Deceuninck-QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere has given his latest predictions about the economic future of professional cycling, dismissing any fears that team budgets could drop by 30 per cent in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this week, Belgian economist Wim Lagae warned that rider salaries could fall by a third, citing the predicted contraction of sports marketing budgets as a knock-on predictor for what riders might earn.
Lefevere said that, while the sport's economic model isn't a good one, it has still grown, thus dismissing the prospect of a financial calamity across cycling
"I read that rider's wages will drop by a third, with sports economist Wim Lagae predicting it on the basis of companies' marketing budgets also falling by a third. Honestly, I don't see such a rush," he wrote in Het Nieuwsblad.
"The professor in question always wears his darkest glasses when he watches cycling. Ok, our marketing model is no good, but we've known that for 50 years. In those 50 years, cycling has continued to exist, and wages have only increased. Allow me to take this calamity with a grain of salt as well."
Lefevere stated that riders at the top of the money tree wouldn't suffer too much in a post-COVID-19 world, adding that it's the lower earners who would lose money on their next contracts.
"I'm sure riders at the top of the pecking order shouldn't worry too much. The top four in a team won't eat a sandwich less. When the budgets drop, the riders in positions 10 to 30 will pay the price. But 30 per cent less? I don't believe it at all. Groupama-FDJ this week extended the contracts of Stefan Küng, Thibaut Pinot and David Gaudu, and that won't be for less money."
For Deceuninck-QuickStep, whose title sponsors have already confirmed they will honour the original three-year contract, not much is set to change heading into the 2021 season. Only four riders are up for contract renewal in the winter, and Lefevere says that he'll keep them all on board.
"With us, the payroll won't go down enormously. It's logical because there' are only four riders coming to the end of their contract – Yves Lampaert, Bob Jungels, Dries Devenyns and Iljo Keisse. I say: never change a winning team, so I'd like to keep them all.
"Keisse and Devenyns will be able to renew for a one-year deal on the same terms. Next week I'll talk with Iljo, who is old school and does it without an agent. I've already had contact with Yves this week, and for the time being there's only informal talks with Bob. The situation is the same for both – they want to stay and we want to keep them."
Lefevere said that riders have – understandably – been keener to secure their next contract during these uncertain times, just as rider agent Yannick Prevost said earlier this week. The veteran team boss added that he was interested in signing AG2R La Mondiale's Olvier Naesen, but that he quickly moved to stay with the French squad.
"Normally, my motto going into contract negotiations is to perform first, then sign. Now it's more difficult because there have been no races. I notice that a lot of riders want to be sure, even more than usual. Among Flemish riders it's like a sickness," wrote Lefevere.
"Oliver Naesen also suffered from it this year. At the beginning of the season I read that he was open to something else, but you saw how things changed. Quickly afterwards, he thought 'I might not be so bad here, after all, and soon after he signed for three years. We were interested – it wasn't concrete but apparently, he didn't want to wait at all."
Young talent Mauri Vansevenant, son of ex-pro Wim and winner of the 2019 Giro della Valle d'Aosta, should be the only new addition at Deceuninck-QuickStep, joining in July. Meanwhile, rider agents will push for talks further into the future, says Lefevere, but he's standing his ground and refusing to talk about riders who still have years left to run on their contracts.
"With four riders at the end of their contract and Mauri Vansevenant coming in, it should be a calm market for us. But it doesn't mean the agents will leave us alone as they have also lost money in recent months.
"If teams save on rider's wages because of COVID-19 then their percentage goes down. Apparently, that now has to be made up as soon as possible – if they can't talk about 2021 then they want to talk about 2022. For me it's a no-go. I'm not talking about riders who aren't at the end of their contract. COVID-19 won't change that, either."
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