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.
Two teams tussle over carrot couple
With still no destination resolved for a couple of Euskaltel-Euskadi’s climbing stars, Igor Anton and Mikel Nieve, rumours are intensifying that they are to decide between Astana and Omega Pharma-Quick Step for the upcoming season. With the exception of a sole season for Nieve at the Orbea-Oreka SDA team, both riders have ridden on the Basque squad for their entire careers. However, with Euskaltel folding at the end of the season, they’re now searching for alternatives.
With team boss Alexander Vinokourov looking to stack his team high with climbers in the hope of competing with Team Sky, it’s not surprising Astana are in the hunt. However, more intriguing is the interest of OPQS, with this a clear indication that they are looking to build a grand tour team around their new signing Rigoberto Uran. With Thomas De Gendt reportedly just a phone call away from completing his move to the Belgian team, they’re building a seriously impressive GC outfit, which would be completed by the captures of the Basque duo.
Will it happen? With Euskaltel folding these riders have to go somewhere, and it seems as feasible that they’ll end up at either of these teams as anywhere else. As for which has the advantage, it’s too close to call. However, with Nieve having picked up four grand tour top tens and Igor Anton two top tens, they’d certainly add great quality in the mountains for both outfits. If they do go to OPQS, the careful balance between satisfying Mark Cavendish in the sprints and Rigoberto Uran on the climbs must be struck.
Ag2r to release four veterans?
According to L’Equipe, Ag2r La Mondiale are having quite the clearout this winter, and could see four veterans of the team leave. The most notable is John Gadret – the French climber who has been loyal to the team for the last eight seasons – who could be unceremoniously dumped alongside sprinters Anthony Ravard, Manuel Belletti and Valentin Iglinsky.
This news comes after the announcement that the contracts of Julien Berard, Ben Gastauer and Guillaume Bonnafond will be renewed alongside the signings of Sebastien Turgot and Damien Gaudin from Team Europcar, with there seemingly being no future for at the French team for the aforementioned few riders.
Will it happen? This almost certainly will happen, given that we’ve heard nothing of any contract renewals for the four riders. It’s certainly a surprise to see Gadret released after his loyalty to the team over the last eight years, with his highlight being a podium finish at the Giro d’Italia in 2011. He’s rumoured to be in talks with FDJ and IAM over a deal for next season.
It’s less surprising to see Ravard and Belletti let go, with the duo having struggled to deliver over the last couple of seasons. However, at 29 and 27 respectively, they should still be capable of delivering good results, and could be good captures for another team. As for Valentin Iglinsky, he has never picked up a major win throughout his career, and hasn’t won a race at all since 2011. His release is the most understandable of the four.
Team Sky looking to Malacarne?
Dave Brailsford is reportedly looking at signing Europcar’s Davide Malacarne, with the Italian climber possibly set to become Sky’s newest recruit. The Italian is capable of good results in both stage and one-day races, winning the mountains classification at Tirreno-Adriatico in 2011 and finishing inside the top ten of this year’s Brabantse Pijl. “He is a good climber who loves the Flandriennes and Ardennes races,” commented Europcar team boss Jean-René Bernaudeau.
At only 26, Malacarne should have his best results ahead of him, and Brailsford clearly sees untapped potential. Whether that’s for the classics or stage races remains to be seen, though it would be interesting to see what Sky could squeeze out of a rider who thus far has achieved solid if unspectacular results. With Sky having been unimpressive in the one-day classics recently, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them try to build on his promising showing in the spring races this season.
Will it happen? Malacarne signed a two-year contract with Europcar in 2011, and thus is free to find a new team for next season. If the interest from Sky is genuine, this one seems likely to go through.
Garmin-Sharp to sign Portuguese veteran?
28-year-old Portuguese climber Andre Cardoso could soon join the WorldTour with Garmin-Sharp. Currently racing the Vuelta a España with the Spanish Pro Continental Caja Rural team, Cardoso has shown promise in the mountains which has reportedly caught the eye of team boss Jonathan Vaughters.
Cardoso doesn’t have a great palmarès, though has been solid enough throughout stage races this season to demonstrate his ability on the climbs. In his first Grand Tour, the 2012 Vuelta, he finished in a solid 21st place, and this season has finished inside the top ten at the Vuelta a Burgos, Tour of Norway and Vuelta a Asturias.
Will it happen? Once again, if the interest in genuine, then it’s likely that this one will go through. Garmin are pretty thin on climbers – not least with Christian Vande Velde set to retire at the end of the season – and Cardoso could help plug that gap. For the time being, in a column for Eurosport.pt, Cardoso has denied any contact, though admitted that it would “be an important step in my career.”