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For riders without a 2016 contract, it’s crunch time

It’s getting down to the wire for riders still looking for contracts in the peloton’s high-stakes game of musical chairs.

Racers are scrambling to secure jobs for next season as major teams are closing their rosters for the 2016 calendar. More than a few riders will likely get caught out, yet some have managed to snag jobs as the transfer season winds down.

The latest to define his future is veteran Polish all-rounder Przemyslaw Niemiec, who penned a deal to stay with Lampre-Merida through 2017.

Like many teams, Lampre has been fairly active in the transfer market, seeing a handful of riders leave, while signing new ones to fill the gap. Major arrivals include Louis Meintjes (from MTN-Qhubeka), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), and Matej Mohoric (Cannondale-Garmin), while departures include Ruben Plaza (to Orica-GreenEdge), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Max Richeze (Etixx-Quick-Step), and Rafael Valls (Lotto-Soudal). The status of Italian veteran Filippo Pozzato remains up in the air.

Another Italian whose future remains unresolved is Rinaldo Nocentini, who did not re-up with Ag2r La Mondiale. The French outfit closed its 2016 roster this week with the arrival of Jesse Sergent (from Trek Factory Racing) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar).

The collapse of Team Colombia has seen a handful of the riders find new jobs, but none so far have been able to secure positions with UCI WorldTeams, underscoring just how tight the job market is this late in the season.

Androni-Giocattoli announced this week it signed Roldofo Torres, the climber who was second at the Tour de San Luis and who battled to second behind Frank Schleck at stage 16 at the Vuelta a España. Leonardo Duque has linked up with Delko-Maseille-Provence while most of the other riders seemed destined to return to Colombia.

Cannondale-Garmin has also been active in the rider market, bringing on 11 new riders for 2016 in a major shakeup for the U.S.-registered team. Franchise riders Ryder Hesjedal and Daniel Martin head to Trek Factory Racing and Etixx-Quick-Step, respectively, while Matti Breschel (from Tinkoff-Saxo), Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin), and Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) are among the major arrivals. The two-year experiment for Janier Acevedo at the World Tour level ends for the Colombian climber, who was racked with injuries and health issues. He is set to return to the U.S. scene with Jamis.

Spanish veteran Pablo Lastras of Movistar announced his retirement this week due to injuries.

Wanty-Groupe Gobert, citing budget restraints, said it will not retain Belgian veteran Bjorn Leukemans for 2016, while it confirmed the arrival of UK rider Mark McNally.

“This was a difficult decision to take,” said general manager Jean-François Bourlart in a press release. “Bjorn will be 39 years old in 2016 and his salary weighs heavy on the team budget. He has had an impressive career and two great seasons with Wanty-Groupe Gobert, including four victories. He has helped us to bring the team to a higher level.”

Other big names still on the market include Chris Sutton (Sky), Igor Anton (Movistar), and Gerard Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka), though Biciciclismo.com reported Friday Ciolek is linked to a deal to join Cult Energy.

The 2016 transfer season has been a busy one. After a slow start, things picked up going into September, with Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Landa, and Richie Porte among the major names swapping jerseys for next season.

The next few weeks will be nervous for anyone still without a contract.