The 2023 cycling season may be all but over, but it appears the off-season drama is only just beginning.
The renowned cycling website WielerFlits dropped a bombshell on Sunday evening with a breaking report that Soudal-QuickStep is working on a merger deal with Jumbo-Visma to create a new cycling superteam.
Talks between the teams have been ongoing since mid-July, with Jumbo-Visma and Soudal-QuickStep being combined for the start of the 2024 season under the name Soudal-Visma or Visma-Soudal.
Jumbo-Visma managing director Richard Plugge is set to become the new leader of the superteam, while Soudal-QuickStep’s Patrick Lefevere would reportedly take a step back to sit on the team’s Supervisory Board.
Such a deal has the potential to gild the new superteam with such an embarrassment of riches in its squad depth as to seriously unbalance the competitiveness of men’s cycling.
Jumbo-Visma is already exerting a level of dominance never before witnessed in the sport, having won all three Grand Tours in 2023 with three different riders.
it’s easy to see why the potential addition of riders of the caliber of Remco Evenepoel, Julian Alaphilippe, Mikel Landa (who has agreed a transfer to Soudal-QuickStep for 2024), and Kasper Asgreen is causing such excitement – and concern.
A New Benelux Team
Most of the rumors concerning Soudal-QuickStep in recent months revolved around the possible loss of superstar leader Remco Evenepoel to INEOS Grenadiers.
On paper, such a move would make sense: the team has long been interested in the young Belgian and has the financial backing of British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, who has the stated ambition of bringing the Tour de France title back to the team.
Geraint Thomas is getting older, Egan Bernal is no longer the Bernal of the past, and neither Carlos Rodriguez nor Tom Pidcock appears ready for a serious GC challenge in their own right yet.
However, with a Jumbo-Visma merger appearing on the horizon, a radically different scenario is now emerging.
According to WielerFlits, the Dutch team held talks with Soudal-QuickStep owner Zdenek Bakala. A meeting in Geneva proved to be very productive, and the plan was immediately accepted by title sponsors Soudal and Visma.
Financially, the team could offer resistance against INEOS and UAE Team Emirates – a priority for Jumbo-Visma given supermarket giant Jumbo has confirmed its sponsorship will end following the 2024 season at the latest.
So, could Remco Evenepoel, Jonas Vingegaard, Primož Roglič, and Sepp Kuss really be lining up on the same team in 2024?
Geraint Thomas: “Remco hates Jumbo, and Jumbo hates Remco”
“Remco [Evenepoel] hates Jumbo [Visma], and Jumbo hates Remco. It won’t work.
“You should hear what [Primož] Roglič says about Remco. I don’t want to spread rumors, I’m just reporting.”
The Welshman also dismissed the financial arguments, suggesting that with all the top riders Jumbo-Visma possesses, the team already has “sufficient cash in the bank”.
“They need a new sponsor – but how can they not find one when they’ve just won all three Grand Tours this season, two consecutive Tours de France, and have the world’s best riders?”
Remco Evenepoel is not short on ambition. And with two-time Tour champion Jonas Vingegaard still only 26 years old, there’s little prospect of a passing of the torch any time soon.
And with the presence of three different Grand Tour winners in 2023 alone in their squad, Jumbo-Visma appears set for plenty of leadership tensions and selection headaches in 2024 even without adding Evenepoel into the equation.
In other words, there simply isn’t space for so much top-tier firepower on one team, without seriously curtailing the ambitions of all of them.
Is 2024 A Realistic Deadline?
The timing of the merger talks is also problematic. By the end of September, most teams have typically finalized their rosters for the following season.
UCI WorldTour teams can include a maximum of 30 riders on their roster for the season.
Jumbo-Visma has 27 riders under contract for their men’s squad in 2024, including fresh talent such as Matteo Jorgenson and Ben Tulett, though that number could drop to 26 due to Michel Hessmann‘s provisional doping suspension.
Soudal-QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere had his work cut out for him since about half of his team’s contracts were set to expire. For 2024, they have officially signed 23 riders so far.
Between the two teams, there are potentially 50 riders under contract for 2024: you don’t need to be a mathematician to realize that 20 riders are at risk of being left out.
The effects of a merger on the teams’ women’s squads also remain unclear.
Jumbo-Visma’s team is already well-established on the top-tier Women’s WorldTour under superstar leader Marianne Vos, whereas AG Insurance-Soudal-QuickStep currently competes under a Continental license and is applying to join the WorldTour for 2024.
What would the effect be on AG Insurance-Soudal-QuickStep’s squad? How many of their riders could be expected to retain their contracts in competition with their more established Jumbo-Visma rivals?
The legal implications and rights of riders under these circumstances are pressing issues, but no one has a ready-made answer to the complexity of the situation.
Staffing is also a major concern. Each team has around 60 to 70 people on its payroll. Combining them won’t be easy, and job cuts will understandably be met with massive resistance.
So, even if a merger between Jumbo-Visma and Soudal-QuickStep is possible, a deal being finalized in time for the 2024 season appears to be stretching financial and legal feasibility.
“There Are Currently No Concrete Plans”
Unsurprisingly, Lefevere felt compelled to communicate to staff internally amidst the uncertainty.
However, Lefevere’s email was leaked, and GCN was able to see it. While there was no explicit reference to Jumbo-Visma, Lefevere did refer “to reports in various media.”
“I understand that this has caused unrest. I want to apologize for that. In recent months, there have been talks with various parties. I have always said that I’m open to new investors to help the team grow. That’s not a secret.
“But contrary to what has appeared in the media, there are currently no concrete plans or projects. If this were to change, I will keep you informed.”
In the letter, Lefevere also asked his riders and staff to remain positive. “Hopefully, you will continue to embody the team spirit and values. We still have a few great goals this season.”
Lefevere also requested that they refrain from speaking to the press and keep the information within the team. Obviously, that failed.
We want to hear your opinions
We’re curious to know what you make of this whole merger buzz.
Is it an exciting move for cycling, or would it kill off serious competition? Are those rumors legitimate, and if they are, when do you reckon this could take place? And if you were the boss, which riders would you want to keep from both squads?
Drop your thoughts in the comments below!