Remco Evenepoel and Wout van Aert shake hands at the start of a Tour de Suisse stage.

Two wild weeks: A timeline of the Jumbo-Soudal merger saga

Your humble editor picked the wrong time to stop sniffing glue.

One for all and all for one. Shake on it?

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 06.10.2023 Photography by
Kristof Ramon
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Not to be nostalgic or maudlin, but think back to those innocent days of mid-September, when the biggest Jumbo-Visma story was whether the meanies in management would let Sepp Kuss’ teammates tear the red jersey off his back at the Vuelta a España.

Little did we know then that a far wilder story (sorry, Sepp) lurked in the background: the team’s possible merger with-slash-takeover of Soudal Quick-Step, which would combine the top two teams (in terms of wins) in the men’s WorldTour.

Since it broke, the story moved at a speed that would make Scotty ditch his dilithium crystals for a new power source. With seemingly every passing day there was at least one piece of news or fresh rumor. Then, not two weeks after the merger first became public, it was suddenly over. We could just close the book and move on (so long and thanks for all the clicks!), but it seems important to have a record, a timeline of the last two wild weeks.

Why? Simple: in a 24-hour news cycle, the first casualty isn’t truth, it’s memory. It’s far too easy to forget, for example, that Patrick Lefevere promised us not a week ago that we’d know more on Monday. Last Monday, October 2, that is. Said date came and went without any official confirmation of a deal to join the two teams, and with Friday’s news that the merger was off, Lefevere’s failed prediction – and the caveat he added – seems prescient now. It’s by looking at the whole story arc that we make sense of it.

While the Jumbo team officially confirmed the deal is dead, the existential funding issues the team faces are very much alive, as are the challenges for teams like Soudal. So consider this an exercise in preserving history, in the entirely possible event that rumors of some kind of 2025 merger between, well, any WorldTeams, arise again in the coming months.

Remco Evenepoel, Tim Merlier, Wout van Aert, and Yves Lampaert line up for the start of the Belgian national road championships. They're laughing and chatting, and behind them at least two more riders on Soudal and Jumbo are seen.
Remco Evenepoel, Tim Merlier, Wout van Aert, Yves Lampaert: imagine if these guys and their teammates were all on one squad for the Classics?

Every major event (that we know of) in the Jumbo-Soudal saga

March 30: Amid a money-laundering investigation of former Jumbo CEO Frits van Eerd – which included a September 2022 search of Van Eerd’s home and which the Dutch public prosecutor’s office said may be connected to sports sponsorships – the supermarket chain announces it will radically curtail its sports sponsorship initiatives, including ending its title sponsorship of Jumbo-Visma pro cycling by the end of the 2024 season. Jumbo-Visma team general manager Richard Plugge immediately begins the hunt for a new title sponsor.

Throughout the whole damn season: Rumors fly repeatedly that Remco Evenepoel wants to leave Soudal Quick-Step. The most persistent link him to Ineos Grenadiers.

Sometime in July … : Plugge and Soudal Quick-Step majority owner Zdenek Bakala supposedly hold a quiet meeting to explore the possibility of combining the two operations.

August 24: Our own Caley Fretz breaks the news that Lidl-Trek is courting Primož Roglič. The news, later confirmed, is the first inclination that the Jumbo team core may break up before riders’ respective contracts expire.

September 13-14: Amid Kuss’ remarkable Vuelta run, Roglič makes little secret of his desire to decide the Vuelta on the road. He wins the Angliru stage on September 13, dropping Kuss, and alludes to “my responsibilities” to race for the win. The next day, he offers a not-so-cryptic “I have my own thoughts” comment about the team’s decision to back Kuss for the win.

September 16: Plugge expresses his wish to keep Roglič in the team. “If teams are interested and there are rumors then maybe one day he is knocking on my door, but not yet,” Plugge tells GCN. “Roglič is our king, and the king is difficult to let go.”

Primož Roglič attacks Remco Evenepoel and Enric Mas at the 2023 Vuelta a España. The two chasers struggle to match the Slovenian's acceleration.
Roglič clearly wanted to race for the win at the Vuelta. Now headed to Bora-Hansgrohe, he’ll be an undisputed leader.

September 24: Wielerflits breaks the massive news that Jumbo and Soudal are in merger discussions. Reporter Raymond Kerckhoffs cites anonymous sources to claim that the discussions date to the Tour de France. The supposed goal of the merger is to give the Jumbo team the financial resources to compete with teams like UAE Team Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers, despite the fact that Jumbo A) isn’t exactly a bargain-basement operation itself and B) has regularly wiped the floor with both squads for two seasons now. According to Wielerflits, Lefevere will exit the management side for a role on an “advisory board.”

