Five cycling contract controversies that show the 'Cian Uijtdebroeks situation' is nothing new

The young Belgian is not the first person to find it tricky to move teams, as these examples prove

(L-R) Philippe Gilbert, Wout van Aert and Bradley Wiggins
(Image credit: Getty Images)

For someone who has yet to even win a professional bike race, the level of wrangling and intrigue over the future of Cian Uijtdebroeks is fascinating, just the kind of thing that fans needed in order to get them through the month of December. With Jumbo-Visma claiming that they have signed the 20-year-old, Bora-Hansgrohe insisting that he has one more year on his contract, and the Belgian rider's agents resolute he is free to leave, it is a situation which doesn't seem like it will be resolved too soon.

The likeliest outcome is that Uijtdebroeks will end up at what will be Visma-Lease A Bike at some point, with compensation going the other way if it is due, but it is far from clear cut, as a look at the history of contract farragos shows. The kind of deal that Jumbo and Uijtdebroeks claim to have signed requires approval from cycling's governing body, the UCI, with Bora's agreement. As it stands, the case could end up in the courts, as other per other similar disagreements. 

To that end, we thought it was time to take a look at five other occasions contracts have caused issues in the world of cycling. Five tales that Uijtdebroeks will hope to avoid. There are, of course, dozens more, so let us know if you think we have missed any glaringly obvious situations.

Bradley Wiggins to Team Sky in 2010

Bradley Wiggins

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14 years ago, at the end of 2009, the nascent Team Sky was just getting off the ground, but it was lacking a star, and it was clear that only one would do: Bradley Wiggins. 

The then 29-year-old was Britain's best hope for a general classification rider, or so Sky and Dave Brailsford thought; he had finished fourth at the Tour de France that year, to add to the three Olympics gold medals he had won on the track at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. 

However, there was one big problem. Wiggins was still contracted to Garmin-Slipstream for 2010, and the American squad were very keen to keep hold of the Briton. 

For a time, it appeared that Wiggins would miss the first year of the Sky project, thanks to the contract, but, in the end, Garmin and Sky came to an agreement, thought to be a seven-figure sum.

Vaughters told Cycling Weekly at the time: "It obviously wasn't the outcome we wanted. Brad is an exceptional athlete and talent and of course I'd rather have him on our team but that didn't work out.

"I didn't really feel that putting my team or Brad through a long legal battle was really the correct decision. We fought as long and as hard as we could on this issue without being destructive to the team, or cycling or Brad's career. We did everything we could."

Wout van Aert to Jumbo-Visma in 2019

Wout van Aert

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Now, Wout van Aert is rightly regarded as one of the best cyclists in the world, a star across different types of road race, and a potential winner of almost any one-day event. Back in 2018, he was only a three-time cyclo-cross world champion, looking to make his breakthrough on firmer ground.

At the time, he was riding for Sniper Cycling (also known as Vérandas Willems-Crelan), run by Nick Nuyens, but Jumbo-Visma wanted the Belgian to be the centre of their future Classics squad, and van Aert said he had concerns about his team's proposed merger, and walked away.

He had been due to ride for the team in 2020, but instead Jumbo got their man a year earlier, riding in yellow from 2019. 

Jumbo boss Richard Plugge said at the time: "Things have all gone faster than planned and we can welcome him to our team earlier.

“That’s very good news for the team, because we’re getting stronger. He’s a very big talent and we hope to be able to develop him into the Classics rider we all see in him.”

However, the situation did not end there, with a Belgian court ordering van Aert to pay €662,000 to Nuyens in compensation in 2021. 

Remco Evenepoel rumoured to be leaving Soudal-Quick Step in 2024

Remco Evenepoel

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Remco Evenepeol has only ever ridden for one professional cycling team in his short career to date: Soudal-Quick Step. He has had a long-term deal with Patrick Lefevere's Belgian outfit since he emerged into the professional ranks in 2019, and his current deal runs until 2026.

However, despite this seemingly iron-clad agreement, there have been rumours for the past year that the young Belgian was being tempted away by other teams, including Ineos Grenadiers. The proposed merger between Quick-Step and Jumbo-Visma only fanned those rumours, although its then collapse quickly quietened down.

Back in July, it was reported that Evenepoel might have been looking for a way out, but this never materialised. He will remain at Quick-Step for at least one more year.

Evenepoel described the reports as “small bulls**t that is going around” before the Clásica San Sebastián back in July. Meanwhile, Lefevere warned Evenepoel that “if you don't respect your contract, you get sued".

"Normally yes, I stay with Soudal-Quick Step,” Evenepoel said when asked about his future on the Lanterne Rouge podcast in August. However, the chaos around the merger showed that everything can be abnormal quite quickly.

Chris Froome's retirement rumours

Chris Froome

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Another rider whose long-term contract has not stopped rumours of his future is Chris Froome. The four-time Tour de France winner has a contract with Israel-Premier Tech until 2025, but the team's owner, Sylvan Adams, has called his future on the squad into question, despite the agreement.

At the Tour, Adams said that Chris Froome has “absolutely not” been value for money, and cast doubt on his future career, after the Briton was left out of Israel's squad for the race.

Adams said: "Chris expressed, publicly I think, an interest in possibly riding until the age of 40. That would imply another two years after this year.

“The commitment I made to Chris was that he will retire on our team, so when he decides - with a ceiling of age 40 as those were the parameters we discussed - he wants to hang it up, it’ll be on his terms and that’s the personal commitment I made to Chris. He doesn’t have a five year contract exactly. But it can go up to five years if Chris so decides.”

However, CW later understood that Froome does have a contract for a further two years, contradicting Adams' statements. It has also been suggested that Froome was given incentives to stop riding earlier than his contract plans, something he is not going to do. Froome is understood to still be targeting a return to the Tour next year.

Philippe Gilbert to BMC Racing in 2012

Philippe Gilbert

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Another Belgian cyclist breaking a contract, another court ordering them to pay compensation to a former team.

In 2011, after a starry season which included the Ardennes Triple of the Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Philippe Gilbert left Omega Pharma-Lotto for BMC Racing.

However, five years later the Belgian was forced to return €300,000 to Omega Pharma-Lotto, as he was given bonuses by that team assuming that he would be staying for another year, not riding for the team in red. 

It wasn't quite breach of contract, but it was yet another example of a cyclist being held to the deal that they had originally signed.

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