Jumbo-Visma team manager Richard Plugge has revealed that the highly anticipated merger/takeover of the Soudal-QuickStep team didn’t happen “for a number of reasons,” with the UCI appearing to use some moral suasion to stop the deal and avoid the possible demise of one team.
Plugge refused to confirm that his 2024 team will be known as Visma-Lease a Bike but suggested “continuing interest” for some kind of deal with Amazon despite reports that the e-commerce brand had backed out or was only offering ‘media value’ perhaps via a documentary, rather than hard cash, for their involvement.
Jumbo-Visma ended the merger/takeover on the eve of Il Lombardia in early October when they realised that the complex plan to unite the two teams was no longer their best option.
Plugge has so far failed to land the global brand he hoped would elevate the team even higher but reportedly has financial backing from Visma and from the Dutch conglomerate Pon that owns bike sponsor Cervelo, Lease a Bike and has a €10 billion turnover.
The frenzy of reports of a potential Jumbo-Visma and Soudal-QuickStep merger/takeover emerged in late September when the Dutch website Wielerflits revealed that talks began at the end of the Tour de France.
However, mergers are not technically possible under UCI rules, with Jumbo-Visma expected to take over Soudal’s sponsorship, add Remco Evenepeol to their roster while also allowing Primož Roglič to break his contract and join Bora-Hansgrohe.
The remains of the Soudal-QuickStep team could have been sold to a ProTeam looking to step up to WorldTour level or closed down completely, with riders and staff forced to look for new jobs.
Plugge spoke briefly to The Outer Line newsletter, which focuses on the governance and business of professional cycling, indicating that the UCI became involved behind the scenes and raised concerns about the merger/takeover.
“The discussion didn’t work out for a number of reasons,” Plugge said of the talks with Zdenek Bakala, the owner of the Soudal-QuickStep, alongside team manager Patrick Lefevere.
“One of the reasons was that after our discussions with the UCI, we found that there wasn’t a good solution for both teams; we didn’t want one team left in limbo.”
Plugge has still to confirm the team’s title sponsor for 2024, with the UCI using the name of the management company when it listed teams that had applied for 2024 WorldTour status.
Jumbo-Visma sports director Merijn Zeeman made a strong, if indirect, indication that the team’s search for a new sponsor has been successful, and Plugge also appeared unconcerned, with the 2024 team budget expected to be higher than in 2023 when they won all three Grand Tours.
The Jumbo supermarket chain agreed to sponsor the team until the end of 2024, but Plugge confirmed he has spoken to several interested sponsors.
“We’ve known for quite a while that Jumbo would be scaling back after 2024, and fortunately, we’ve had the time and opportunity to talk with various parties about coming in to replace them,” he said without adding more.
While his riders enjoy their off-season and holidays, Plugge and his management staff are busy bringing the team’s new backers and new riders together and completing their WorldTour registration.