards to hand out,” Laukka said.
As to why there had been so little movement between WorldTour teams among the sport’s top names this year, the Finnish riders’ agent – who can count Romain Bardet, Pierre Latour (both AG2R La Mondiale) and UAE Team Emirates’ Alexander Kristoff, among others, on his books – pointed out that today’s men’s team leaders are finding themselves in increasingly comfortable positions.
“The teams are more and more structured, and the leaders don’t really have any reason to change teams,” Laukka told L’Equipe. “More often than not, they’re happy to stay where they are.
“In recent years, the reality of the market is that they’ve seen an increase in their wages compared to those of their teammates,” he continued, “and there haven’t been any big changes in team budgets this year.”
This year’s most successful team, Quick-Step Floors, managed by Patrick Lefevere, won an impressive 73 races in 2018, yet still had to wave good-bye to some of their best riders due to budget restrictions – as a result of his winning riders quite legitimately asking for more money for next year, Lefevere has pointed out, rather than any budget shortfall.
But while BMC were able to announce the coming-onboard of CCC during this year’s Tour de France, Lefevere was unable to secure new main sponsor Deceuninck until early October – with the team to be called Deceuninck-QuickStep next season – which served to add an element of uncertainty to that final budget before the new sponsor was confirmed.
It’s yet to be seen whether Quick-Step’s loss of Terpstra to Direct Energie, or rising sprint star Fernando Gaviria’s move to UAE Team Emirates, will overtly affect the squad’s win-rate next season, although they will welcome Danish youngster Mikkel Honoré and future Belgian superstar Remco Evenepoel, who would at this stage of his career be at the lower end of the team’s big-name wages.
“What Quick-Step have done is a little surprising,” Lauka admitted. “But we know Patrick Lefevere, and how he manages his team so well while staying within his budget. He knows his financial limits.”