‘It’d be a takeover - not a merger - and it’d be bad for the sport’ says former UCI president of Visma-Soudal talks

Brian Cookson says David Lappartient will be 'in the loop' on negotiations as he gives his take on the Jumbo-Visma Soudal Quick-Step rumours

Clock08:44, Tuesday 26th September 2023
Remco Evenepoel (centre) could in theory join forces with the Jumbo-Visma powerhouse

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Remco Evenepoel (centre) could in theory join forces with the Jumbo-Visma powerhouse

The rumoured merger between Jumbo-Visma and Soudal Quick-Step would not, in reality, be a merger at all, but a takeover instead, according to former UCI president Brian Cookson, who believes the deal would be damaging to the sport if it were to materialise.

The bombshell news of a plan to combine two of the world’s biggest teams broke on Sunday evening, with no denials so far from either team, and with Soudal Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere messaging his riders to confirm “ongoing discussions with various parties”.

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While Quick-Step had been linked with a merger with Ineos Grenadiers, who have been courting their prime asset Remco Evenepoel, the proposed deal with Jumbo-Visma - as outlined by WielerFlits - is reported to have team name and management roles already mapped out.

Speaking to GCN, Cookson was sceptical over the rumours, especially the chances of it happening as soon as the start of next season. What he was more certain about was that a merger is never quite what it seems.

“It wouldn’t be a merger, it would be one team taking over another, in one way or another. There’d be one paying agent, and one team owner taking over another. That would be the simplest form. Otherwise, it would be a new team, and they would have to go through the process of completely re-registering everything,” Cookson said.

“The most likely scenario at the moment is a takeover, rather than a merger. It may suit the teams to call it a merger rather than a takeover, but I’m pretty clear it’d have to be one structure taking over another structure, maybe with some re-naming of the company that owns the team.”

Cookson was president of UCI between 2013 and 2017, during which time he oversaw a high-profile ‘merger’ between the Slipstream/Garmin set-up and the Cannondale team, to form the outfit now known as EF Education-EasyPost. From experience, he knows that, whatever you call them, these deals are rarely good news for everyone involved.

“You can only have so many riders and staff on one team, so it puts a lot of riders and staff on the market all of a sudden, and they must be really worried about it,” he said, describing Jumbo-Visma as the strongest team in all departments in the last two years.

“I don’t see what’s in it for them from a sporting point of view - only a financial point of view. That’s disappointing, because it puts all those other people - the riders, the surplus soigneurs and mechanics and so on - in a very difficult position.”

‘WorldTour is imbalanced enough as it is’

Aside from the concerns over the livelihoods of the people employed by both organisations, the rumoured Visma-Soudal deal has raised concerns over the health of the sport.

In this respect, there’s a crucial difference that sets this apart from most mergers, in that it doesn’t involve one or more struggling teams, but two of the world’s very best. Soudal Quick-Step have long had one of the biggest win tallies in the WorldTour and have key sponsors on board through 2026, while Jumbo-Visma have reached historic levels of dominance and will lose key sponsors but only at the end of 2024.

“It’s usually more a situation of one team saving another team, or of sponsors saying ‘ok if we’re going to continue we need to be in more sustainable partnership’. That doesn’t seem to be the issue here,” Cookson told GCN.

“It seems to be more an ambition to form an even more super team than any super team we’ve ever seen before.”

With Jumbo-Visma already counting the winners of all three of this year’s Grand Tours - who also locked out the podium at the Vuelta a España - the likes of Jonas Vingegaard, Primož Roglič, Sepp Kuss, and Wout van Aert could, in theory, be joined by Belgian star Remco Evenepoel and two-time world champion Julian Alaphilippe.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for two big teams like that to come together. It reduces competition,” Cookson added.

“It would be in everybody’s interest if there are stronger teams existing in the UCI WorldTour, rather than one mega mega strong team. I think it’s imbalanced enough as it is at the moment.”

‘When the UCI president asks, no comment is not good enough’

The UCI, ultimately, does not have much influence when it comes to presiding over all of this. The Licence Commission, which awards WorldTour licences, is technically an independent body that largely deals with administrative criteria, although these do comprise ethical and sporting, as well as financial.

Still, Cookson explained that the current UCI president, David Lappartient, will not be in the dark over this matter, as the riders and staff on both teams seem to be.

“I’d be surprised if he was not aware of the likely state of negotiations, maybe not the full and final picture, because that may be commercially sensitive, but I’d be surprised if he hasn’t contacted some of the key players or they haven’t contacted him to keep him up to date on the state of play.

“When the president of the UCI asks a WorldTour team owner what’s happening, ‘no comment’ is not going to be an acceptable answer, so I would imagine he would be in the loop and knows exactly what’s happening.”

According to WielerFlits, a dossier outlining the proposed merger has already been tabled at the UCI, and there is a deadline of October 15 for submitting full registrations for the year to come. That’s only three weeks away, and it remains to be seen whether this rumour does materialise as soon as next year, whether - as recently suggested to GCN - it’s likelier to happen next year, or indeed whether it happens at all.

“I would have thought that, given the licensing period and the sponsorship arrangements in place, we would be more likely to see a re-shuffle in the future rather than at the end of the current season,” Cookson said. “That would give everyone fewer problems and more time to resolve issues like short-term notice on contracts for riders and staff.”

Cookson is even sceptical of the deal per se, describing a new influx of Gulf state oil money, such as an expansion of Saudi Arabia’s sporting projects, as the more realistic prospect. However, as he well knows, “in cycling, anything is possible."

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