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The wreckage of B&B Hotels-KTM has plunged 20 contracted riders into ice-cold water, along with the many incoming transfers expected to ride with the rebooted ‘Men in Glaz’ in 2023.
With just three weeks to go before the new year, dozens of people, riders and staff included, are left floundering, racing to find a lifeboat, but there are not enough and they’re all too small. This leaves some swimming to shore (retirement) while others are seeking out any possible floating vessel they can grab hold of… Ok, maybe it’s time to retire this clumsy analogy.
Among those treading water is Mark Cavendish, around whom Jérôme Pineau’s ambitious new project was due to be built. The British national champion and 34-time Tour de France stage winner would seem a pretty safe bet as far as new contracts are concerned, but up to now, all we’ve had are rumours. All the while, his fellows are slowly but surely being picked out of the cold, which also means teams are completing their rosters – the lifeboats are filling up.
So what are the options? It is a disastrous time of year to be searching for a new team, obviously, but there are still a number of squads yet to meet the UCI’s 30-rider maximum. Although the number is shrinking fast.
Here’s what we know (at time of writing), the numbers, the rumours, the closed doors…
Arkéa Samsic – 30, i.e. no longer an option
The French team, which is stepping up to WorldTour next year, was seen as a reasonable option for Cavendish, not least because until this week, they’ve had multiple (that is, two) open spots, which would mean the sprinter could take a colleague, namely Max Richeze who was expected to be the Manxman’s lead-out lieutenant.
However, Arkéa Samsic has now completed their roster after the announcement that Andrii Ponomar and Luca Mozzato will be their 29th and 30th riders. It’s fantastic news for the young Ukrainian Ponomar who upgrades to WorldTour after two years with Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli. And the speedy Italian Mozzato is the latest to be rescued from the clutches of B&B’s oblivion.
One (more) door closes…
Astana Qazaqstan – 29 (with fine print…)
A late entry to the discussion is Astana Qazaqstan after the news of Miguel Ángel López’s contract termination effective December 12. While the Colombian is contesting the decision, it’s unlikely to result in him seeing out his contract, so it’s probably a safe bet that a space has opened up, and rumours are swirling around a certain record-equalling sprinter.
This is a team that could do with some rejuvenation after the retirement of superstar rider Vincenzo Nibali, but that reboot is unlikely to come in the form of a sprinter. Rather, Astana looks like a good bet for Nairo Quintana, but for the assertions made by the rider himself that he’s had a contract agreed for several weeks now…
AG2R-Citroën and Groupama-FDJ – 28 apiece
Staying in France, both incumbent French WorldTeams have space on the bus (sorry, lifeboat), and while neither seems a likely option for Cavendish, there’s hope for a small handful of contracted B&B riders, or the likes of Nick Schultz and Cees Bol whose talents are burgeoning but who have smaller price tags than the ‘Manx Missile’.
Intermarché-Circus-Wanty – 29
This is an interesting one. The Belgian squad is relatively new to the WorldTour but they’ve thrived, especially in this past season. With Gent-Wevelgem and Giro stage winner Biniam Girmay and promising fast man Gerben Thijssen already onboard, it seems less than likely that they’d let another sprinter into the fold. And with the latest news (as of December 14) that Niccolò Bonifazio has been added to the sprint lineup from TotalEnergies, it’s even less likely that anyone from that category might find a home here.
However, with their Classics pedigree still very much intact and stage racing becoming ever more important, there is some hope here for others in the shop window. Including, perhaps, Nairo Quintana who may work reasonably well in tandem with GC rider-turned-stage hunter Louis Meintjes.
It’s worth noting though, that the team’s resurgent Italian climber Domenico Pozzovivo is yet to confirm his plans for 2023, so there may be one less spot pretty soon. Somewhere at least.
Bahrain Victorious – 28
One of the bigger budget teams on this list, Bahrain Victorious still has some room, and though this is probably not an option for Cav given his unhappy history, this is a very real – and rather amusing – possibility for Quintana. The Colombian has indicated that a contract is already sorted for next year, also stating that it jolly well will be WorldTour-level. The elephant in the room is the presence of Quintana’s old Movistar teammate Mikel Landa who has already listed the Tour de France as his main target for next season. You don’t need me to explain the history there…right?
Lotto-Dstny – 26
Let’s face it, the chances of Cavendish joining the stable already occupied by not just Caleb Ewan but Arnaud De Lie too is incredibly unlikely. Not to mention the fact that the Belgian outfit has said their roster is complete, but the team we’ve known as Lotto Soudal for nine years is still a way off the UCI’s maximum team size as it prepares for a drop to ProTeam status. If not Cav, then perhaps Nick Schultz? Cees Bol? Or a young Frenchman to join the outfit’s growing climbing group?
