Does pro cycling need a Pre-TDF Transfer Window?
Mid-season transfers could improve the Tour de France, and might save whole teams, but riders must organize and have a hand in its creation
The existing transfer period in pro cycling begins August 1, after the Tour de France. See this article on INRNG for a more thorough explanation of the current system. This piece imagines a window for transfers and player trades prior to Le Tour. Consider the following examples:
Bradley Wiggins to Belkin <-> Sep Vanmarcke to Sky
Richard Plugge—manager of Team Bekin—is on a desperate search for a team sponsor. Would he be better off going into a meeting with, say, avid cyclist and CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland Ross McEwan and pitching a plan to create the RBS Pro Cycling Team through a mid-season acquisition of Bradley Wiggins?
Sky, on the other hand, unload a huge headache, make team leader Chris Froome happy, and gain the next Cancellara in the process.
Andrew Talansky to Trek <-> Bob Jungels + Jesse Sergent to Garmin
Trek acquire the Dauphine-winning American to lead their TDF charge for the next decade, starting immediately with the Schlecks, Cancellara, and Jens riding in support of Talansky at this year’s Tour.
Garmin lose the possibility of a great Tour result with Talansky, but at least gain some big-time young talent in return instead of receiving nothing when Talansky goes to a higher bidder in the offseason. As for this year’s Tour, what Garmin fan wouldn’t love to see a loose, under-no-pressure squad hunting for stages and wreaking havoc? David Millar, Howes, Slagter, Farrar, Navardauskas, Acevedo, and Rohan Dennis on a rampage might be a lot of fun.
Peter Sagan to Katusha <-> Boatload of cash to Cannondale
Cannondale receive a huge infusion of petrodollars and is set up for the mother of all offseason rebuilds. Better than having nothing when Sagan leaves after this year.
Katusha get one of the top 5 winners on the planet, and is in position to deal away Alexander Kristoff in exchange for Sagan support riders or GC talent.
Bradley Wiggins to Orica <-> Adam Yates + Simon Yates to Sky
Orica-Greenedge becomes THE story for the first three days of the Tour. The first ever British TDF champion leading a team through three stages in England. And we all want to see what Wiggins can do on the cobbles of Stage 5.
Sky makes Froome happy, and snares the promising young Brits that got away.
Nacer Bouhanni to Cofidis <-> Julien Simon to FDJ
Bouhanni-FDJ is the same dynamic as Wiggins-Sky. Making lemonade from lemons.
Fans, Teams, Races, Media win big
Fans get to see some of the biggest stars (Wiggins, Bouhanni) on the sport’s biggest stage instead of sulking on the sidelines.
Teams win by relieving the pressure on their chosen leaders (Froome, Démare) when they cut loose the guys who were left off the squad.
Teams can also extract some value for riders before they sign with another team in the offseason and leave nothing behind.
The cycling media wins with the rampant speculation and discussion that will take place every June as the Dauphine and Suisse become showcases for DSs who are already watching for the fitness of their own riders, but will be able to eye other teams’ rosters for possible last-minute additions. After all, selling newspapers is the oldest tradition of pro cycling.
Do riders benefit?
The short answer is Yes, they can, (for example, by avoiding the lame duck scenario that Tom Jelte-Slagter experienced last season) but riders must have a strong collective bargaining agent (a riders union) involved in the creation of the transfer system.
The history of sports shows that when teams/leagues design systems without the input of the athletes they create deflationary salary mechanisms like salary caps, restricted free agency, reserve clauses and player drafts. Riders must be organized behind their riders union — the CPA — to protect their interests throughout the creation and implementation of reforms like a mid-season transfer window.
For example, in the absence of a union, teams could create a system with a sealed bid process only for the right to negotiate with a cyclist, with the sum payable only to the team who currently holds the rights to the athlete. The winner of that auction gains the exclusive opportunity to attempt to reach a new deal with the cyclist. If the cyclist and new team come to an agreement, then the sealed bid amount is paid to the team originally holding the rights.
The result is large sums being paid from wealthy teams to other (probably less wealthy) teams, but it weakens the cyclist’s negotiation position by limiting the number of bidders for his services to only one—the team that won the sealed bid auction.
A mid-season transfer window could inject even more excitement into the Tour de France buildup, and give cash-strapped or sponsorless teams a boost. But riders must make a meaningful contribution to the creation of a transfer system by strengthening their union—the CPA—a topic I hope to explore in greater detail in future articles.