The Jumbo Visma and Soudal Quick-Step teams could merge in the near future. For many followers, this is worrying news for the future of the sport. Explanations.
Remco Evenepoel and Julian Alaphilippe in the same team as Jonas Vingegaard, Wout Van Aert, Sepp Kuss and Primoz Roglic? According to the very reliable Dutch media WielerFlits, this fantasy could become reality from the 2024 season. Patrick Lefevere's Belgian team, Soudal Quick-Step, is in fact looking for new funding. There has long been talk of a merger with billionaire Jim Ratcliffe's Ineos Grenadiers team. But the leaders of the Jumbo Visma team interfered in the discussions, and it seems that they now hold the rope. Zdenek Bakala, boss of the Soudal Quick-Step team, was attracted by the prospect of a merger with the Dutch team. The main sponsors Soudal and Visma also validated the idea of this merger, such as Richard Plugge who would become CEO of the team and Patrick Lefevere who would head the Supervisory Board.
The new team, which should be called Visma Soudal or Soudal Visma, would like to respect its Belgian-Dutch identity by building its squad around riders from Benelux countries. This merger would make it possible to compete economically with the Ineos Grenadiers and UAE Team Emirates teams, the two biggest budgets in the World Tour. This would also confirm a paradigm shift in the world of cycling: the emergence of financially and sportingly dominant teams, concentrating most of the greatest talents in cycling.
The budgets of professional teams have always been quite close, between 8 and 20 million for example for the World Tour teams in 2015. But in recent years, certain teams have had much larger budgets, making it possible to recruit the best riders but also to attract young talents from an early age. Thus, the Ineos Grenadiers team would have a budget of around 50 million euros in 2023, the UAE Emirates Team is approaching 35 million and the Jumbo Visma benefits from around 27 million. Conversely, the majority of other World Tour teams still have an annual budget of between 10 and 15 million euros.
This economic domination does not fail to translate into sporting domination. As proof, the three biggest budgets on the World Tour were the only teams to be able to place a rider on a Grand Tour podium this year. The Jumbo Visma won all three events and even monopolized the Vuelta podium. UAE Team Emirates placed Joao Almeida 3rd in the Giro, Tadej Pogacar 2nd in the Tour and Adam Yates 3rd in the Tour. Finally, the Ineos Grenadiers team placed Geraint Thomas on the third step of the Giro podium; a meager record, however, for the richest team in the world. This concentration of the best riders logically worries the world of cycling, even in the management spheres.
The idea of a “salary cap” is supported by several team bosses and has been studied for years by the International Cyclist Union. Capping annual budgets would make it possible to rebalance forces, to distribute the best riders into more different teams, but also to favor the most ingenious teams who work the best, rather than the richest. In 2018, at the time of his election, UCI president David Lappartient already said: "The salary cap is a medium-term objective [...] The idea is that we can have good riders in each of the teams. That we do not have a concentration of resources in a single team. And ensure that we have leaders in each team and that the race is more interesting." Since then, it seems that the idea is still being studied with the AIGCP (International Association of Professional Cycling Groups), but the implementation of such a reform remains very hypothetical, and there is no doubt that certain teams are firmly opposed to it.
Pending further information, the leaders of the two teams concerned did not wish to comment on the rumors of a merger, and the riders would not have been informed of these negotiations. However, they are the first to be affected. Indeed, the Jumbo Visma team has 27 riders already under contract in 2024, and the Soudal Quick-Step team has 23. If the squads were to merge into one, there would be no less than 50 riders under contract in this new formation, apart from the regulations only authorizing 30. If some would have no trouble finding a way out, and would not necessarily be retained, others could well find themselves left behind. There would also be layoffs to be expected in the staff and management of the two teams.
According to WielerFlits and other consistent sources, Primoz Roglic is already of interest to many teams (Bahrain Victorious, Jayco-AlUla, Lidl-Trek and Movistar), who would even be ready to buy out his last year of contract to see him race under their colors from 2024. Remco Evenepoel is strongly announced at Ineos Grenadiers, which is looking for a large-scale leader and who has the means to afford it. The leaders of Soudal Quick-Step, like their Dutch counterparts, would nevertheless count on him, including in the event of a merger. But cohabitation with Jonas Vingegaard in particular could be difficult.
In this context, the 2025 horizon perhaps seems more reasonable for this merger, since the number of riders under contract will then be much lower, and certain sponsorship contracts end at the end of 2024. In addition, it There are still thorny questions to resolve, starting with that of the women's teams and the development teams, which also have two full squads. Finally, the Specialized cycle brand could remain loyal to Remco Evenepoel and its arrival as a supplier would be viewed favorably by Ineos Grenadiers. But Specialized also maintains close ties with the leaders of the Soudal Quick-Step team, while Cervélo, the cycle supplier for the Jumbo Visma, would also like to be part of the merger project.