There are many angles to the mooted merger of the Jumbo-Visma and Soudal-Quickstep teams, the first being that it’s really not a merger. Let’s explore some of these from the label to the knock-on effect of Tour de France wildcards.
It’s not a merger
You can’t really merge teams unless they’re empty. As you’ll know by now, a team can have no more than 30 riders so merging two teams with existing large rosters is like trying to pour two pints of beer into one pint glass. Without knowing the future structure, or if it even happens, it looks a lot more like a takeover and we ought to call it as such.
Jumbo-Visma needing more sponsorship?
Outwardly the team looked on top of the world and had a great deal with Jumbo where the Dutch supermarket had a rolling deal with a long notice period. But had you noticed how many sponsors were on the jersey? 13 names in total… compared to 15 for the old Androni-Sidermec jersey that everyone mocked for being crowded. Presumably Jumbo was paying the most and by some way but it shows how the team’s been hustling for extra Euros already.
End of season sale
Normally at the end of the season some pro teams hold a sale at their HQ to get rid of used bikes and raise some cash on the side. This time the Soudal-Quickstep team might be having a rider fire sale. Here rival teams are waiting to see which riders are suddenly on the jobs market. Wielerflits says six Quicksteppers might continue, that means over 20 can’t. Some might have deals but they haven’t been announced, for example Rémi Cavagna’s long been mentioned as a hire for Movistar but the majority of riders would have to sign hurried deals with teams who’ve not got much budget or places left.
Late season results
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This time last year you’d watch the results of, say, Paris-Chauny or the Tre Valli Varesine with one eye on the sport and another on a spreadsheet given the relegation rumble happening. Now the actions of Quickstep riders seem to count for double, will Ilan Van Wilder’s triumph in Varese yesterday help to find a better job?
Normally corporate mergers see a concentration of power and regulators tasked with preventing monopoly powers can block them. But this team “merger” could achieve the opposite. Far from regrouping some of the best stage racers together, we’re very likely to see Primož Roglič move to Bora-hansgrohe and probably Remco Evenepoel goes to Ineos so rival teams gain. It’s hardly the scenario a competition regulator would want but all the same it’s dilution, not concentration and this illustrates the deal is being done from a position of weakness, in order to keep one team on the road some of the best riders are going to rivals.
The UCI said yesterday if the merger happens we’ll get a World Tour of 17 teams, as in down from 18 today as Quickstep’s licence can’t be sold on nor can applicants register to fill the vacant spot. This in turn means 17 World Teams at the Tour de France and then the best three second-tier ProTeams get automatic invites, in this case Lotto-Dstny, Israel-PremierTech and Uno-X. This leaves two “wildcards” for ASO to distribute. TotalEnergies probably although this won’t be automatic and perpetual, if they can scoop up Julian Alaphilippe as a late signing then they’re in for sure. The remaining team? Not obvious but Q36.5 and Tudor sort of fit the bill and again they can go shopping for a last minute Quickstepper or two in order to make them more attractive.
Ready to race in 2024
L’Equipe reported that Quickstep’s filed its papers to be registered as a World Tour squad for 2024. No scoop given teams do this between August and October every year, but confirmation all the same that the Belgian team has told the UCI’s Licence Commission that everything’s in place to be a viable team for the coming season. Which makes it harder to then tell the UCI’s Licence Commission that suddenly many riders have to be jettisoned and contracts are invalid. Now the UCI can be presented with a fait accompli as in Soudal’s sponsorship has jumped to another team leaving the Belgian team short of funding but all the same there’ll be some explaining to do, it won’t nod Jumbo’s licence through like normal.
Ineosa are more than spectators. Presumably they’d like to pick up Remco Evenepoel but they’ve also got an empty roster for 2024. It’s October now and they’ve only announced 15 riders for next season. Just as rule 2.15.110 caps a team at 30 riders, it also stipulates a minimum size of 27 riders and a team has to inform the UCI of its roster this month. Now perhaps some contract extensions are a matter of time, like Geraint Thomas, and reports say Tobias Foss’s move is back on after it was off mid-summer. Either way, the team needs a dozen riders.
Last minute save?
HLN reports that Patrick Lefevere could try to keep the his Quickstep licence and race on with the rump of riders left following any takeover by Jumbo-Visma. It’d be a strong team with some prime riders – and if “Quickstep” and the legal entity behind it continues to exist then Evenepoel’s contract presumably stands – but again that minimum team size, rather than riders leaving for other teams he’d have to persuade them to stay and then to meet the regulatory minimum of 27 he’d have to be hiring some extras as well and so finding the budget to keep this team on the road, with Evenepoel or without it won’t be easy.
Patrick Lefevere mentioned in his newspaper column that the team talks started at a meeting for “OneCycling, a project in which a number of top teams want to unite to position ourselves more strongly”. It’s getting on for a decade ago now that several teams launched Velon only this hasn’t done much, think small deals to sell power data and onboard camera footage and the brief “Hammer Series”. One… to watch.