Remco Evenepoel is looking to exit Soudal-QuickStep, as the team’s manager Patrick Lefevere called the claim that Ineos Grenadiers owner Jim Ratcliffe was set to buy the team as “nonsense”.
Despite winning the Vuelta a España last year,
CW has been told from multiple sources close to Evenepoel and the team that he doesn’t have faith in his current employers to support his future bids to win Grand Tours, such as the Tour de France that he is expected to make his debut in in 2024.
Ineos Grenadiers have been long-term admirers of the Belgian – they tried to sign him as a junior but he opted for QuickStep – and representatives of the British team met with Evenepoel and his camp last autumn.
Israel-PremierTech have also emerged as a serious candidate to secure Evenepoel’s signature should he be able to wrangle himself free from his contract, with
CW understanding that Evenepoel’s management have very close relationships with certain staff members at the ProTour team.
Just last week Israel’s owner Sylvan Adams slammed Chris Froome, his most expensive rider, as “absolutely not” being value for money, and indicated that he would be happy if the four-time Tour de France champion retired. That would free up the budget for a marquee signing such as Evenepoel.
Other rumours have linked Lidl-Trek and Bora-Hansgrohe to Evenepoel’s services, but senior sources close to the teams have indicated that they have not opened up discussions with him.
One WorldTour manager said that “we’ve been informed there was a possibility that the rider himself was looking to leave his actual team but we’ve had no further info nor talked to him.”
(Image credit: Getty Images)
QuickStep manager Lefevere is insistent that Evenepoel will stay at his team until the end of his contract, telling both
Cycling Weekly and the RadioCycling podcast that “if you look back to his interviews at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he said I am very happy, this is my family and I hope I can stay here forever if Patrick wants me.”
There had been speculation that Soudal-QuickStep had failed to pay Evenepoel’s bonuses from winning the Vuelta in 2022, but Lefevere strongly denied this. “I don’t owe one euro to anybody,” he said, corroborating claims from Evenepoel’s camp that all outstanding bonuses had been settled.
Lefevere added: “Everything is paid. We are not even obligated to pay before December 31, but we pay June 30 and November 30. You should look to other teams for not paying bonuses. Not me. All my staff have worked here for 10, 15, 20 years – I pay everybody.”
The future of the team, however, is a topic of much conversation. Reports in the Belgian press last week indicated that Ratcliffe, the British billionaire, was investigating whether it was possible to buy out QuickStep’s licence, with it being understood that the team’s majority shareholder, the Czech businessman Zdenek Bakala, was keen to sell.
First, Ineos’ director of sport Dave Brailsford rubbished those claims, and then Lefevere did. He said: “I think we already have 22 riders for next season – the maximum is 30 – and I think they [Ineos] have 15 or 20 riders, so I don’t think it’s possible to have a team of 45 riders first of all, and secondly an owner cannot own two teams with a WorldTour licence. So that stops it.”
Lefevere further added: “I have a budget for the next five years until 2027. [Soudal and QuickStep have signed until then] and Specialized and some others.”
CW understands that new terms were not offered to any of the 20 out-of-contract riders until the very end of June, with one source saying that “this was very, very, very late in the day”. It is understood that though contracts have since been offered and signed, including to new acquisitions, many riders have grown concerned over the delay. One rider, however, told CW that “Patrick is the best manager maybe in the history of cycling and I will always trust him.”
Despite Lefevere’s attempts at reassurance, many people remain worried about the future direction of the team. It is another reason as to why Evenepoel is looking for an exit.
One source close to him said that “it will all come down to money… and his current contract underpays him.” They added: “Lefevere needs to adapt his contract or risk conflict. Lefevere doesn’t have the money to create a top team, but Ineos do.”
Although settlements are occasionally agreed to release a rider early from their contract, a cycling team has never before paid such a huge fee to buy a rider out of his contract from another team, in the same way that football teams purchase new players.
The problem for Ineos, Israel or any other team is that without a breakout clause in Evenepoel’s contract, nor a breach of the terms, the only way to secure his signature would be to buy out the entirety of his remaining contract, something that would probably cost over €10m euros.