Transfer Analysis Wrap-Up: Unsigned Riders Offer a Relegation Solution
A few key unsigned riders could hold the key to keeping lagging teams in the WorldTour
Welcome. We’ve now officially entered the 2022 pro cycling season, team camps are underway, kits/bikes are being handed out and the rosters of nearly every team should be all but finalized.
However, as few teams still have a few free roster spots, and with a significant number of them facing a relegation fight, it would be smart to take a close look over the list of currently unemployed riders who had decent point-generating campaigns in the 2021 season.
While the transfer window, which runs from August 1st - December 31st is officially closed, teams can still sign riders not under contract with another team. This means that riders still without a contract in hand could still find a ride in the top tier for 2022.
An oddity I’ve noticed so far this year is the surprising amount of space still left on rosters. The maximum number of riders per WorldTour team is currently in the midst of a year-by-year step-down process, but when I spoke with the UCI about the maximum size for teams in 2022, they confirmed it was 31 total riders (29+2 neo pros). If we look at the current size of each WT team (in parenthesis) below, depending on the number of neo pros in each squad, there could be a potential of 25 total spots still remaining.
And if we look at the list of riders currently without contracts, there is, somewhat oddly, the exact number of unemployed riders as there are open slots. It should be noted that the actual number is most likely lower since teams might not have any neo pros under contract, which limits their total number of riders to 29.
2021 WorldTour Riders Currently Without a Contract For 2022
This list is substantial but makes sense considering the WorldTour is down a team after the dissolution of Qhubeka-ASSOS. But the somewhat shocking part is that it includes relatively productive riders like Domenico Pozzovivo, Sergio Henao, and Simon Clarke and just yesterday included big names, at least in the US, like Alex Howes and Lachlan Morton.
This remaining roster space on key teams, along with the fact that there are so many productive (and presumably, at this point, incredibly affordable) riders available makes me believe there will be last-minute signings before teams have their full 2022 rosters set in stone. After all, EF just finalized their roster yesterday when they finally announced they had re-signed Alex Howes and Lachlan Morton (and released Julien El Fares), for 2022.
Which Riders Will Be Signed & By Which Teams?
While many of these riders will either have to drop down a tier or head to gravel if they want to continue to ride professionally in 2022, it is difficult to imagine that significant points-yielding riders won’t be signed by teams who are both in desperate need of points to stay in the WorldTour and have room on their rosters. Per my calculations, WorldTour teams who are both in danger of relegation and have at least one remaining roster slot for 2022 are BikeExchange, Movistar, ISN, and Lotto.
With the knife fight in the mud for the final WorldTour slot likely to come down to just a few hundred points at the end of the season, the top candidates for a last-minute pickup would be riders these teams think could generate UCI points.
Going by this logic, the following five names, all former Qhubeka-ASSOS riders, are the most likely to be subject to a last-second signing. Normally, the relatively advanced age of riders like Clarke and Pozzovivo and the likely ensuing performance regression would be a concern, but a team staring down the barrel at relegation isn’t going to be highly concerned about future performance decline.
Unsigned Rider, Age & 2021 UCI Point Totals
Domenico Pozzovivo-39yo- 271pts
Reinardt Janse van Rensburg-32yo-171pts
For reference, below is the combined UCI points totals from 2020-2021 of all teams in competition for the 18 coveted WorldTour slots that will be handed out at the end of the season based on cumulative points from the 2020-2022 seasons.
Current 2022 Relegation Standings
As we can see, every WorldTour team that will head into the season with the Sword of Damocles hanging over them also has roster slots available, which means they would be incredibly foolish to not sign one of these remaining veterans to maximize their ability to acquire UCI points. And at this point, not exploring the option would be borderline negligent. In summation, I’d be incredibly shocked if the above-mentioned veterans aren’t headed to a team camp in the next few weeks.