Is Evenepoel Moving to Ineos? Maybe, Maybe Not

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

It is a testament to Remco Evenepoel’s talent and popularity that the cycling ecosystem has been abuzz with rumors, assertions, refutations and denials about his possible transfer from Soudal-QuickStep to Ineos Grenadiers since last October. The argument for such a move is very strong: Evenepoel is very ambitious and, though he has proven, in Classics, the Vuelta and the world championships that he is an exceptional cyclist – certainly one of the best in the world – he cannot be considered the very best unless he matches Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegard by winning the most prestigious and difficult race in the world, the Tour de France, a race he has never even entered.

But he cannot win the Tour with Soudal-QuickStep (the argument continues) because they are set up for one-day races and Tour de France stage wins, not yellow jerseys. In fact, when Evenepoel won the Vuelta a España last year, it was the team’s first-ever Grand Tour GC victory. There have been two second places, Rigoberto Urán  in the 2014 Giro d’Italia and Enric Mas in the 2018 Vuelta, but the best finish by a Soudal-QuickStep rider in the Tour was a fifth place by Julian Alaphilippe in 2019.

Ineos Grenadiers, continues this argument, is a superior team in search of a rider capable of winning the Tour de France. The last Ineos rider to win the Tour was Egan Bernal, in 2019, which ended a golden period in which Ineos Grenadiers (also as Team Sky) riders won seven Tours in eight years. They are eager to experience Tour de France glory again and have everything Soudal-QuickStep lacks to make Evenepoel a Tour winner: the resources, the experience, the riders and the hunger for a Tour victory which equals that of the rider himself. Evenepoel and Ineos would be a match made in heaven, most observers agree.

But Soudal-QuickStep Patrick Lefevere disagrees, of course. He believes that the 23-year-old phenom is just right where he currently is. Most recently he reacted to a comment by former Tour winner Alberto Contador, who said on Eurosport that Evenepoel’s move to Ineos was an “open secret,” and that he would take a number of riders with him.

Remco Evenepoel
Evenepoel in action during the elite men time trial race at the UCI World Championships Cycling, in Glasgow. © Profimedia, BELGA PHOTO DAVID PINTENS

“I am not going to waste any more words on that story,” he wrote in his weekly column in Het Nieuwsblad, “but I note that Remco has become world time trial champion as a Soudal-QuickStep rider. If our team really lacked scientific knowhow, that would certainly not have worked. The time trial is not a discipline that you win with a wet finger.” That is a weak argument at best, since winning an elite time trial only makes you a favorite for the Tour de France time trial and not the GC, and because “scientific knowhow” is only one element of the complex formula that makes a Tour de France champion.

The controversy has even set Lefevere against Evenepoel’s father, Patrick, who is his son’s agent and told the Belgian paper La Derniere Heure, “I can’t promise that Remco will stay at Soudal-QuickStep. I have had contact with five big teams, three of which were very concrete. This is logical because Soudal-Quick Step is not certain of being able to offer Remco the guarantee that it will be able to play for the win in the Grande Boucle next year. Maybe in three years it will be the case, but Remco wants to be with the best in the Tour from next year.”

Lefevere reacted with the threat of a lawsuit. The consequences of a possible departure are incalculable, for him and for us,” he said. “If you don’t respect your contract, you get sued. It would also be a disaster for our sponsors.” Evenepoel is under contract with Soudal-QuickStep until the end of 2026. Lefevere also said that he was working to make the team competitive for the Tour. “Our team is taking steps in all areas,” he said. On Wednesday, the team announced it had signed the accomplished climber Mikel Landa to a two-year contract.

“I am happy and motivated by this new challenge and by supporting Remco in his goals,” Landa said in a statement released by the team. “I come here with a lot of experience, especially in the Grand Tours, where I’ve been fighting for the podium or have helped others win several times in the past.” Ironically, Landa will be racing against Evenepoel in the upcoming Vuelta.

As for the 2023 world time trial champion himself, he has had enough of all the rumors and backtalk – though he must certainly be flattered by how many words are being written about him at the moment. He has told his father and Lefevere to shut, telling Sporza, “I know best what is and is not possible. Both my dad and Patrick [Lefevere] would be better silent.” And has several times referred to the rumors about his move to Ineos as “bull—-.” After Contador’s statement, he complained, “I hope not to hear the same [stuff] for three weeks during the Vuelta.”

On the other hand, he has never declared if he was staying at Soudal-QuickStep or leaving. A firm declaration by him, one way or the other, would certainly go a long way to him not having to hear that [stuff] again.