Nairo Quintana to Arkea Samsic? Dan Martin to Israel Cycling Academy? Elia Viviani to Cofidis? Go home cycling transfer window, you’re drunk.
That was roughly where we were last week, anyway. This week, however, it all started to form some kind of coherent shape.
Firstly that long-rumoured takeover of Katusha by Israel Cycling Academy was confirmed.
Katusha have – let’s be honest – been in a somewhat sorry state these last couple of seasons. Ranked by wins, they’ve not been out of the WorldTour basement since 2017, with even those five victories inflated by national TT titles, for which they can hardly claim credit. Arguably their best result has been Nils Politt’s Paris-Roubaix podium last April. ICA, in contrast, have won 27 times, the same number as UAE Emirates. Admittedly, none of these have been WorldTour races but they’ve at least been putting themselves about.
Politt is one of Katusha’s eleven contracted riders expected to be wearing white and blue next year, with others including Harry Tanfield, Rik Zabel, Mads Würtz Schmidt and the world’s fifth best time triallist, Alex Dowsett. From the Israel side, as well as Dan Martin, they’ll have proven winners Ben Hermans, Davide Cimolai and Krists Neilands. It’s a talented-looking team – at least on paper.
As much as all this was good news for those Katusha riders who had been staring into the abyss, it’s arguably even better for the Pro Continental outfits hoping to make the hop up to the WorldTour in 2020. It had been expected that the Yalla Academy might be vying for one of the two new slots and Sylvan Adams is clearly the kind of guy that gets what he wants.
Which means there are still two openings with only three teams in the running for them. You wouldn’t think Cofidis would need one, what with the consumer credit company buying their way into two of the three Grand Tours anyway, but they are, apparently, favourites for the first. It might mainly be down to seniority but their performances in the last few years have meant they can’t be viewed as the three-week punchlines they were for so long. Nathan Haas and Guillaume Martin are two new names who add ballast to their case for joining the big boys.
Which leaves Total Direct Energie and Arkea Samsic.
Of those, TDE have the history – the Vendee-based outfit were in the WorldTour as recently as 2014 – but Arkea Samsic are the ones putting money where mouth is. To add to the already-announced Nairo, Winner Anacona and Diego Rosa, this week they confirmed the arrival of Nacer Bouhanni and Dan McLay. While one big signing can be a single swallow, a flock of them does start to seem like a summer. (Yes, we know it’s a bit of a stretch to call Bouhanni a big rider these days, but he’s undeniably a name sprinter, with the price tag to match.)
Whereas judged just on talent, unless they’re holding back a big name announcement – Adam Blythe still doesn’t seem to have a contract for next year hashtag just saying – Total Direct Energie, appear to be treading water (at best). Tour de France stage-winner Lilian Calmejane is staying, so there’s that, but despite a few minor race wins, he’s hardly set the world alight this year. Niki Terpstra has been very unlucky with crashes this season but he’s no spring chicken, is he?
Whichever way the cards land, next year’s WorldTour is going to look quite different to this one. At least the lower end of it, and maybe even higher. How very “disruptive”. How, indeed, very now.