The Tour de France has packed up for another year but, as always, its conclusion marks the beginning of cycling’s transfer tussles and contract clashes. With the rumour mill grinding, this regular column will try to sort the wheat from the chaff and work out who’ll be where next year.
Astana plan an audacious swoop for Quintana
Having strengthened their climbing department by signing Franco Pellizotti, Mikel Landa and Lieuwe Westra for next season, the wealthy Astana team are reportedly interested in poaching the best young climber around at the moment: Nairo Quintana. The Colombian has two years left on his contract with Movistar, though that hasn’t stopped Astana team boss Alexander Vinokourov attempting to sign him as a vice-leader to Vincenzo Nibali.
Also reportedly being chased is Mikel Nieve, with the Kazakh outfit looking to capitalise on Euskaltel-Euskadi’s imminent folding by snapping up the Basque climber. Nieve has ridden five grand tours, finishing inside the top 12 of all of them. It’s a record few could match for consistency, and he’d be a great addition as a mountain domestique.
On that subject, Cannondale’s leader Ivan Basso has also been linked with a move to Astana, with the two-time Giro d’Italia winner also a potentially excellent assistant to his compatriot Nibali in the mountains. Vinokourov is looking to put together a team capable of competing with Sky, after Tour de France team leader Jakob Fuglsang was often left entirely isolated in the mountains at this year’s edition.
Will it happen? The suggestion that Quintana could swap Movistar for Astana is the most eyebrow-raising rumour of the silly season so far, and it looks highly unlikely to happen. He’d be as good an addition for Astana as he would any other team in the world, though having enjoyed such success at his current team – at which he still has two years of his contract to run – as well as there being a strong possibility of his brother joining him at Movistar next season, I’d rate this one as highly unlikely.
However, Nieve and Basso look much more likely, with Nieve in particular a very strong possibility with the disintegration of the Euskaltel team. Basso is slightly less probable, given he’s been happy and has enjoyed a leadership role at Cannondale for the last few years, though don’t rule it out yet.
Philip Deignan set for a WorldTour return with Sky
Irishman Philip Deignan hasn’t ridden on a WorldTour team since 2011, when he rode for RadioShack. Since then the former Ag2r and Cervelo climbing specialist has ridden on the American Pro Continental team, UnitedHealthcare, picking up some good results, including the overall win at this year’s Tour of the Gila.
Now Dave Brailsford is reportedly willing to offer a place on Team Sky for the 29-year-old Irishman, who would certainly be a useful addition to an already strong squad in the mountains. Having ridden in support of the likes of Carlos Sastre and Levi Leipheimer in the past, he offers quality and experience, with his highlight being a top-ten overall and a stage win at the 2009 Vuelta a España.
Will it happen? This one certainly looks likely. With Sky possibly looking to compensate for the loss of Rigoberto Uran by hiring another experienced mountain domestique, it makes sense that Deignan would be a target. What’s more, the Irishman’s agent Andrew McQuaid has reportedly told VeloNation that a return to the WorldTour for Deignan is likely. I’d bet this one’s a goer.
Samuel Sanchez heading for Saxo?
That Samuel Sanchez‘s future has scarcely been mentioned in spite of Euskaltel’s imminent plight is demonstrative of how his stock has fallen over the last few seasons. Now 35, the Asturian former Olympic champion – who has finished on the podium of grand tours three times – has only taken one win so far this season, a stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Now no longer likely to be offered a leadership role, he’s opened the door to a support role to his compatriot Alberto Contador in the mountains. “Who would not love to ride with one of the strongest cyclists of all time?” he asked in an interview with Biciciclismo, adding “I’m on good terms with Alberto.”
Will it happen? This is certainly an interesting prospect, with Sanchez still capable of offering something on the climbs yet. He finished 12th at this year’s tough Giro d’Italia, and isn’t quite ready for retirement. However, I’d still treat this rumour with caution at the moment. As of yet there’s nothing to suggest there’s any interest from Saxo; rather just Sanchez acknowledging it’s a role he’d consider. However, it gives Bjarne Riis food for thought, with Samu’s future an interesting unknown.
More sets of siblings at Trek?
There’s already a famous pair of cycling brothers signed onto the RadioShack-Leopard team for next season, though reports suggest that Danny and Boy van Poppel could join Frank and Andy Schleck under the new Trek banner. The Dutch pair are currently at Vacansoleil-DCM, though with that team facing the same bleak prospect of folding as Euskaltel, riders are now being forced to look elsewhere.
Both riders have followed in father Jean-Paul’s footsteps, developing into formidable sprinters. Teenager and younger sibling Danny became the youngest cyclist to ride the Tour de France since WWII this year, finishing third on the opening stage before two further top tens. 25-year-old Boy is more of a classics specialist than a pure sprinter, notably finishing inside the top 20 at this year’s Gent-Wevelgem.
Will it happen? This deal is certainly a feasible one, despite neither rider having chalked up seriously significant victories so far. With Vacansoleil in trouble, it’s unsurprising that the young duo are hot property, and Trek will be looking to compensate for the loss of flat-stage specialist Tony Gallopin to Lotto-Belisol. It seems likely that we’ll see the van Poppels alongside the Schlecks next season.