Early Start on Transfer Rumor Season
The silly season lasts all year long.
Just a quick Tour de France update - the Dauphiné has started and while we only have the prologue completed as I write this, not surprisingly Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins finished a mere one-second behind Luke Durbridge (GreenEdge). Of course another Tour de France favorite, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) finished within spitting distance - six-seconds behind.
Although the prologue doesn't do much more than set the general classification, it does give a bit of an insight into how Wiggo is riding, as well as a bit of an insight into the fitness status of his rivals. Stage 4's individual time trial will be a stage to watch as will the remaining three stages in the mountains.
By next Sunday I expect the winner is either going to be Wiggins or Evans. From that point on there will be crazy, mad predictions of who will win the Tour de France 2012. Let's not forget the Olympics begin afterwards and Le Grand Boucle with all eyes on whomever wins the Green Jersey.
Along with the educated guesses of who will win the Tour there's also another yearly tradition that happens - transfer rumors.
The UCI states that the transfer period starts August 1st to October 20th. Seems simple enough doesn't it? A rider can only be signed between those two dates. But hold on, there's more legalize as the Inrng blog points out.
From the UCI rule book regarding transfers, "For the purposes of this article ‘recruit' shall be deemed to mean concluding a contract with a rider to ride for the UCI ProTeam or license applicant's team, including situations where the rider in question is already under contract to the same UCI ProTeam or license applicant at the moment of that recruitment, e.g. in the case of the renewal of an existing contract."
Mr. Inrng points out a rider can have transfer discussions at any time of the year with any team - just not sign a legally binding contract until August 1st.
How this very pre-season transfer subject was raised was La Gazzetta Dello Sport reporting that Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale had signed a contract with Astana for the 2013 season. At times the European press loves to jump the gun on these types of rumors and I doubt that there's a legally binding contract that states Nibali is going to Astana, but I do believe he will be transferring. I think at this point Nibali has been given a "promise ring" of Astana's intentions for 2013 and perhaps even longer.
This is way ahead of the UCI's transfer window and much before the Tour de France - the unofficial kick-off date of transfer rumors. And there is a ripple effect of what happens next. As I wrote last week, Astana's current Golden Boy, Roman Kreuziger, has not had the season management had hoped (and got paid for). He won a stage in the Giro d'Italia, but he was on a lot of people's short list as a potential GC winner. As a result the rumor mill started kicking in and he's been linked to BMC Racing Team. Regardless it throws teams into a tizzy.
Garmin-Barracuda's Jonathan Vaughters knows how potentially dangerous these early transfers rumors can be to the welfare of a team. When there were rumors that Bradley Wiggins was moving to Team Sky, it had the potential to scuttle any possible sponsors.
For example - you're pitching a team that currently holds a rider who was fourth in the Tour and he has the potential for more. That seems like a good team to throw some money behind. All of a sudden there's word that the star rider might bolt. Suddenly the sponsor isn't so eager to put corporate money behind the squad. Not only can the team lose sponsorship dollars, but that dribbles down further and the loss of money could mean the loss of back office jobs.
A high profile rider that is currently without contract is Alberto Contador. As we all know, he's been benched until August 5th - just in time for the 2012 Vuelta a Espana. He's strongly linked to returning to his previous team, Saxo Bank. But now Saxo Bank has been linked to Liquigas! When teams merge the blow back is that people lose their jobs.
A team is limited to 30 riders, so if two squads merge, someone is going to get the boot. Imagine you're on a squad that is rumored to merge with another - those are some nervous times. Will you be kept or will you be tossed out? And don't think that the contract you have is valid - that's with your original owner. If a new owner comes in, you're out of luck.
Going back to Contador - I think he'll return to the Saxo Bank fold. A merger with Liquigas, which I'm assuming will include Ivan Basso, would be a formidable combination. This past Giro showed that Basso lacks that certain something that he had several years ago. You draw your own conclusions...
Another team on the brink of extinction is Euskaltel-Euskadi. According to Cyclingnews the team's managers are fighting with rider agents who they call "vultures" because they are trying to lure away their talent. One of the stars of the team who is entertaining several offers is Samuel Sanchez. Marca.com reports that Sanchez has several offers he's looking at, but ultimately he wants to stay with the Basque-sponsored team.
However, Sanchez has ample UCI points that would transfer with him to any team. That makes him a hot commodity and puts the management of Euskaltel in a difficult position. It's hard to court other possible sponsors if the star has a wandering eye.
Sanchez says he'd like to have the whole transfer situation behind him before the Tour de France - either the team continues as a WorldTour squad or he moves on. A rider of Sammy's ability can't race for a Continental squad that is wrangling for wild card slots.
End of the day the transfer season reminds me a lot of Christmas - every year department stores put out the ornaments earlier and earlier. Soon it will be like the tacky neighbor down the street who has his Christmas lights up all year. And no one wants that.