Opinion: Professional cycling needs a proper transfer market

The Cian Uijtdebroeks situation shows us once again how disorganised the sport of cycling is

Cian Uijtdebroeks at the Vuelta a España
(Image credit: Getty Images)
Adam Becket
Adam Becket

Senior news and feature writer at Cycling Weekly, Adam brings his weekly opinion on the goings on at the upper echelons of our sport. 

This piece is part of The Leadout, the offering of newsletters from Cycling Weekly and Cyclingnews. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

Good morning, and welcome back to The Leadout. Remember to forward this onto anyone you think might be interested, and that you can email me at adam.becket@futurenet.com should you have anything to say, on this topic or anything else.

Cian Uijtdebroeks, the 20-year-old Belgian prodigy, has emerged as the main character of cycling this week. Jumbo-Visma claim that they have signed the 20-year-old but his current Bora-Hansgrohe team insist that he has one more year on his contract, and the Belgian rider's agents are resolute that he is free to leave. It is a situation that doesn't seem like it will be resolved very soon.

Uijtdebroeks might have won the overall and two stages at the Tour de l’Avenir last year, and finished eighth at this year’s Vuelta a España, but he is yet to win a professional bike race. Despite this, his talent is clearly big enough to cause this whole fracas, which began (in public, anyway) on Saturday, and shows no signs of abating.

You might be wondering: ‘why does everyone care so much about Cian Uijtdebroeks?’ And the answer to this is talent, as talent trumps everything else - especially when that rider is young and can provide the future. Jumbo are keen to stay at the top of the sport for another few years yet.

What it does prove to me, more than anything else, though, is that cycling has not really got a handle on the concept of transfers yet. While riders swap teams, this is mostly done at the end of contracts, and not during them. Unlike other sports, most notably football, with its transfer windows and culture of big money moves, very little, if any, compensation ever changes hands. 

If Uijtdebroeks had waited until the end of next season, Bora-Hansgrohe would have been powerless to stop him jumping ship, and would have received nothing in return. An organised transfer system with fees would help all.

Riders terminating a contract early to move team - whether that’s Luke Plapp moving from Ineos Grenadiers to Jayco-AlUla or Tiesj Benoot leaving DSM for Jumbo-Visma - should be a normal thing.

Perhaps the Uijtdebroeks situation could provide a moment like the Bosman ruling, after which footballers were allowed to leave clubs out of contract without a transfer fee, and change the nature of how transfers work.

It should be in teams’ and rider’s interests for the transfer market to be more organised and allow for more trading. 

As with everything else, this comes down to money. Cycling, a sport with no stadia to sell tickets for, and a TV rights situation that is incredibly unfavourable to the teams which compete in it, is entirely reliant on sponsorship. As a result, teams don’t have the budget to buy riders from other teams, hence they have to wait for a contract to expire before making a move. Funding, and TV rights in particular, is something that obviously needs to be looked at, but transfers are part of that issue. Why should a rider have to stay at a team if another squad wants them, and is able or willing to buy them out? There is no need for it to be this hard.

This would not necessarily favour the powerful teams, either, as there would then be financial reward and incentive for bringing through talents and then selling them on. As it is, a team gets nothing for nurturing a junior to fruition, should that rider then simply wish to leave at the end of the contract. 

Ultimately, it doesn’t really affect me which colour Uijtdebroeks wears next year, but a better situation could help the sport. Let’s make transfers better.

Cycling’s Odemwingie moment

One other thought did cross my mind when Uijtdebroeks was pictured in a blank training kit on Sunday - that this could be cycling’s Peter Odemwingie moment. Ten years ago, the then West Bromwich Albion striker drove himself to QPR’s ground in an effort to force his transfer through, a move which then failed to transpire. He spent the rest of the season at West Brom, before leaving. Imagine if Uijtdebroeks has to ride for Bora next year, a scenario which is not out of the question. As it is, the Belgian is heading to Jumbo-Visma’s training camp, so it seems unlikely. I hope the situation ends up resolved, and if not happy, then at least remunerated.

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