They say when you're winning everyone wants to be your friend. Certainly that seems to be the case for newly crowned World Champion Remco Evenepoel.
In recent weeks, a tug of war over his signature, already on a Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl contract until the end of 2026, has emerged.
It all started when VeloNews reported the team principal of Ineos Grenadiers, Dave Brailsford, sent a text message to Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl boss Patrick Lefevere in the wake of the Belgians World Championship victory, which read: “If one day you want to sell him, give me a call.”
That felt like it could be a case of cheeky banter being given unwarranted gravitas but at the weekend CyclingNews reported that Ineos Grenadiers have formulated an offer to Evenepoel and his father, which would see Evenepoel join the British outfit as a Grand Tour team leader. In that same report Lefevere said believes he has a watertight long-term contract with the Belgian and threatened a long and costly legal fight if a move for the Belgian was to progress further.
If the transfer were to happen, it would see the British team pull off a audacious Real Madrid style stunt bagging one of cycling's “galacticos”.
But while such a leap might be great for Evenepoel's bank balance (Lefevere hinted it'd be a serious an uplift in his salary) it would risk turning a star into just another blink in a constellation just as it's brightness is in the ascendency.
For Ineos the upside is obvious. Evenepoel’s 2022 success, which has seen him bag a Liège–Bastogne–Liège victory, a second Clásica San Sebastián title and a first-ever Grand Tour title with his Vuelta a España win and a World Championship win would be a fillip to a squad that has had a few misfires of late. Most notable is its inability to win a grand tour in 2022, the first time that has happened since 2014.
The Belgian would seem a natural plug-and-play replacement for Egan Bernal who's ability to recover from his severe injuries in a training crash in January this year is still in doubt.
But for Evenepoel the upside is less clear. His rise could be interrupted if he was to depart “the Wolfpack” for the “Death Star” of the WorldTour.
Evenepoel is still incredibly young, and has aspects of his riding that still need to be refined. Evenepoel has proven himself as being an outstanding climber on short, sharp punchy hills that feature in monuments and classics, although was caught out at times in the high mountains of the Vuelta.
Granted, he still held on for an impressive victory in Spain but with Primož Roglič crashing out the 2022 Vuelta a España also featured a weaker field than the other two Grand Tours of the year. No doubt Ineos has the technical expertise to help him do that but if they see him as a immediate leader would he be given the space to improve this aspect of his riding?
At Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, Evenepoel is the main man. Other than former World Champion Julian Alaphilippe, the team lacks any other Grand Tour high fliers capable of mounting general classification challenges in France, Spain and Italy in years to come. Mattia Cattaneo finished 12th for the team at the 2021 Tour de France, but they weren’t able to better that at the 2022 edition with no riders finishing within the top 20.
In contrast Ineos currently possess Bernal, Dani Martinez and Geraint Thomas who are all capable of Grand Tour victory as well as British stars of the likes of Ethan Hayter and Tom Pidcock who are likely the future of the team.
In an Ineos jersey, Evenepoel would quickly become just another piece added to the stockpile. The team has found scant success fielding teams with multiple leaders in recent years. Richard Carapaz’s move from Movistar to the British team never really took off and should serve as a warning to Evenepoel that the grass is not always greener.
Although Quick-Step lack Ineos's financial power, Patrick Lefevere is well known for his shrewd signings. Evenepoel can sacrifice 2023 to his own development without a stellar support cast, and possible still win another grand tour, safe in the knowledge his boss has a strong incentive to secure two or three world class domestiques in the mould of Wout Poels of Bahrain Victorious for 2024.
With riders like that on board, along with Alaphilippe, Asgreen, Remi Cavagna and Tim de Clerq, Quick-Step would suddenly have a team that looked capable of challenging Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates in France in July.
While you could say the same for Ineos, competing GC campaigns may see any strong domestiques directed to other races or certainly the resources split. At Quick-Step he is likely to have more influence on who they are and they need fewer pieces to build a winning squad of eight riders.
Plus, when he arrives in France one July who will be better equipped to counter the free-wheeling attacking spirit of Tadej Pogacar or Jonas Vingegaard? Ineos have been a more flamboyant racing machine of late, but it is difficult to argue that the more naturally aggressive "Wolfpack" doesn't represent a better fit of his talents and a better insight into his likely rivals.
Evenepoel might have to settle for a smaller salary at Quick-Step, although there is a reason Mark Cavendish returned to the team after years away. The will to win and work ethic of the Belgian squad is unrivalled and ultimately Evenepoel’s future value will be measured by being part of that squad, not jumping ship for a larger paycheck now.
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