It speaks volumes that a team sitting on 54 wins this season is struggling to find a title sponsor for 2019, but that’s exactly the position Patrick Lefevere and his Quick-Step Floors squad find themselves in.
The Belgian outfit have been almost all-conquering in 2018, striking at an extraordinary rate of almost one win every four days throughout this calendar year. Not only have they demonstrated consistency, but they have also triumphed in the Tour of Flanders, La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and, most recently, in San Sebastián. There’s quality within the quantity.
At present, Lefevere has enough liquidity to keep the team going for at least another season, even if they don’t find a new title sponsor for 2019. Quick-Step have invested three years of secondary sponsorship, while Lefevere is genuinely toying with the idea of putting his ‘Wolfpack’ handle on the jersey in the aim of building a franchise not determined by the whim of sponsorship contracts.
"That idea started as a joke but since then it’s become bigger and it seems that people like it," he told Cyclingnews after returning to work after a brief summer vacation.
"The riders like it but to say that if we don’t find a sponsor then we’ll be called Wolfpack-QuickStep, then while it doesn’t sound bad, I can’t confirm it today."
Lefevere has been managing teams for a period stretching through three decades. He has aligned himself with the Quick-Step brand since 2003 and has worked with a litany of cycling greats, including Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish and most recently the young duo of Fernando Gaviria and Julian Alaphilippe.
Yet, despite the near-constant success, Lefevere – like his other WorldTour rivals – operates within a framework that doesn’t lend itself to economic stability or long-term thinking. Survival, more than success, is deemed a more pressing necessity for some teams.
"Everyone thinks it’s about one name, one brand, and that it lasts forever but cycling is not like that. Quick-Step have been with me now for 20 years. Cycling is also a little bit strange, and I’ve been thinking about this for the last few weeks," Lefevere said.
"If you look at the team since around 2000, I’ve brought through around 100 or more young riders into the sport. If you pay €50,000 to a kid but after two years he leaves then you’re left with nothing. That’s different to football, and it’s different to most other sports. As a cycling team, you have no rights in that sense, so if you’re lucky if you get a thankful rider saying thank you and goodbye. That’s it."
Contacts and deadlines
Lefevere has until the end of the year to secure extra funds, with a reported 18 million Euros already in the bank for the future. That figure is down on the sum the Belgian boss had two years ago, but it remains competitive in comparison to other WorldTour teams, minus the likes of Team Sky and a few others. If a new title sponsor is not found then measures will be put in place to reduce costs. A handful of riders, including Niki Terpstra, are still awaiting contract offers.
"I have some contacts and we have some deadlines," Lefevere says. "I’m worried most days and I’m concerned because I want to make sure that this team has a future, even if I’m not there anymore. It’s a beautiful team and I want it to carry on.
"So, even if we don’t have a new title sponsor for 2019 we will still go on. For 2019 we’re more or less secure. Perhaps there will be some restrictions but there won’t be anything to worry about. That said, if someone comes on board tomorrow then it will give us time to breathe and allow us to talk more about the future."
As for his own future, Lefevere has no desire to step aside just yet: "If I still have the motivation and my health permits me to do what I do today then I’ll carry on. If someone taps me on the shoulder and tells me it’s enough, then I’ll go, but I want to carry on. I’ve never done something or carried on doing something against my will, and that’s not going to start at the age of 63."
Regardless of the sponsor situation, Lefevere has amassed a team that blends together the experience of Philippe Gilbert and others with the youth of Alaphilippe, Gaviria, Remi Cavagna, Alvaro Hodeg, and Fabio Jakobsen. The team’s recruitment strategy is second to none. All Lefevere needs now is the long-term platform to showcase it.
"Maybe I’m just smarter. I’m joking, of course, but remember we did this with Mapei in 2000 when we brought in Cancellara, Evans, Rogers, Pozzato, Eisel and all those young kids. That was always my goal to do something like that with my own actual team. We’ve looked at scouting a lot and we pay attention. We have our development team and if you look at who has come through then you can see what we’ve done."
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