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Reporter’s notebook: A ‘mad’ Roglič buyout clause and the Jumbo merger dominoes

Jumbo's "king" is on the market, and his move might be the first in an offseason that re-shapes the WorldTour.

Primož Roglič is on the market, but if you have to ask the cost you can’t afford him. A senior WorldTour team staffer who enquired with Jumbo-Visma about the availability of the Giro d’Italia winner described the team’s asking price as “mad” in a text conversation with Escape Collective on Thursday.

We understand that the proposed buyout figure is roughly €5 million. That’s before paying Roglič’s annual salary going forward, which has been reported to be around €2 million, possibly higher. The total cost for bringing Roglič – who turns 34 in a month – on board is therefore in the €7-8 million range in 2024. Of course, the positive impact on Jumbo’s books would be just as great should he leave.

That (roughly) €7 million gain is key for Richard Plugge’s team, which looks to be facing what another WorldTour team manager contacted by Escape Collective estimated to be a roughly €25 million gap in its finances once Jumbo and smaller sponsor Gorilla pull out for good.

The Roglič question is but one of myriad machinations in a sticky web of storylines (deep breath): Jumbo-Visma’s sponsor gap; Patrick Lefevere’s desire to sail off into the sunset; a potential merger between Jumbo-Visma and Soudal Quick-Step; the fates of the many riders and staff from both those teams; the collateral effect on the Jumbo and AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step women’s teams; the eventual fate of Remco Evenepoel; the GC dreams of Ineos’ Jim Ratcliffe; and the newfound cash of Lidl-Trek. These things are all related and exist in a sequence, like a set of dominoes. The first to fall into place will impact how the whole thing wraps up.

The interested parties

Making complete sense of the often-conflicting information currently floating around in the back channels of pro cycling is mostly impossible. The one thing that does seem clear is none of this – not a merger or transfer of any rider – is a done deal yet. And thus, everything could still change. Our notebooks are full of scribbles and figures and possible scenarios. As of Thursday, this is what we think we know and what seems likely:

The “mad” buyout clause currently attached to Roglič is predicated on interest from two, possibly three, wealthy parties, and one less-wealthy one. It also lines up with his estimated annual salary of just over €2 million per year. Roglič has a contract that runs through 2025, so Jumbo is asking for €2.5m for each contracted year. Mad in the context of pro cycling transfers, but Jumbo has some justification for its valuation.

Ineos is one interested team, according to reporting from Wielerflits, and nothing from our sources contradicts that. Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe, worth an estimated $21 billion USD, obviously has the funds to make the deal happen should he want to. Ineos has also been haemorrhaging both riders and staff. (More on why that might matter later.)

Lidl-Trek is another possible Roglič suitor, as we reported prior to the Vuelta and confirmed last week by GM Luca Guercilena in Marca. The addition of Lidl as lead title sponsor has dramatically increased the team’s budget and the stated goal is to use that cash to become the number-one team in the world. While the team has signed a huge number of riders, it is still missing one or two marquee talents.

Bahrain-Victorious is a wealthy third option, according to Wielerflits. At the moment, it seems the least likely according to our sources.

The less-wealthy option is Movistar. On Thursday, Het Laaste Nieuws reported that this deal is all but done; our sources suggest other teams are still in pursuit. Movistar has been without a true GC talisman (sorry, Enric Mas) for some time, and saw its pursuit of Carlos Rodriguez fail as the young Spanish talent re-signed with Ineos, so the move makes sense at least from a sporting perspective.

The fact that Roglič wants to move should drop the value somewhat. How willing he is to force the issue could have a large impact on the eventual sale price, according to one WorldTour team source.

The Roglič drama is running alongside (and perhaps because of) reports that Jumbo-Visma and Soudal-Quickstep are set for a merger. The UCI has been made aware of the potential merger. Some reports have called it “done” but it isn’t, not yet.

Tie it all together

The above is all the facts and figures in which we’re quite confident. So with (some semblance of) reality behind us, let’s do a little theorizing. Even if Roglič does split from Jumbo – that domino does fall – there are many unanswered questions.

Let’s assume Soudal Quick-Step folds into Jumbo-Visma in 2024, though a merger in 2025 does appear to be a viable option as well, and a new, major sponsor could still step in and make the whole merger story irrelevant. As a result, Quick-Step closes down. The riders from that team split. First question: Evenepoel.

Specialized has had talks with Jumbo-Visma in the last week, suggesting Evenepoel (whom Specialized loves very much) may be part of future Jumbo plans. But all other sources suggest the Belgian wants a GC team built around him, not another crack at the Giro while sitting behind Vingegaard in the pecking order.

So perhaps he heads to Ineos with a healthy buyout figure, along with some Quick-Step staff and support riders. Other riders go to the new Visma Quick-Step or whatever it’s called. The rest are let go or bought out, depending on the state of their contracts.

Soudal and/or Quick-Step go to Jumbo-Visma as sponsors, helping close some of the €25 million budget gap currently plaguing Richard Plugge. Plugge also sells Roglic for somewhere between €3 and €5 million, and takes his €2 million salary off the books, further closing that budget gap. Plugge lets out a sigh of relief.

Zdenek Bakala, the Czech billionaire who owns around 80% of the current Soudal-Quick-Step team, takes some ownership of the Jumbo/Quick-Step combined team. Lefevere gets a cut of the Evenepoel buyout plus his portion of whatever they can get for the team’s WorldTour license.

That’s one possible path, but with a lot of those dominoes that all need to fall just right.

If that comes to pass, what happens to some of the other big stars? Kasper Asgreen joins the Wout and Co. classics squad? Julian Alaphilippe heads to the TotalEnergies elder-care center? Mikel Landa is Jonas Vingegaard’s new climbing domestique because American-registered Lidl-Trek, after missing out on Roglič, picks up Sepp Kuss, thus freeing the Eagle of Durango for a run at the Giro d’Italia? (OK this last one is just me dreaming.)

We’ll let you know when we can remove any of those question marks.

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