Lenny Martinez rides a climb at the 2023 Vuelta España. He's wearing the white jersey of the race's best young rider.

Youth will drive the 2024 transfer market

Already this season, young riders have turned heads with strong results. The rewards – new contracts – are following.

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 28.02.2024 Photography by
Kristof Ramon and Cor Vos
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It’s early days in the 2024 season, but already team media announcements are starting to perk with news of contract extensions. Magnus Sheffield, one of the talented young Americans on the Ineos Grenadiers, agreed today to an extension through 2026. Two days ago, Lidl-Trek extended Tour de Suisse winner Mattias Skjelmose through 2026 as well. They likely won’t be the last.

Already this season, a number of young riders have put in fantastic performances in spring races. And what aligns them is that many are out of contract at the end of 2024. That makes them hot commodities in cycling’s pure free agency environment. While transfers between teams can’t be announced until August 1, negotiations start far earlier, so you can bet agents are already fielding calls from interested suitors. 

There are a number of big-name riders on expiring contracts. Aside from those who might retire at the end of the season (Mark Cavendish), Julian Alaphilippe, Simon Yates, and Jasper Philipsen are all up for transfers or renewals. But young riders may drive much of the market.

Lennart Van Eetvelt climbs Jabel Hafeet at the 2024 UAE Tour. He's out of the saddle and off the front; roughly 10 meters behind, a Jayco-AlUla rider leads a line of riders trying to close the gap.
Lennert Van Eetvelt may have surprised with his UAE Tour win, but it’s not as if he just lucked into the victory.

Consider Lotto Dstny’s Lennert Van Eetvelt, the “surprise” winner of the UAE Tour. Some might credit his slim overall victory to the six seconds he scored from the intermediate time bonus after joining the breakaway on a flat stage 5. But Van Eetvelt, 22 and in his second year with the team, climbed with the best on stage 3 and went on to win the final stage to Jebel Hafeet, so it’s not as if he snuck up on anyone. Or did he?

“I came for a good result on GC; I didn’t come here to win this race. I was thinking top five would be amazing,” Van Eetvelt said in his press conference. But if he surprised himself a little bit, he also acknowledged why others might have overlooked him. “I’ve always been a bit in the shadow because of Remco [Evenepoel], but I really hope that now I can do good in the Grand Tours as well and get on the list of the greats.”

Safe to say that after the month of racing he’s had – which included another win at Trofeo Serra Tramuntana – he’s on teams’ radars now. In fact, he likely has been for a bit, with an overall win at Alpes Isere last year and a strong debut Grand Tour at the Vuelta España.

Finn Fisher-Black is another rider who’s turned heads in the early season. The 22-year-old Kiwi won the Muscat Classic and nearly the overall at the rain-shortened Tour of Oman. If UAE Team Emirates doesn’t want to keep him, doubtless he’ll find another home on a WorldTour team.

From left to right, Felix Gall, Juan Ayuso, Lenny Martinez, and Mattias Skjelmose sprint out the win at the 2024 Faun Ardeche. All four are out of the saddle and grimacing from the effort.
Juan Ayuso has a contract through 2028; Mattias Skjelmose through 2026. Lenny Martinez? TBD.

But perhaps the biggest hub of activity will be Groupama-FDJ. Marc Madiot’s squad is already in transition with the retirement of Thibaut Pinot and Arnaud Démare’s acrimonious departure. The team is – for now – David Gaudu’s, but the future is likely in the core of young French riders like climbers Lenny Martinez and Romain Gregoire, sprinter Paul Penhoët, and punchy New Zealander Laurence Pithie, winner of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

All are 22 or younger (Gaudu is 27). All are products of Groupama-FDJ’s development program. And all have excellent results this season or last; Martinez (the son of former mountain biker Miguel) in particular has been on a tear, finishing second at O Gran Camiño to a certain Jonas Vingegaard, and winning Wednesday’s Trofeo Laigueglia.

Finally, all four are out of contract at the end of the year. Madiot actually has a fair bit of roster work to do as only a third of his current lineup is signed past this season. The team is at the bottom of PCS’s 2023-2024 transfer value win/loss rankings. But it’s also tied with DSM Firmenich-PostNL as the youngest in the WorldTour. That’s a pretty clear sign of a team that is refocusing.

With Pinot retiring and Démare off to Arkéa-Samsic, Groupama’s youth trend is blazingly clear. And Madiot has smartly stocked his roster with talented young (often but not always French) riders who stand a good chance of replacing the results those two riders produced. But first, he has to keep them on the team. The further we get into the season without news of extensions, the more likely it is they’re off to other teams. Bora-Hansgrohe in particular jumps out as a team with budget to spend and spots available; just 10 of its riders are on contract past 2024.

Youth will be served; the question is where.

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