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Speaking to Belga, Lefevere said competition for Tour selection is a good thing and insists that the best and fastest riders will be selected.
“There are 12 candidates for the Tour. We’ll see and it will be a natural selection, as is always the case in our team,” Lefevere told Belga. “This year will be no different. We will decide who can go to the Tour after the Dauphiné and the Tour of Switzerland.”
With Belgian superstar Remco Evenepoel slated for the Giro d’Italia, speculation is already brewing on who Lefevere will tap for the Tour. Julian Alaphilippe is expected to go, and at least one sprinter who will see full support in the leadouts.
Last year, Jakobsen won the “speculation war” with Cavendish, and delivered an emotional victory in the first sprint stage at the Tour.
Quick-Step manager: ‘Nothing is decided’
Though Lefevere points out that it’s still early days in the 2023 season, he’s watching with interest how Jakobsen and newcomer Merlier fare in the sprints.
Jakobsen delivered a confidence-boosting win Tuesday at Tirreno-Adriatico in a well-fought win against Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Fernando Gaviria (Movistar) his second win in 2023.
Merlier, who joined Quick-Step from Alpecin-Deceuninck, already boasts four wins, including the opening stage at Paris-Nice this week against an elite field.
“Do I have the fastest sprinters in the world? Well, hopefully, but we’re still early in the year,” the Belgian manager said. “Fabio was not satisfied with his sprint a few times and it did not turn out the way he wanted. Anyway, the season is still long, we already have a lot of victories, so I can be satisfied.”
Celebrating @FabioJakobsen‘s 40th victory in the pro ranks!
— Soudal Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team (@soudalquickstep) March 7, 2023
There’s already speculation that Merlier might be the preferred candidate because he’s in the first year of a three-year deal, while Jakobsen is off contract at the end of 2023.
Right now, Merlier is penciled in for the Giro and Jakobsen for the Tour, but there’s nothing written in stone. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a sprinter to start both the Giro and Tour in the same season. Lefevere insists the best will race in July.
Despite often making headlines with his comments, Lefevere said he’s not paying attention to any external noise about who will race the Tour.
“I don’t want to participate in those games of the press that you read here and there. That Fabio is out of contract and Merlier is bound to us even longer,” Lefevere said. “And that, now that the Remco card is being drawn with the team, one of them might disappear next year. The press tells me what to do, but I don’t participate. I need two good sprinters.”
Lefevere was quick to point out that Quick-Step always features two top sprinters on its squad, a tactical play that assures many victories and the ever more important haul of UCI points.
That only one of them might race the Tour is beside the larger point of the team’s success, he said.
“People quickly forget, but we have had more than one sprinter in the team for many years, way back in time Tom Steels and Jan Svorada,” Lefevere said. “There are 275 race days per year, the Tour has only 21 stages. You don’t just need a sprinter for the Tour. They don’t disturb each other. Fabio is here in Tirreno, Tim is in Paris-Nice, they are not going to race together.”
Sprinters win more frequently than anyone else in the peloton. Of Quick-Step’s WorldTour-leading 12 wins so far in 2023, his two sprinters have won half of them between them.
That’s just fine by his book.