Remco Evenepoel’s future at Soudal-Quickstep’s been a background story all summer. Will he move or stay? Because he himself isn’t shutting down the story it points to a move but put aside the guesswork for a moment because any move is complicated but it’s worth exploring some angles given big contract riders looking to move mid-term is probably going to become a feature given the rise of long term deals and the sums involved.
The first thing to note is Evenepoel signed a contract in 2021 to ride for Soudal-Quickstep, as the team is called today, until the end of 2026.
Now it’s said he wants to move to another team for two reasons. First is for money, his palmarès is getting more lines and compared to star riders he thinks his contract should be worth more. Second he wants to win the Tour de France next July and the Belgian squad’s just doesn’t look like they’ll trouble the likes of Jumbo-Visma and UAE. Now of course he hasn’t said all this out loud but it’s the talk of the town. If you want to hear more, the Radio Cycling podcast has some good episodes this month and last detailing things in an English voice; in Dutch the Flemish newspapers are of course fascinated by the plot line too.
On the salary matter, there’s business to be done with the team, Evenepoel could ask for a pay rise but of course the team has budget and contracts with sponsors, they may think they’re on the hook already and can’t find millions more. Similarly if the team is to be strengthened then it’s getting late to go into the market. Mikel Landa’s move sounds like a done deal but he’s muy errático; George Bennett sounds like a good deal for that Sep Kuss-Adam Yates role. But these signings cost money, if team manager Patrick Lefevere has to go on a shopping spree, has he got the budget? If he does sign these riders, what does he do with them if Evenepoel still moves?
Lefevere could unload Julian Alaphilippe to another team and not hold out for a big fee to break the contract as this frees up budget for Quickstep. But easier said than done, is another team standing by with budget to spare? It’s here we start to see the complicated part to all of this, there are a lot of moving pieces, it’s like looking into the mechanism of a Swiss watch.
Plus if Lefevere wants to let Alaphilippe out of his contract… well he can hardly tell Evenepoel to follow his through to the end. The “we have a contract” line is being used by Lefevere and mainly towards Evenepoel’s entourage but the “he’s almost my son” vibe’s fading. A contract is one thing but it’s not worth much if you force a rider to see out the term and they’re miserable about it. But at the same time contracts exist for good reasons and can’t be seen as asymmetric. For example Ineos signed Egan Bernal but can’t put his deal in the shredder just because the Colombian had that horror crash, good. In the other direction a rich team shouldn’t be allowed to destabilise a poor team by flashing pieces of silver at a rider and whispering about bigger contracts, a distraction. This practice is sometimes called tampering or tapping up and while a free market might welcome employers being able to bid for talent, it can be pernicious in sports as it distracts and destabilises the athlete and the contract they have with their current team.
The UCI rulebook isn’t big on tampering but there’s a rule to say teams can’t sign riders before 1 August in the final season of their contract. This is widely skirted with teams sometimes signing riders 18 months out from a move. But crucially the rule still matters, these deals are pre-agreements, a promise to sign the UCI contract on the due date of 1 August or thereabouts. And with this in mind, it’s still a pre-agreement in case things to go litigation.
Another moving part is the future of the Soudal-Quickstep team. Soudal switched from rival Belgian team Lotto, and presumably a big part of this was the allure of sponsoring Evenepoel. Similarly Quick Step renewed its sponsorship in 2021 in May 2021 when Evenepoel fever was at a high going into the Giro. If Evenepoel leaves nothing says these sponsors will walk as well, but they will likely be disappointed as they’re supposed to be funding the star rider, the deal is they sponsor and Evenepoel is under contract. Absent Evenepoel and they might feel short changed. As such the big franchise in Belgian pro cycling is involved here.
One further element is the Soudal-Quickstep team, or Decolef SARL to use the legal entity’s real name, is only ~20% owned by Patrick Lefevere. The controlling shareholder of the team is Czech billionaire Zdeněk Bakala, a stalwart of this blog’s Wealthiest People in Pro Cycling reviews. As such Lefevere doesn’t even stand to gain much from agreeing to sell Evenepoel’s contract to, say, Ineos, if he wanted to sell the most of the funds go to Bakala who doesn’t really need the money, this is no golden retirement exit. There’s even been talk of selling up the team as a way for a rival team to acquire Evenepoel but this is expensive, like wanting to buy a big diamond from a jeweller and agreeing to buy all their stock, the premises and the staff. Only in cycling team takeovers never work like normal business mergers because you can’t combine 29 riders from one team with 30 from another, team sizes are capped at 30.
Another angle is that several teams are interested in Evenepoel. We’re all interested of course but here this means enquiring about hiring him and with an idea of the sums involved. It’s said Ineos are leading but Israel-PremierTech and Bora-hansgrohe are interested too, the latter has the backing of bike brand Specialized and it’s substantial marketing budget, it is know to pay plenty to sponsor teams and note it has two men’s World Tour teams and there’s also been Total Energies because “their” asset Peter Sagan moved there too. Ineos obviously have the budget and the most compelling need, not only are they losing several key riders, there’s the “yacht dinner party test” for a billionaire like Jim Ratcliffe, he might delight in seeing the pipeline of young riders but when he’s got guests on his yacht in the summer and someone asks how the Tour de France is going, he’d love to reply “we actually we’ve just won it”. Even if Ratcliffe is ready with the money, the recruitment decision could also impact other things such as the apparent belated interest to retain Carlos Rodriguez, reportedly a deal to Movistar but with Ineos said to be keen to retain him and others interested too. That could change if Evenepoel’s coming; similarly Carlos Verona was said to be going to Ineos, now the latest is he’s likely to renew with Movistar. So while Evenepeol is a central rider, other pieces have to fit around this.
f Evenepoel goes elsewhere Israel-PremierTech has the charismatic billionaire owner Sylvan Adams who in turn is keen to gently unload Chris Froome – to cite Radio Cycling again, their interview with Adams set this out quite carefully, it was more subtle than some headlines suggested – but the roster in support doesn’t look ready but this can be tweaked; Bora-hansgrohe looks stronger on paper but Jai Hindley, Alex Vlasov and perhaps Cian Uijtdebroeks might not be delighted to see Evenepoel arrive as one or two might be expected to work for him, which in turn might involve more money to secure loyalty.
Plus there’s the timing aspect. Arguably Evenepoel’s peak value in the near term is now rather than later. Another Vuelta win won’t add much but losing to Vingegaard or Roglič will worry teams in the market for him (assuming they haven’t shaken hands already). Looking ahead if he goes to the Tour next summer with Sodual-Quickstep and gets unpicked by Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar, especially if their teams show up his well we might expect this as the base scenario today. Evenepoel’s entourage could say “we told you so” but seeing it happen won’t make him any more valuable, now’s the time to move if he’s worried about this.
Is Remco Evenepoel going to move teams? There’s so much noise and if he’s not contributing to it in public, he’s not silenced the matter either with a declaration of loyalty. He could if he wanted but hasn’t which only adds to the speculation.
The problem is this situation is that it’s got more angles than it first looks, this isn’t a bolt-on deal. Just trying to get a salary increase is one thing but doing it semi-publicly suggests there’s more to it. Telling the boss to hire more support is understandable as we can see the squad needs strengthening but again when Evenepoel’s father is saying this it’s less a statement of the obvious and more one of frustration bordering on a dispute albeit in a passive-aggressive manner. Perhaps a more pro agent could do all of this but behind the scenes? For now it all points to a wider dispute that’s bubbling away. He may find the Vuelta long if he’s asked about this every day… but he chose to sign the long contract, all this is on him and the people who advised him to sign in 2021.