Etixx-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere is heading into the busy transfer season with brakes on his contract negotiations, with the future of the team only assured through the end of the 2017 season, but says it is still likely he will sign Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert to the team.
"We will meet soon," Lefevere said in an interview with Het Laatste Nieuws. "But there is still no official confirmation. Philippe has asked me for a draft contract, but that is no guarantee. But I'm feeling hopeful."
Gilbert had a banner year in 2011 when he did the Ardennes triple - winning the Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège - Bastogne - Liège, but Lefevere lost the bid to sign Gilbert for the next season despite Gilbert's 2011 title sponsor Omega Pharma moving across to Lefevere's squad. Gilbert opted to go to BMC Racing, and has been there for five seasons.
During his time with BMC, Gilbert won the world championships in 2012, but has struggled to win as prolifically as he did with Omega Pharma and his previous team Francaise des Jeux.
But Lefevere noticed a renewed motivation in Gilbert when he spoke to him before he won the Belgian championships. "In that conversation I noticed enormous motivation. He has not yet been written off. And he's willing to sign for one season."
However, the promise of only a single year with the team has hampered efforts to keep some current riders and hire others, Lefevere said. "That's why Stijn Vandenbergh is leaving for AG2R and Nikolas Maes is most likely going to Lotto-Soudal. But it is what it is. So you see who jumps out of the boat first."
Lefevere wanted to bring Sep Vanmarcke to the team from LottoNl-Jumbo, but is pessimistic this will happen. "Apparently I will miss him. Or that's what I heard he has said in Vive le Vélo."