September 27: Even as merger rumors churn, the Jumbo team issues a press release that it is “ready to take the next step” with its women’s WorldTour team, which is also experiencing turmoil after manager Esra Tromp left in April and was hired several months later to manage the new EF Education-Cannondale team. As Abby Mickey reported, the press release quietly notes that directors Carmen Small, Lieselot Decroix, and Marieke van Wanroij would depart by the end of the season, to be replaced with an all-male management team.

September 28: Speaking on the Dutch TV show Vandaag Inside, sports marketing consultant Chris Woerts (who has no public links to the Jumbo team) makes the bombshell claim that multinational giant Amazon had signed on to sponsor the team at a claimed level of €15 million per year. It later emerges that this amount may be counted as media value, rather than cash, and that Amazon will not be a title sponsor. Amazon does not respond to our request for comment on the news.

September 28: Big day for Jumbo news, as Het Laatste Nieuws reports that Jumbo’s Plugge met with UCI president David Lappartient to discuss the merger and officially communicate intentions. Jumbo representatives also reportedly met with Soudal bike sponsor Specialized, and the team told Primož Roglič he was cleared to explore a move to other teams, despite having two years to run on his contract with Jumbo. Possible destinations are thought to include Lidl-Trek, Ineos Grenadiers, and … Movistar? Movistar.

September 30: That was fast: two days after getting clearance to leave, Roglič knocks on Plugge’s door and confirms he will in fact switch teams. Forensic sleuthing by journalist Daniel Friebe indicates that Bora-Hansgrohe may also be in the running.

September 30: In an “XXL” edition of his weekly Het Nieuwsblad column, Lefevere claims Evenepoel will stay with the combined team and promises “more clarity” by Monday, October 2 but warns that the uncertainty “cannot continue for three more days.” Lefevere also questions how Amazon’s possible entry could upend the balance of the sponsorship arrangement, writing that “with three parties – Soudal, Quick-Step, and Visma – everyone can find their place proportionately. With Amazon as a fourth party, this is no longer possible … this could be a game changer.”

October 2: There is not more clarity. The uncertainty continues.

Jonas Vingegaard walks onto the Jumbo-Visma team bus. He's dressed in race kit, reflected in the side of the bus, and has a pensive, serious expression.
With no merger and Roglič out, Jonas Vingegaard now has uncontested leadership of Jumbo, for as long as the team survives.

October 3: Amid rumors that as many as 19 riders and untold numbers of team staff will be cut loose post-merger, the UCI issues a statement essentially warning the teams that they will be held to their contractual commitments. The statement reminds teams that, basically, they are on the hook to honor existing contracts, meaning that if a combined Jumbo-Soudal can’t find other teams to assume contracts in excess of a WorldTeam’s 30-rider maximum roster, they must pay the riders for the duration of their deals and give them at least 15 UCI-rated race days (or pay them to effectively retire).

October 3: The merger starts to more resemble a takeover, as reports also state that as few as six of Quick-Step’s 23 riders with valid contracts for next season would join the new team. Quick-Step riders begin to speak out. Ilan Van Wilder wins Tre Valli Varesine and denounces the merger, saying in his post-race interview that “We don’t agree with all this shit, and we want to continue Soudal Quick-Step.”

October 4: HLN reports that Lefevere actually wants to keep a post-merger team going in 2024, composed partly of the remnants left behind. How this would work: with what license, which riders, and backed by which sponsors and equipment partners, is left unclear.

October 6: Bora-Hansgrohe manager Ralph Denk holds a press conference to announce that the team has signed Roglič for 2024. Denk declines to detail the specifics of the contract except to say that it is for longer than one year. Curiously, Roglič himself – who is racing Il Lombardia Saturday and had said he wanted to wait until his season was over to announce his next move – was not on the call, although he did confirm his transfer.

October 6: Just hours after the Bora-Roglič news, multiple outlets report that the Jumbo-Soudal merger is off. Sources cite a number of issues, including disagreements over which bike sponsor would be linked to a post-merger team. Dutch media outlet AD reports that the Amazon sponsorship has also fallen through. Soudal team owner Bakala reportedly wants to wind down his involvement in pro cycling by the end of 2025. Neither team responds to our requests for comment. NOS reports later that the Jumbo team confirmed the deal is off, but does not address the Amazon talk.

TBD …: Who knows?

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