• Leigh Howard will be one of the IAM Cycling riders left scrambling for a 2017 ride after the team announced it will fold (Sirotti)Source: Sirotti
Australian sprinter Leigh Howard has speculated riders may be in “strife” if no new teams are inaugurated in the 2017 WorldTour and existing stables are so enabled to play on a monopoly.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
27 May 2016 - 11:19 AM 

Howard is looking for a new home after IAM Cycling announced Monday it would fold at the end of the season, unable to find a co-sponsor and unwilling to relegate to ProContinental or Continental.

Tinkoff is also set to cease and while the theorised Bahrain project and Bjarne Riis’s new venture appear solid replacement options it’s unclear if either will be fully operational for next year.

“If this Bahrain thing doesn’t start, and it’s not confirmed yet, there are a lot of riders in strife,” Howard told Cycling Central.

“There are obviously a lot more riders on the market and not as many spots available for us so the teams are going to have the power there in the sense they’ve got more options and we’ve got less options.

“It would have been really good for the riders if there was a new team and we continued,” he added. “It gives the riders I wouldn’t say more bargaining power but there’s more options. When there is less options for the riders we get, not pushed around but the teams have the upper hand. I was hoping it was going to be a good year for cycling, you know, with a new team opening up but it looks like we’re staying on the same playing field with the amount of spots available.”

Howard’s agent Dries Smets, of Celio Sport, said the current transfer climate was no more or less volatile than recent years during which teams have kept a stronger position than cyclists seeking contracts.   

“Indeed it looks at the moment that the market is not too strong but it can change,” Smets said.

“The years where Orica-GreenEdge and Sky came in, so that’s five or six years ago, then it was the other way around because new teams came in and riders were in a position to negotiate.

“We’ve always had teams dropping out of the peloton but not many teams coming in so unfortunately it’s been the same for the last three or four years.”

Close but no cigar for upbeat Howard at Cadel Evans Road Race
Geelong local Leigh Howard was a popular second place finisher as he took out the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race bunch sprint behind solo winner Peter Kennaugh in front of his home town fans.

There are established outfits interested in being promoted to the WorldTour but in that instance the number of available positions would be limited by the existing rosters of each. Proposed UCI WorldTour reforms slated for next season have also already seen squads downsize, in anticipation of size rule changes.

The sport has continued to modernise and investors and broadcasters burned by past doping scandals are returning but still sponsorship is typically central to the erratic fate of teams and those they employ.

“I can’t see it’s that big of a risk when you consider the rewards that a company gets, the amount of exposure they get, compared to what they have to pay,” Howard said of sponsorship. “If you consider what you have to pay to sponsor a cycling team to how much exposure you get in comparison to other sports, football, it’s a bargain.

“It’s all still a kick back from the doping era and the Armstrong era,” he continued. “I’m hoping in the future it will get better and people will see how clean the sport is now.”

Howard wins an eventful Clásica de Almería

Howard has rediscovered motivation and form at IAM, which he joined from Orica-GreenEdge on a one-year deal this season. He said the team news came as a surprise but was grateful to IAM founder Michel Thetaz for the early notice.

“I’m really content here but I’m going to have to wait and see what my manager comes back with in the next couple of months,” he said.

“Hopefully I can find a job with another team similar to what I’m doing this year. I’d like to continue to do lead-outs and have some of my own opportunities as well. It’s been a good fit this year so far, it’s best of both worlds.  I’m not the head sprinter, which for me is OK, I’m not at the level of [Marcel] Kittel and I’ve accepted that for the moment. I’d like to get back to a similar level to them, but it’s a work in progress and it was good with IAM. We were working together with a common goal to get myself back there.”

Howard to lead IAM in career debut at Milan-San Remo
The team selection came as a surprise to Australia's Leigh Howard, who was unaware of a press release issued earlier this week that named him the No.1 asset for the 291km Milan-San Remo next to Aleksejs Saramotins.

Howard led IAM on his race debut at Milan-San Remo in March and is on the long list for Tour de France selection in what would be his first career appearance. He said a two-week stint at the Giro d’Italia, in which teammate Roger Kluge won a stage on Wednesday, boded well for the latter pursuit.

“I can feel the lack of racing from last year,” he observed. “I had 36 race days with GreenEdge last year [compared with 39 already in 2016] and that has taken its toll this year. I noticed through the classics my body was struggling a little bit so I needed to take it easy; that’s why I stopped after Gent-Wevelgem.

“It was good to get two weeks of the Giro done because I went quite deep with my body and my body hasn’t done that for a couple of years now. So with some good recovery I’m hoping I’ll come up another level because I’ve missed that depth."