Patrick Lefevere can revel in the fact that he has saved his team's future after it was announced that Deceuninck would step in and become a title sponsor for 2019, but the Belgian boss cannot guarantee that Fernando Gaviria will stay next year.
While uncertainty shrouded the Quick-Step Floors team, Gaviria was granted permission to talk to other teams. If Lefevere could not find a sponsor, then he would be forced to nullify several rider contracts due to financial restraints, and Gaviria was duly shopped around by his agent.
Even though Lefevere's team has been saved and Deceuninck has stepped up as a significant title sponsor for the foreseeable future, Gaviria is still a question mark.
A report in La Gazzetta dello Sport claimed that the sprinter was set to move to UAE Team Emirates, while Lefevere’s latest climbing sensation, Enric Mas, was linked in a move to Astana. The latter's future is set at Quick-Step, with Lefevere stating that the Spaniard will not leave under any circumstances, but Gaviria's 2019 squad remains unclear.
"For me a rider has only gone when all the parties sign an agreement," Lefevere told Cyclingnews on Tuesday morning.
"That needs the rider, the old team, and the new team all to be in agreement. Until today that’s not the case. Mas will certainly not leave the team. I’m certainly not going to allow that. This is of course part of the sickness that’s in cycling. We’re becoming more like football, so there are now agents who don't have the authority who start selling riders to contracts. That’s not correct.
"I can’t tell you 100 per cent today that Gaviria stays. I know that he is speaking to others and his agent needs to make things clear. UAE have a lot more money than we do but money isn't everything in the world. At the moment Fernando has a contract, so he can only leave if I allow it."
Despite landing a new sponsor, Lefevere may not have enough to keep the sprinter, who currently has a deal until the end of 2019. It's understood that UAE Team Emirates are offering a significantly higher financial deal over multiple years.
"I don’t want to keep people against their will. I don't want to say that he doesn't want to stay but when the team is forced to think about its worst-case scenario then people start to speak. I couldn't think too long term and into 2020 and 2021, so some riders start to talk to other teams. The next step with Fernando doesn't come down to me," said Lefevere.
While the future over Gaviria is unclear, the bigger picture is one of success for Lefevere. It is somewhat unfathomable that a team of Quick-Step's success could have been in such dire straits with regards to sponsorship, but Lefevere has once again pulled a rabbit from a hat and saved the squad. Their recruitment over the last few seasons in terms of young talent has been little short of sensational, with their latest recruit, junior world champion Remco Evenepoel, billed as Belgium’s next star.
The core of the team remains incredibly competitive, with Julian Alaphilippe, Philippe Gilbert, Bob Jungels, Mas, and Ellia Viviani all tied down to contracts. This year’s emergence of Fabio Jakobsen and Alvaro Hodeg will only please Lefevere further.
Deceuninck’s arrival as sponsor will take the pressure off Lefevere but he is determined not to let the team’s focus slip as they looked to back up their incredible 2018 next season.
"This is a big ticket for us and it was very necessary for us to survive. I don't want to speak about years in terms of length of the deal but it is several years. We both see this as a partnership and there's no intention to just stop in a few years. We see this as a long-term project. If you stop after two years then it's just a loss of money, so they and we see it as a long-term partnership," Lefevere told Cyclingnews.
"The pressure will always be there. We've had a fantastic season and won 70 races and the World Championships team time trial. The pressure next year will be whether we can repeat it. I can't promise but for sure we will do our best. We still believe that we have good team with a lot of quality."
If the deal with Deceuninck appeared to come out of nowhere, that's because the company and Lefevere only started talking at the end of August. However, within two meetings, a deal was struck. Lefevere's 2019 roster is almost complete but the future of Gaviria may open doors for new signings.
"I was flying around and speaking with all kinds of people. They called me on August 30. We had a meeting with their marketing team and then two weeks ago we had a meeting with their CEO and within 30 minutes we had an agreement," he added.
"I had a worst-case scenario in my mind. The team would go on for sure, but some would have had to review their contract. I would have been the first to do that.
"Now that everyone has read the news, my phone has started again. At the moment I have 22 riders and we have Petr Vakoc as well. His future depends on if he can race again. I promised he can stay if he can race. I paid him throughout the year and was very fair in this case."
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