Soudal-QuickStep team boss Patrick Lefevere has side-stepped reports that a merger between his team and Jumbo-Visma could be underway, while also refusing to specifically deny an exclusive report from WielerFlits that emerged on Sunday.
The new ‘super team’ could become Visma-Soudal or Soudal-Visma as soon as 2024, though questions remain about exactly which team would take control and which riders would be part of the final 30-rider roster.
Lefevere was questioned by Sporza after attending an Anderlecht football match with Remco Evenepoel and his father Patrick. He refused to give much away to Sporza, claiming not to have his phone with him, missing any chance of his ‘phone exploding’ as the news broke. Strangely Lefevere appeared to have at least one phone in his hand as he tried to avoid Sporza’s questions.
“If you want to follow WielerFlits, do so,” said Lefevere of the merger story, before quickly getting into his car. “Make of it what you want. No comment, sorry.”
The Soudal-QuickStep have refused to react to the report of a merger, telling Cyclingnews they had no comment to make.
The news has reportedly come as a surprise to Remco Evenepoel’s entourage, with his father stating “We are shocked, Remco too,” as he responded to Sporza outside the Anderlecht football stadium.
On Sunday Jumbo-Visma told Cyclingnews: “We never comment on rumours.” Flemish media suggested that the team has several options for the future, including a possible new tile sponsor.
A merger would raise numerous questions, espeicially about team leadership at the Tour de France.
Remco Evenepoel, Primož Roglič, Wout Van Aert and Jonas Vingegaard would all want leading roles, with other riders, including new European champion Christophe Laporte and former world champion Julian Alaphilippe also under contract with the two teams.
Evenepoel would perhaps want to be part of the new ‘mega-team’ to benefit from Jumbo-Visma’s Grand Tour experience. However a merger could mean he and other riders are no longer under contract with Soudal-QuickStep, sparking offers from Ineos Grenadiers and other teams.
The WielerFlits report suggested that a merger of the two teams would see Lefevere would become a member of the new team’s Supervisory Board with Jumbo-Visma’s team manager Richard Plugge becoming the CEO of the new programme.
Quotes have resurfaced from a joint interview by Plugge and Lefevere for De Morgen in 2022 in which the two long-term team bosses discussed their financial ‘challenges’, giving possible explanations for a merger.
“In Formula 1, the teams with the largest budgets compete for victory. This also applies to cycling,” Plugge said.
“The leader is one thing, but how much do you pay all those good workers? They are often paid much more than we can pay.”
Jumbo-Visma have dominated much of the 2023 season, taking wins at all three Grand Tours with different riders, but Jumbo announced they would end their partnership with the team by the end of 2024 after nine years together.
There were rumours that sponsorship could come from Saudi Arabia, but Plugge denied there had been any contact and they were later confirmed as ‘fake news’ to Cyclingnews.
“That’s the problem. That is also my weakness,” concurred Lefevere in the 2022 De Morgen interview.
“If we ever aim for the overall victory in the Tour de France, I cannot afford those last men who can ride two kilometres uphill at a pace where no one can attack anymore.
“You have teams that try to bring riders from below, and you have teams that immediately give a lot of money. Ineos has a mega budget. They multiply the salary we offer by four.
“The Arabs stick their finger in the sand and gas comes out. I’m sticking my finger in the sand and I have to be careful not to get stuck in dog turd.”
Lefevere was careful not to escalate any speculation on Sunday night, knowing the complexity of any deal. He has been through a number of team mergers during his time in team management.
A merger would also have to be approved by the UCI, with deadlines for WorldTour licence applications set for the coming weeks.