The cycling world is in transition. There are increasing indications that the most successful tour team this season, Jumbo-Visma, is working with the Soudal racing team, which has dominated the classic races for many years Quick Step wants to merge. The result would not only be a super team, but also several dozen drivers and employees who would suddenly find themselves without a job. A medium earthquake is imminent.
Cycling is a fast-paced sport. Three professionals from the Jumbo-Visma team have just occupied the podium at the European Championships. The Frenchman Christophe Laporte won ahead of the Belgian Wout Van Aert and the Dutchman Olav Kooij. That was reminiscent of the outcome of the Tour of Spain a week ago. They also saw a jumbo trio on the winner’s podium with Sepp Kuss, Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic.
But as soon as the European Championship fighters had left the former garbage heap where the European Championships were held, the news that some of the successful Jumbo Visma athletes would probably have to find a new employer electrified the scene. Apparently the managers of Jumbo-Visma and Soudal Quick-Step are planning a merger.
Surprise among managers, agents and athletes
“When I read that this morning, it really surprised me.”said Ralph Denk, boss of the German racing team Bora Hansgrohe, to the Sportschau. Denk didn’t want to delve too deeply into the consequences. “It’s still a rumor that has yet to be confirmed.”, he said cautiously. As of now, he noted, he is not yet looking for his squad in the now growing driver market. But many consider the project to be realistic.
Ralph Denk, team manager of the Bora-hansgrohe cycling team
“I think it’s credible”said Jörg Werner, a long-time advisor, especially to German professional cyclists. “It surprised me right from the start”he confessed to the sports show. “But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense”he said.
Financial problems at Soudal Quick Step
There have been rumors about tight budgets surrounding Soudal Quick-Step for years. Team boss Patrick Lefevere repeatedly flirted with the sports show about his skill in just barely getting the money together for the squad, but by no means being able to keep up with the budgets of the industry leaders. The Czech mining entrepreneur Zdenek Bakala, who has owned the racing team majority since 2010 – currently 80 percent – has also had to accept losses in assets in recent years. In 2015, he disappeared from Forbes’ billionaires list. Last year his assets were valued at 18 billion crowns – around 740 million euros.
The fact that he wants to get out and that the now 68-year-old racing team manager Lefevere also imagines a different retirement doesn’t come as a complete surprise. “I expected another team to buy Soudal Quick-Step”assumed Adam Hansen, ex-professional based in the Czech Republic, Bakala’s homeland, and president of the drivers’ union CPA, in an interview with Sportschau.
Ineos Grenadiers profited?
Rumors about a takeover of Soudal Quick-Step Ineos Grenadiers already existed in the summer. The racing teams themselves didn’t want to confirm anything at the time. Now, too, the team spokespersons reacted tightly. “No comment on that”said the speakers from Jumbo-Visma, Soudal Quick-Step and Ineos Grenadiers in unison.
However, as a result of the talks in the summer, the Belgian Remco Evenepoel could go to Ineos Grenadiers. Significantly, the British racing team has made space in the squad: so far only 15 drivers have been signed for the coming season. “Ineos has the potential to have a Grand Tour winner again. So that could fit. However, it is doubtful whether it makes sense to have Vingegaard, Kuss, Roglic and Evenepoel in one team.”, driver agent Werner analyzed the situation. However, he emphasized that it was speculation at the moment.
Coming soon to Ineos Grenadiers? Remco Evenepoel from Team Soudal Quick-Step
Legally complex procedure
The question now is how a possible merger could take place. “There are no obstacles in terms of the UCI regulations”said sports lawyer Gregor Reiter to the Sportschau. “Teams can return licenses and there should be enough interested parties for the license that is released”he said.
This primarily affects teams that lost theirs at the start of last season World Tour-Licenses lost, so Lotto Dstny and Israel Premier Tech. “It’s no secret that we would like to have our license back”said a spokeswoman for the Israeli team. “We are not yet in contact with the UCI about this”she restricted.
Too many drivers for one team
Things become more problematic when it comes to drivers and employees. 29 drivers currently have contracts with both teams, 27 with Jumbo-Visma for the 2024 season and 23 with Soudal Quick-Step. So there would be no room for 20 riders, even if some of them went to Ineos Grenadiers with Evenepoel. But purely mathematically, not all of the professionals who become available can be accommodated by the new super team.
“Basically, there are two different ways you could do such a merger. Either you dissolve one of the teams, in this case probably Quick-Step, and let it go to Jumbo-Visma. Or you form a new team out of both. That would then be a classic business transfer”, explained sports lawyer Reiter to the sports show. This means that drivers of the team that is being taken over have a period of time to object to the transfer of operations. If they object, they would be released without notice and could move to other teams. If they stay, it becomes more complex. If they are used in the future for less important races than may have been agreed in the contract, they could sue.
Strength Negotiating position for drivers
In principle, the employment contracts are valid even if there is no longer any room for the drivers in the racing team. “The drivers are in a strong position here. Because the contracts can only be terminated with mutual consent”said Hansen from the UCI drivers’ union to the Sportschau. Lawyer Reiter also recommends such termination agreements to racing team managers. “Then the lawyer comes with the suitcase of money and says: ‘Look out, unfortunately there is no more room for you, here you have a severance payment'”, he describes the usual scenario. However, if one of the teams files for bankruptcy, the affected drivers would only be able to assert claims from the bankruptcy estate.
Unsuccessful search for sponsors at Jumbo-Visma
The operation also makes sense for Jumbo-Visma. The racing team has been looking for a successor for the main sponsor Jumbo, who will be leaving next year at the latest, for more than a year now. So far the search has apparently been so unsuccessful that the emergency plan to merge with another struggling racing team is now being considered.
In the event of a merger, the cycling circus would lose a traditional team with character. They would also be affected Developmentteams and the women’s racing teams on both sides as well as the speed skating team, which is also financed by Jumbo.