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Patrick Lefevere will fund a women’s team in 2022.
Through his recruitment agency Experza, which he founded with Sylvie Anraed in 2010, Lefevere will back the NXTG Racing squad from next year. The team will be known as NXTG by Experza.
It may be considered a surprise move by the Quick-Step-Alpha Vinyl boss after he came under criticism several times this year for his comments about women’s cycling. However, Lefevere says people have the wrong impression of him.
“First of all, I want to say that despite common opinion I have nothing against women’s cycling. On the contrary. With Experza and NXTG I start a journey in women’s cycling,” Lefevere told CyclingTips.
“Women’s cycling is growing very fast. However, at the moment I feel there are not enough riders of a certain level for all the current WorldTour teams. That’s why I want to do it the other way around and start from the juniors and young riders, giving them an environment to develop. That’s how I got into contact with [NXTG Racing founder] Natascha Knaven-den Ouden and we started talking.”
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In September, Lefevere was criticized for his response to a question about supporting a women’s team.
When asked about it in an interview with HLN Sportcast, he said “with all due respect, I am not the OCMW.” The OCMW is the Belgian welfare program.
The CEO of outgoing men’s team sponsor Deceuninck — which will sponsor Alpecin-Fenix in 2022 — cited Lefevere’s reluctance to back a women’s team as part of its reasoning behind not renewing the partnership.
“We are charmed by the plan of the [Alepcin-Fenix team owners] Roodhooft brothers. As a modern company, we want to participate in women’s cycling. Personally, I think that’s nicer, more gallant than the men’s race. We discussed that at Quick-Step, but Patrick is Patrick,” Francis van Echkhout said this week in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad.
💙 We are proud to announce our new partnership with Experza.
— NXTG Racing (@NXTGRacing) December 3, 2021
In addition to his comments about women’s racing, Lefevere was also criticized for his likening Sam Bennett’s return to Bora-Hansgrohe next year to “women who still return home after domestic violence”. Bennett will return to the German team after two years racing for Lefevere.
Lefevere subsequently apologized for his comments and said they were “not appropriate”.
Knaven-den Ouden founded NXTG Racing in 2019 and the team operates at the Continental level as a development squad for U23 riders. Recently retired rider Jolien D’hoore will join the team for next year as sport director.
Following the announcement of the new partnership, Lefevere said he did not want to immediately go in at the top level. Instead, he wants to help develop younger riders to grow the depth at the top of the sport.
“I have the experience with guiding young riders to the top. My idea is to start focusing on the young girls and help them work towards a goal,” he told CyclingTips. “A few months ago, I contacted Natascha to talk about her project. We have to make the pool of quality riders in the women’s peloton bigger. That is how you grow the sport. That’s how you make the sport more sustainable.
“I was talking to a sponsor for 2022 but that ended only a few weeks ago. Through Experza, a company I co-founded with Sylvie Anraed and I hold a few stocks in, we found a solution for the sponsorship for 2022. This gives me a season to look around. We are testing the water in women’s cycling, so to say. We are talking with our current partners to see what they can or are willing to invest. Our ambition as Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl is to go in as soon as possible and grow women’s cycling organically from its foundations. We understand the importance of women’s cycling.”