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.
IAM purring over Chavanel
Sylvain Chavanel has been one of the key protagonists in our transfer gossip columns so far, after confirming that a departure from Omega Pharma-Quick Step was possible. Ag2r La Mondiale, Lotto-Belisol and Movistar have all been linked in recent weeks, with the latest team said to be interested in the Frenchman being Switzerland’s Pro Continental team IAM Cycling.
Despite not earning a wildcard to the majority of major races this season – including all three Grand Tours – IAM have a solid roster, and one which could easily compete in the WorldTour. Classics specialist Heinrich Haussler, Swedish TT champion Gustav Larsson and his climbing compatriot Thomas Lofkvist are a trio of noteworthy names on IAM’s books, with the prospect of a swoop for Chavanel an indicator of their ambition.
With a couple of WorldTour teams set to fold at the end of this season, there appeared to be the prospect of IAM being promoted to cycling’s top tier. However, they’ve reportedly rejected the offer, and could be hoping that the signing of the French favourite will help them earn wildcards to the top races next season.
Will it happen? It still seems a long shot at this stage, with IAM joining a long list of Chavanel suitors. However, a move to IAM would see Chavanel join an ambitious young team as one of their star riders – a prospect which could appeal. I’d say it was unlikely, but not impossible.
Astana and Lampre-Merida join chase for Rui Costa
From one regular gossip column protagonist to another, Movistar’s Rui Costa is also spoiled for choice. With Ag2r and BMC both rumoured to be possible destinations for the Portuguese climber a couple of weeks ago, Astana and Lampre-Merida are now said to have joined the chase.
Astana have been looking to beef up their climbing department for next season, with manager Alexander Vinokourov hoping to construct a team capable of challenging Sky in the mountains. They’ve already confirmed the captures of Franco Pellizotti and Lieuwe Westra for 2014, and have supposedly also considered climbers Nairo Quintana, Fabio Duarte, Ivan Basso and Mikel Nieve.
In contrast, Lampre are a team without any real GC ambitions at the moment, indicated in how they’ve reportedly chased Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton for 2014. Damiano Cunego has underperformed consistently since winning the Giro d’Italia in 2004 and Tour de France young rider classification in 2006, while Michele Scarponi is now 33, and has been linked with a move to Cannondale. The signing of Rui Costa would be a huge coup for the Italian outfit, and could plug their GC gap.
Will it happen? If Rui Costa ends up having to decide between these teams, he’d effectively be choosing whether he’s happy to be a domestique to Vincenzo Nibali in the Grand Tours and have leadership in week-long races and classics, or whether he’d like to be an out-and-out leader at a weaker team. I’d suggest the former would be more likely at the moment, especially considering the big budget enjoyed by Astana. However, with BMC also believed to be involved – and boasting as big a budget as anyone – it’s impossible to predict Costa’s final destination at the moment.
Mikel Nieve heading for Saxo Bank?
The aforementioned Mikel Nieve – supposedly subject to interest from Astana – should be one of the most sought-after riders on the market. He’s available with Euskaltel set to fold, and is about as reliable a Grand Tour rider as you can find. The Basque climber has won stages of the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, and has never finished outside the top 12 in the five Grand Tours he’s started.
Capable of winning mountain stages himself and being a valuable domestique, it’s little surprise the big teams are chasing the 29-year-old. Saxo Bank are the latest outfit rumoured to be interested, with Nieve possibly set to join Alberto Contador‘s posse of Spanish mountain allies currently consisting of Jesus Hernandez and Benjamin Noval.
Will it happen? It’s a switch which seems to make sense for both parties, and one which certainly looks feasible. Though there are probably many teams looking to sign Nieve, the prospect of riding in support of a compatriot and potential Grand Tour winner could be an especially appealing one – that’s unless he fancies a crack at leadership himself.
Maxime Monfort to swap RadioShack for Lotto-Belisol?
Belgian all-rounder Maxime Monfort has shown himself to be one of the most solid domestiques around over the last few seasons. The 30-year-old has been at RadioShack-Leopard since their rebranding in 2011, winning a stage and picking up a highly-impressive 6th overall at the Vuelta a España later that year.
There isn’t a team in the pro peloton that wouldn’t value Monfort’s services, and now Belgian outfit Lotto-Belisol have reportedly moved to sign him. He’d likely ride the Grand Tours in support of nominal leader Jurgen Van Den Broeck, though, as has been shown in the past, is capable of picking up great results of his own.
Will it happen? Though it wouldn’t be surprising if there’s interest in Monfort, it’s difficult to say how realistic a departure is. He’s excelled at RadioShack after joining from from HTC-Highroad, and has had the chance to ride five of the eight Grand Tours which have taken place since. This one really depends on how much Monfort fancies a change of scenery.