• (L to R) Nairo Quintana, Sam Bennett, Elia Viviani (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Riders don't only ride their way into cycling history with top performances at the Tour de France, but also a hell of a lot of money if they time things just right.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

13 Jul 2019 - 8:43 AM  UPDATED 13 Jul 2019 - 8:47 AM

Rewind back to 2017 and Warren Barguil was tearing it up at the Tour de France. Together he and Michael Matthews lit up the second half of the Tour for Sunweb, with Barguil claiming two stage wins and the king of the mountains jersey in a sparkling ride.

The new French poster boy was immediately announced as a high-profile signing for Fortuneo-Samsic squad, seemingly instantly putting the team into Tour relevance. It was also a strange move for Barguil, away from the successful Giant squad that had helped him grow and develop to a Pro Continental team with a lot less support and race invites.

Since then Barguil has done mostly very little to repay the big contract that enticed him away from the WorldTour. Only a single victory to his name and a nothing performance at last year's Tour.

This is not a piece about Warren Barguil, but rather the function of the Tour de France in driving the hype machine that delivers big contracts for riders and determines team's futures. Warren Barguil is just the cautionary tale.

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So who's on the professional rider meat market for the prospective 2020 season? 

There are the bankable stars. These are riders who will attract a large salary regardless of their performance at this year's Tour. This year that is Nairo Quintana (rumoured to go to Arkea-Samsic, taking a bunch of riders with him); Elia Viviani (rumours to Cofidis); Wout Poels, Enric Mas and Mikel Landa

It's interesting that the rumours surrounding the first two names on the list are linked with Pro Continental French squads. In the modern era, it's been a rare rider that has been able to elevate his team with his ability alone at the Tour de France. In truth, there are probably few riders outside Peter Sagan who can do that. 

Andre Greipel went to Arkéa-Samsic and found that life wasn't so easy without the Lotto Soudal train. Even Nacer Bouhanni, with the rare talent and belligerent attitude that defined his career, wasn't able to grab that stage win that Cofidis have been so desperately searching for since 2008.

Elia Viviani is a rider that needs to be wary of this. I've long followed his career, constantly coming from way back in the field on sprints to claim fast-finishing thirds and eye-catching fourths. He was at a succession of teams that weren't focused on sprinting and coming to QuickStep it seemed likely that he'd be in a position to win a lot of races. That won't be the same if he goes to Cofidis unless they sign Max Richeze, Michael Morkov and Fabio Sabatini (or at least passable equivalents) to give Viviani a train that gives him the positioning help that he needs. 

There are what I'll refer to as 'domino' riders. Riders who, when they switch teams, create a cascade of action flowing from that around the transfer market. The biggest one last year was probably Caleb Ewan, who brought Roger Kluge with him to Lotto Soudal, forced Andre Greipel out to Arkéa-Samsic and meant that Mitchelton-Scott brought in almost exclusively climbers and domestiques to bolster their Grand Tour prospects. 

This year the biggest domino effect probably should be a rider not even at the Tour, Sam Bennett, who has had a great year despite being on restricted opportunities by orders of his team. However, the Tour being the massive event that it is, sponsors want to see riders with a proven history and star power there so it will be Viviani that creates the dominoes. 

Deceuninck-QuickStep are heavily linked to Bennett after Gaviria left last year and Viviani appears set to leave this time around. They have a Colombian speedster in Alvaro Hodeg so despite the rumours maybe they dont't need to be rushing to buy Bennett, but look at the situation if you're Dimension Data, Katusha-Alpecin (rumoured to fold, that was denied, now rumoured to merge with Israel Cycling Academy), AG2R or Astana. All of those teams lack a top-tier sprinter and would be looking at this year's Tour and wondering if adding Bennett would be beneficial.

What paying Bennett will necessitate is an investment in his leadout train, there's a number of quality options out there, but the best in the business currently is Max Richeze (and off-contract, rumoured to UAE to join up with Gaviria). You can get cut price options but Richeze, like Mark Renshaw at his peak creates a few extra wins a season and at very least doesn't stuff up the rest of the chances to win.

Whichever team pays the premium for Viviani opens up the door for Bennett, which then opens the floodgates for the hiring of the best leadout men in the business. It's a very similar process fro GC riders as well.

The spotlit stage of Le Tour looks like it will be decision time for a number of riders. Matteo Trentin for example, he's working for Mitchelton-Scott and their leader Adam Yates, but he's off contract and needs to take every opportunity, so a near miss like Stage 5 (where he was third behind Sagan) is a bit of a blow.

More critical still are the decisions facing ageing greats of the sport. Mark Cavendish, Philippe Gilbert, Rui Costa and Luis León Sánchez are all facing choices of a few more years or retirement. 

Cavendish might head to the Tokyo Olympics for a shot that elusive gold medal on the track after being left off the Tour, but for most retirement from road racing involves stepping off the bike competitively. 

Rui Costa tried a late attack on Stage 5 of the Tour this year, maybe in 2013 when he won two stages of the Tour de France and the world championships, a move like that goes to the finish and ends with him saluting the win rather than being caught with 1.5 kilometres to go. 

This category of riders have already made their mark on history, they don't need to prove anything, the question for them is whether they are still competitive and can build upon their legacy (and, more cynically, is the pay enough).

The main reason that all these deals get decided at the Tour is because everyone that is anyone in cycling is present in France, meetings are easier to arrange, you can meet up with prospective riders and it's a closer physical proximity where connections are made as opposed to the normal global nature of the cycling industry.

The massive circus that is the Tour de France will continue to be the biggest single factor that gets taken into account when it comes to deciding a rider's future. Riders know this, and the desperation to perform at the biggest race in the world adds that little bit of spice to proceedings.

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