Patrick Lefevere has expressed optimism that Deceuninck-QuickStep will remain in the peloton in 2022, although he has yet to confirm his sponsors for next season.
The Belgian had set a deadline of March 31 for his existing sponsors to renew their commitments. That date has been and gone, but he told reporters on Friday that he is still in talks with several potential backers in a bid to increase his team’s existing budget.
"I know I speak too much, and somebody told me I may not tweet again after 10 o'clock at night," Lefevere joked when reminded of his self-imposed deadline.
"I think we’re in a good way. I hoped to finish it off before the Tour of Flanders, but we have a plan, and many people want to go with the project."
Lefevere suggested that he would provide firmer information in the coming weeks, but he reiterated his intention to increase the funds at his disposal, having described his squad as 'paupers' in a recent column in Het Nieuwsblad.
"We don’t have one single sponsor who puts €40 million euro on the table and says ‘go.’ I have to do it with several sponsors, but I’m not complaining. I want to join the leading group in the peloton because now we are, budget-wise, 6th or 7th, yet still number one in the UCI rankings and with the most victories," Lefevere said.
"I promise you in the next couple of weeks – days, probably – I will come with some news. The first news hopefully will be that the team will go on. The second news will be that I can confirm a few riders, and then step by step, we will develop and let you know what we have to say."
Lefevere recently alleged that Bora-Hansgrohe manager Ralph Denk had tabled an offer to buy out the Deceuninck-QuickStep team in order to secure the services of Remco Evenepoel, a claim denied by the German. Deceuninck-QuickStep hold a contract option for Evenepoel and Julian Alaphilippe beyond 2021.
Asked if the current lack of certainty over the team’s future would affect his riders, Lefevere said: "I hope not. We are all professionals. Every single rider, whether he is at the end of his contract or not, is being paid until December 31."
Lefevere was speaking in a video conference with the Deceuninck-QuickStep squad ahead of the Tour of Flanders, where world champion Alaphilippe lines up at the head of a team, rebranded as Elegant-QuickStep on Sunday, that also includes E3 Saxo Bank Classic winner Kasper Asgreen, Yves Lampaert and Florian Sénéchal, though not Zdenek Štybar, who was ruled out after undergoing a cardiac ablation procedure this week.
"We didn’t want to take any risk: life is more than sport, and we wish him luck," said Lefevere, who backed his team to perform at the Ronde despite disappointing outings at both Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen this week.
"We haven’t lost our ambitions just because the last two races didn’t go 100 precent as we expected."
The Tour of Flanders looks set to pitch the collective strength of Deceuninck-QuickStep against the individual gifts of defending champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Gent-Wevelgem winner Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), even if Lefevere warned that his team could not be relied upon to control the race on their behalf.
"Wout van Aert should be the strongest, but we saw in Harelbeke that he had a weak moment, and then on Wednesday Mathieu had a weak moment, but they can come back two days later stronger than ever. We won’t fall asleep and we’ll try to make our tactics so they have to ride after us and not vice-versa," said Lefevere.
"I will also warn the other teams already today: if they want to play games, we won’t play games. We have several leaders. If they try to make it so that we have to do all the work, I can tell them already, it won’t work."
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