Moments after winning possibly the biggest race of his career on Tuesday, Ilan Van Wilder sent a message out: he does not want the proposed merger between Jumbo-Visma and Soudal Quick-Step to go ahead, he wants his team to continue.
The Soudal Quick-Step rider had just beaten the likes of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) to the line at Tre Valli Varesine, but his triumph was not top of his mind in the post-race interview.
“It has been a difficult few weeks for us," Van Wilder said. "This victory is for my teammates and the staff to show that we don’t agree with all this s***, and we want to continue Soudal Quick-Step”
“We are strong enough and I hope we’ll keep on going as a team.“
The 23-year-old Belgian is one of the first to speak out publicly on the proposed merger, which would reportedly see Quick-Step cease to exist, with the Jumbo-Visma organisation absorbing some of their Belgian rivals.
Van Wilder was the first Belgian winner of the late-season Italian Classic since Eddy Merckx in 1968, timing his late attack perfectly with 9.5km to go, leaving an elite group of riders in his wheel tracks. It was Pogačar who had launched the decisive selection in the final 15km, but he, and the other nine in the group, could only watch as Van Wilder surged up the road to victory in Varese.
Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) finished second, and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe), finished third.
Tre Valli Varesine could be one of Quick-Step's final five races, if reports of the merger are accurate; the merger could see tens of riders, and dozens of team staff, out of jobs. Van Wilder, for example, has a contract that lasts until the end of 2025, but there is no guarantee that he would continue to have a ride at the new Soudal-Visma, or whatever the team would be called.
Wielerflits reported on Tuesday that just six riders would make the jump from Soudal Quick-Step to Jumbo-Visma,
On Monday, Van Wilder's Quick-Step teammate Julian Alaphilippe told Cycling Pro Net that the rumours were "tiresome" but "sad".
“It is especially sad, because it is a team that has been at the heart of cycling for years," he said. "It is a team with a great history. It's sad, but yes. It's not that far along yet. We are not going to cry and we are waiting for good news. We are all hoping.”
In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, reacting to what - at the moment - are just reports, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), said: "Any such operation must comply with the procedures and provisions set out in the UCI Regulations which, in particular, make it possible to ensure compliance with the contractual provisions for all personnel of the teams in question (riders, but also team management and other staff such as doctors, mechanics, sports assistants, drivers, etc.), which is of prime importance to the UCI."
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