Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team boss Patrick Lefevere has said he hopes to have a women's team competing at WorldTour level by 2023.
The Belgian, who has previously been criticised for his comments on women's cycling, appears to have changed his mind on the female side of the sport, which he was previously quoted as calling a charity case.
Lefevere co-owns Experza, which currently co-sponsors the Dutch women's development team NXTG, which he hopes will step up to the women's WorldTour in 2023.
"At the moment my priority is the women's team NXTG. Together with team manager Natascha Den Ouden, I am looking at how far we can jump in terms of budget. For now, it's not up to the World Tour, but that is our ambition for 2023," Lefevere said.
"Then we'd have to talk about money again: the minimum wages for the ladies will go up to €32,100 per year next year, the equivalent of the minimum wage for the men's ProTeams. The aim is to equalise the wages of men and women in the WorldTour as soon as possible, which will bring the minimum to €40,045 very soon.
"If you have money, it's easy: you do like UAE Emirates have done and buy women's team Alé-BTC-Ljubljana straight away. But what we are doing now – growing to the World Tour with promising riders – I think is a much nicer and healthier concept."
One rider Lefevere has his eye on to recruit into the women's set-up is young Brit Zoe Bäckstedt, who races in the same organisation, Acrog-Tormans, where Remco Evenepoel raced as a junior.
"Those talks are ongoing," Lefevere said of Bäckstedt. "But there are many candidates on the market. The intention is to have a structural cooperation with that team as well. Informally, it already existed – we housed Evenepoel there for a while – but now we are going to make it all more concrete."
A new women's team will be part of a building-out process for Lefevere, as he also looks to add a men's continental level training squad to his organisation, which can then act as a feeder squad for his WorldTour outfit.
"If people can drop out at any time and you have to ride three programs at the same time, you'll run into problems even with a core of 31 riders," Lefevere said in his Het Nieuwsblad column of the logic behind a training team equipped with young, upcoming riders.
"That way you can train promising riders and transfer them to the A-team for specific non-World Tour races."
Lefevere hopes that Tormans, who currently sponsor the cyclocross outfit Tormans-Circus, will provide the funding for this project.
"In an ideal world, Tormans would become our Continental team. It would then also race cyclo-cross in the winter and act as a 'breeding ground'. But I keep hitting the same nail on the head – everything revolves around the budget," he said.
"Ideally, next year QuickStep-AlphaVinyl will have a youth team, a team at Continental level and then elite women and men at the top of the pyramid. But as I said: between dream and deed there is always the accountant."
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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