With the cycling season all but over, it’s time for another episode of the annual game of Musical Saddles, as riders seek out higher pay and more racing success from new teams, and teams go on the hunt for new riders who can help them snare trophies and jerseys as well as put more of a spotlight on the sponsors who pay the bills.
The game actually began months ago with the Peter Sagan saga. The seven-time Tour de France green jersey winner signed with the French Team TotalEnergies in August after spending five years at Bora-Hansgrohe.
It was not an amicable divorce, with the German team’s manager Ralph Denk questioning the Slovakian rider’s ability to win more jerseys and saying a decision on Sagan’s future with the team would have to be made. Sagan made it for him.
“Jean-René [Bernaudeau] is a manager who wants to change the lines in the world of cycling,” Sagan said of his new team’s manager when announcing his move. “I hope to be able to help this team to achieve it, and to win many races under these new colors.”
Significantly, the announcement came just hours after Bora-Hansgrohe had announced the return of Sam Bennett to the team and the formation of a new sprint lead-out.
Bennett’s move to Bora-Hansgrohe, from Deceuninck–Quick-Step, was also not without drama, as it was accompanied by a series of public attacks by Deceuninck team boss Patrick Lefevere.
Bora have been quite busy. In addition to re-signing Bennett, the team has recruited a mix of sprint lead-out riders and general classification contenders such as Aleksandr Vlasov from Astana, Giro d’Italia 2020 runner-up Jai Hindley from DSM and Sergio Higuita from EF Education-Nippo.
The promising Portuguese rider João Almeida has left Deceuninck–Quick-Step and will ride for UAE Team Emirates next year. Almeida looks to be the biggest prize of the transfer season. The 23-year-old won the Tour de Pologne and Tour de Luxembourg this year and has twice finished in the top 10 of the Giro d’Italia.
The team he is joining already has a pretty good 23-year-old rider in two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar. The Slovenian is a Tour de France specialist, so Almeida may be tasked with trying to win the Giro and/or Vuelta. Whatever his role, he will have new team members George Bennett, Marc Soler and Alvaro Hodeg to assist him.
The 32-year-old Spaniard David de la Cruz is leaving Team Emirates after signing a two-year contract with Astana. He will be crossing paths with fellow Spaniard Luis León Sánchez, 37, who is leaving Astana to ride for Bahrain-Victorious.
Intermarché have also been busy. The team signed former European champion Alexander Kristoff from UAE Team Emirates as well as the very talented Eritrean rider Biniam Ghirmay from Delko just before he took second place in the U23 World Championships road race. To no one’s surprise, the four-time Grand Tour GC winner Vincenzo Nibali is returning to Astana after spending five seasons with other teams. Jakob Fuglsang left Astana to join Israel Start-Up Nation, along with Hugo Houle.
Cycling nerds interested in following all of this year’s cycling Musical Saddles should have a look here.