TotalEnergies – running out of space
Another ProTeam with, until recently, a fair bit of real estate was the French Team TotalEnergies, which has looked like the more likely options for a sprinter headed for a Tour de France record… Granted, this option requires us/the team management to put aside the potential for intramural head-butting between the two huge characters of Sagan and Cavendish, but which of these two is more likely to deliver? I might be biased, but I favour the Manxman.
Pierre Rolland had been linked to a possible transfer back home – the two-time stage winner still synonymous with the green of Europcar, so an end-of-career season of freelancing in the mountains would have been just perfect – but that was before he announced his retirement. The latest signing news in these parts was the graduation of three riders from the squad’s feeder team Vendée U, leaving only limited space for incoming riders…
Euskaltel-Euskadi – closed, but…
Now bear with me, for a moment. Yes, the orange-liveried Euskaltel-Euskadi might have confirmed their 20-rider squad for 2023, but the team has recently emerged as a possibility for one Mark Cavendish, with the Basque team hoping for an (admittedly unlikely) invite to the Tour de France, which next year starts in the Basque Country. Cav’s signing would seriously bolster their ambitions, however, this is a scenario that is only possible if the 37-year-old can attract outside sponsorship to pay his presumably impossible salary.
Human Powered Health – closed, but…
Staying on an orange theme, Human Powered Health is another ProTeam whose roster was completed with the signing (of American Cory Greenberg) in early November, but if budget allows, who’s to say they might not open up a little space?
Room for a small one?
There is still room at the inn at some of the most successful teams on the WorldTour, but I can’t see any of them picking up a really big name; they’re already saturated. There are only so many egos and race programmes that one team can juggle.
Jumbo-Visma has more leaders than support riders at this point, so don’t expect a ‘name’ to land there. The same can be said for Tadej Pogačar’s UAE Team Emirates and Soudal-QuickStep, home of world champion, former world champion and top-shelf sprinter Fabio Jakobsen among many many others.
Trek-Segafredo reportedly has space going too, but if they’re to stay within the rules – and if I’ve got my facts right – the US-registered team can only sign a rookie or second-year pro; the UCI’s rules stipulate that for a team to put forward the maximum 30-rider roster, at least two must be neo pro, i.e. in the first two years of a pro career. As it stands, only Thibau Nys fits this mould, unless Mathias Vacek’s curtailed second season with ProTeam Gazprom-Rusvelo helps matters in any way, and that his trainee status at Trek-Segafredo in the latter half of this season doesn’t become a shot in the foot…
Israel-Premier Tech – 28, but doors closed?
This is where many of us thought Cav might find a home, an arrangement that would all but guarantee an invite to the Tour de France. As far as the UCI is concerned, Israel-Premier Tech still has space but the soon-to-be ProTeam has announced the completion of their roster with the signing of Stephen Williams, who was due to ride for the ‘Men in Glaz’ next year, and Reto Hollenstein’s extension.
“Stevie Williams was already a rider on our radar earlier this year so when he became available, we didn’t hesitate to bring Stevie to IPT to complete the 2023 roster,” said general manager Kjell Carlström in the team announcement. “We were glad to welcome Stevie to the final days of our team camp this week before he hits the ground running in 2023.”
It wouldn’t be the first time a team has backtracked on a public statement, but for now, this looks less likely than once thought. It would be nice if they could at least offer a life vest to one or two of the smaller-named riders…
Staying with the ProTeam candidates, there are a large number of squads that are way off the maximum rider limit. How well does Cav know Contador, boss of Eolo-Kometa? Does Uno-X have room for two superstars with Alexander Kristoff already on his way? We know Cav has an existing relationship with Doug Ryder, maybe he could add to his Tour tally with, erm, brand-new squad Q36.5??
Let’s be honest, this list of second-tier teams looks more open to interest from everyone else connected with Pineau’s (overly) ambitious 2023 project. There are a lot of them.
Bora-Hansgrohe is one of the latest to fill up their squad for the 2023 season after adding B&B Hotels rider Victor Koretzky to their lineup. The German outfit joins Ineos Grenadiers – until very recently thought to be a great option for the Manxman – Cofidis, EF Education-EasyPost, Movistar, BikeExchange-Jayco, DSM and Alpecin-Deceuninck, which rescued Ramon Sinkeldam from the B&B wreckage last week.
Last updated December 17…