The “total collapse” of B&B Hotels – KTM in the middle of December has left its existing or prospective riders with practically no runway to find alternative landing spots. Many WorldTeams have already finalised their budget for 2023 and seven WorldTeams have even reached the 30 rider limit, making it impossible for them to bring in more riders. Below, we take a look at which teams do have room to take advantage of last-minute bargains.
The 30 Rider Limit
As stated above, the UCI regulations establish a limit of 30 riders for WorldTeams and ProTeams to begin each season, subject to some exceptions. Teams must have two neo-professionals under contract in order to reach the maximum allotment of 30 riders, with the aim of promoting opportunities for young talents. Although it seems a logical rule, it often leads to confusion, as the official concept of a neo-professional cyclist is not widely known and, in fact, it cannot be found in the 317 pages of the road race regulations.
The document of joint agreements between the association of teams and the association of professional cyclists states that “the status of new professional is given to any rider who joins a UCI WorldTeam or UCI ProTeam for the first time no later than during his twenty-fifth year.” In common cycling parlance, a neo-professional is considered a rider in their rookie year in the peloton, however the formal status of a new professional is not limited to the first season as a professional, but extends into the second season and even into the third season if the rider joined after 30 June, as is the case with many neo-professionals.
For example, although UAE Team Emirates has not signed any neo-professionals this transfer window, the team will have two neo-professionals in 2023: Felix Groß (signed in 2022) and Finn Fisher-Black (signed on 14 July 2021). UAE will therefore be able to reach the limit of 30 cyclists in the 2023 squad. Thanks to this broad definition of the concept of neo-professional, all WorldTeams, plus Israel and Lotto, will have at least two neo-professionals in 2023 and will be able to extend their roster up to 30 riders to begin the year.
Considering the limit of 30 riders per team, there are already seven full WorldTeams: DSM, BikeExchange, Movistar, EF Education, Cofidis, Bora, Astana and Alpecin. In other words, none of these teams could legally sign available riders like Cavendish or Quintana in their present situation. The only option they would have would be to terminate the contract of some minor rider to make room for another. In 2022, Israel did this with Guy Sagiv in order to sign Dylan Teuns mid-season. Bora-Hansgrohe even reached their maximum allotment with the recent signing of B&B rider Victor Koretzky, who achieved fifth in the Tokyo Olympics in the cross-country mountain bike. The white slots in the following table show the number of places left in each WorldTeam. In total, there are 17 places left in the WorldTeams plus three in Israel and four in Lotto, which at the moment has only 26 riders under contract according to ProCyclingStats.
There are several teams that could strengthen their squads with cyclists who are available, and presumably cheap, on the market. The failure of B&B Hotels has compromised the future of the riders who were going to join the French team, such as Mark Cavendish, Maximiliano Richeze, Cees Bol, Nick Schultz and Stephen Williams. In addition, the team already had riders of WorldTour level, such as Franck Bonnamour (rumoured for TotalEnergies), Luca Mozzato (linked to Arkéa and Trek) or Axel Laurance (with offers from 6 WorldTeams, especially Ag2r and QuickStep). Among the other cyclists without a contract are, of course, Nairo Quintana, but also Domenico Pozzovivo (likely to continue with Intermarché), or Vuelta ultimate stage winner Juan Sebastián Molano.
In the case of stars Cavendish and Quintana, Israel – Premier Tech could be a logical destination for both. The team needs big names to get WorldTour invitations and can offer a salary in line with the prestige of both riders. In addition, the riders would be free to lead and would most likely ride the Tour de France, especially after the capitulation of B&B opens up another wildcard slot for the big lap. Another option for Nairo Quintana would be to offer himself as a luxury gregario for UAE, Ineos, Jumbo or QuickStep, all of whom have free spots and top leaders to protect.
In addition, Velonews published a rumour that Cavendish could end up at Ineos, although it seems unlikely that he could be selected for the Tour de France at Ineos nor have an adequate lead-out.
Meanwhile, Stephen Williams (26), Cees Bol (27) and Nick Schultz (28) are riders in the maturity of their professional careers, who have been left in a very delicate situation. Schultz finished the Tour de France as one of the 15 strongest climbers and would be a cheap reinforcement for teams looking to strengthen their block in the mountains. For example, without Quintana’s salary costs, Arkéa-Samsic could take advantage of this situation to bring in two riders to improve their middle class, or even try Cavendish if the Briton lowers his salary expectations. The Breton team could guarantee his Tour de France participation as well as providing an above-average lead-out, spearheaded by the excellent Dan McLay.
The cruelest situation of the B&B disaster is for the older riders, such as Richeze (39), Rolland (36), Gautier (35) or Debusschere (33), who will have a hard time finding a team at this stage and might be forced to retire from professional cycling. In addition, the uncertainty with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the high inflation rate will probably cause the teams to reserve a part of their budget for unexpected situations, and they will not want to risk with last minute expenses for a perceived low return. TotalEnergies might be motivated to provide a safe haven for a French household name in the case of Rolland, with five slots available and a healthy budget for a ProTeam.
There are many questions left to be answered by B&B team manager Pineau as to how the situation reached this point and how riders were hung out to dry so late in the year. Was any of the rumoured funding ever close to being in place? The late notice of the dissolution of the B&B team will have been terrible news for those affected, creating great stress and anxiety during Christmas when just weeks ago they thought they were embarking on a new project with adequate funding. Hopefully many of the relevant riders and staff can find space on another team in the near future.