Weekly Transfer Analysis Part 4: Soudal - Quick Step & Israel - Premier Tech
QuickStep adds depth as they attempt to adapt to their new identity while Israel-Premier Tech adds youth heading into their first season following relegation
In this week’s installment of the Weekly Transfer Analysis, I’m yet again analyzing the transfer activity from two more interesting teams that are undergoing widely different transfer seasons.
First, I’m breaking down the transfer activity inside the Soudal - QuickStep (aka QuickStep) team, which finds itself in a bit of limbo between its former identity as the sport’s dominant one-day Classics squad and its new form as the team of World Champion and superstar grand tour contender Remco Evenepoel. Then I’m taking a look under the hood at Israel-Premier Tech, which is trying to establish a new identity after their somewhat devastating relegation from the WorldTour after a poor performance during the 2022 season (along with a few poor transfer seasons).
Soudal - QuickStep (aka QuickStep)
Notable new signings: Tim Merlier (Alpecin), Jan Hirt (Intermarché), Casper Pedersen (DSM)
Notable departing riders: Mark Cavendish (unknown), Zdeněk Štybar (BikeExchange), Mikkel Frølich Honoré (EF), Iljo Keisse (retired)
Notable unsigned riders:
Roster spots remaining: 1 (neo-pro/rookie slot only)
Pro Cycling Stats Points In/Out: +1140
Patrick Lefevere’s QuickStep team has overperformed and led the WorldTour in wins year after year due, in large part, to their boss’ shrewd dealings in the transfer market. The team makes up for its lack of budgetary firepower by never paying riders to past results and making sure stars decline on other teams’ payrolls. This strategy means they are often dumping popular riders, like Mark Cavendish, while they are still productive, but over time, mostly due to their recruitment of excellent young and up-and-coming riders, it has borne fruit and kept their payroll lean and their roster clear of dead weight. However, over recent years, while they have kept up the ‘out with the old’ side of the deal, QuickStep’s recruitment of younger one-day talent has slipped, which has seen them fall from their perch as the undisputed Classics juggernaut and WorldTour win leaders.
This off-season, where they have brought in Tour de France winning sprinter Tim Merlier, veteran climber Jan Hirt and the promising, but ultimately unproven, Classics talent Casper Pedersen, has been a success, at least on paper, which is highlighted by the surplus of 1,140 PCS points.
As standalone pieces, these are all strong riders, and in the case of Merlier, proven big-race winners, but, together, they strike a very un-QuickStep image.
Their age profile, 30, 31 & 26, is on the old side for a team that prides itself on getting out on riders before they start their age-related decline.
While they can all win races, only Pedersen is a potential one-day cobbled classics challenger. This is an odd choice for the team that badly needs to replenish their classics talent if they want to return to dominance on its home turf.
Also, outside of Hirt, the team did little to add viable grand tour domestiques for Remco Evenepoel, who, after his Vuelta a España overall win in 2022, is emerging as one of the sport’s biggest grand tour talents. This isn’t all negative, since high-mountain domestiques are the most expensive support riders in the peloton, and foregoing them keeps the payroll lean. However, with the team’s financial backers signaling they aren’t willing to shell out for support riders, one wonders how long Evenepoel can afford to remain with the team since the lack of them will ultimately blunt his potential.
In terms of outgoing talent, the losses of veteran sprinting superstar Mark Cavendish and the former cyclocross star turned solid classics rider Zdeněk Štybar will get the most attention, but at 37 and 36 years old, it stands to reason their best days are behind them. In my view, the loss of veteran leader Iljo Keisse to retirement and up-and-coming talent Mikkel Frølich Honoré to EF will hurt the team more than anything else in the coming season.
Israel - Premier Tech
Notable new signings: Mason Hollyman (Israel U23 Team), Matthew Riccitello (Axeon)
Notable departing riders: Alessandro De Marchi (BikeExchange), Matthias Brändle (retired), Alex Dowsett (retired), Patrick Bevin (DSM), Carl Fredrik Hagen (Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team), Jenthe Biermans (Arkea)
Notable unsigned riders:
Roster spots remaining: 3
Pro Cycling Stats Points In/Out: -982
Canadian-Israeli business Sylvan Adams’ team has fallen back down into the sport’s second division after an incredibly disappointing 2022 season. While some expected the team to invest heavily this off-season on major free agents like Mark Cavendish and Nairo Quintana in order to secure wildcards invitations to major races, like the Tour de France, in 2023, the team has so far eschewed major signings and instead has focused on bringing on promising youth talent while losing a significant chunk of their productive veteran core.
So far this off-season, Israel has been extremely quiet in the transfer market, with British talent Mason Hollyman and the American youth wonder Matthew Riccitello as their only signings of particular note.
Meanwhile, they have lost an exodus of veteran riders like Allessandro De Marchi, Matthis Brändle, Patrick Bevin, and Carl Fredrik Hagen in the transfer market, presumably due to the fact that IPT won’t have guaranteed major race invites in 2023 and these riders don’t want to spend valuable years of their limited careers toil away at smaller races.
In theory, I like the team’s move to bring on young talent and avoid big, overpriced stars, and think it is a strategy they should have employed years ago. However, in this specific situation, the fact that the team has three valuable roster spots remaining in an especially tight rider labor market sends the message that the team is struggling to both retain and hire top talent and that the rider pool doesn’t have confidence in the team’s ability to gain invitations to major races like the Tour de France.
But, three available rosters spots in a squeezed rider market (the UCI decreased roster allotments for teams by two riders over this off-season) is still a valuable asset, and with big-name free agents still lurking on the market, IPT still has time to build a roster compelling enough to gate next year’s Tour de France.
Free Agent Update:
Just like the last few weeks, the two big names that stand out from the currently unsigned riders list are Mark Cavendish and Nairo Quintana. I won’t rehash my thoughts/theories on that since I already aired them in last week’s post. Instead, I want to point out two names that underline just how tight this rider market has gotten since the UCI has reduced the maximum team size (down to 30 riders from 31 in 2022 and 32 in 2021): Ramon Sinkeldam and Cees Bol. While neither are superstars of the sport, it is still surprising at first glance to see them without rides for 2023 at this relatively late hour, especially since Bol was DSM’s protected sprinter as recently as the 2021 Tour de France.
While both riders will most likely end up landing spots before January, their current situation shows that when it comes time to belt-tighten, teams will prioritize riders who can either win/rack up UCI points consistently or offer irreplaceable teamwork. Sinkeldam might be a solid rider capable of top-ten results in second-tier one-day races and Bol might be a sprinter capable of the odd WorldTour win, but neither rider racks up wins or points on a regular basis (1 win and 123 UCI points between them in 2022. As we enter cycling 2.0, where roster sizes are reduced, UCI points matter more than ever, GC riders can sprint and one-day Classics contenders can climb, the solid, but ultimately replacement-level, riders will find it harder and harder to lock down contracts year after year.
Top 30 Riders Currently Without Contracts for 2023