Relegation fears prompt firesale at Lotto-Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech

'Panic' as rider agents try and usher their stars to the exits.

Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

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With Israel-Premier Tech and Lotto-Soudal on the brink of WorldTour relegation for the next three seasons, VeloNews has heard reports of riders looking to terminate their contracts and jump ship to rival teams.

VeloNews has talked to four members of senior WorldTour staff in four separate teams with all of them confirming that rider agents representing athletes at both Lotto-Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech have shopped around their clients for 2023, despite already having contracts in place.

“We’re not going to take anyone, we don’t have the budget but the rider agents are offering their riders to other teams,” one team boss told VeloNews on Monday evening.

“Panic” was the word used by another senior member of staff on another team.

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Technically riders can terminate their contracts if their teams are relegated from the WorldTour.

Article 8 of UCI rider contracts stipulates that “if the UCI WorldTour license for the team expires, is withdrawn, or if the UCI WorldTeam is suspended for a period of time, then it [the contract – ed] may be terminated before expiry.”

The issue facing any rider in this situation and who wants to change teams is the fact that most WorldTour teams are full for 2023 having already spent the vast majority of their budget.

That means that many of the big hitters at Lotto-Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech could have limited options when it comes to finding a new home. For example, not many teams would be able to take well-paid team leaders like Chris Froome or Caleb Ewan. VeloNews has learned from two of the teams in question that none of their riders have been put on the market.

Earlier this year Ewan’s agent told VeloNews: “He’s committed and more importantly contracted. I think he’d probably rather them on [sic] the World Tour but it’s been shown that you can be very successful if you’re not on it.”

Lotto-Soudal is in the process of recruiting a new CEO after John Lelangue stepped down from the role by mutual agreement with the board. The Belgian had overseen a disastrous period in the team’s history with a lack of results and poor recruitment facilitating a drop into the relegation zone.

Israel-Premier Tech sits bottom of the current UCI points rankings and looks certain to miss out on invites to a number of major races in 2023. One of their riders, Jakob Fuglsang, has told Danish media that he might retire as a result.

“I’m not worried about whether the team will be relegated. But of course that’s not what I want. I don’t want to have to ride as a Pro Team team in the last years of my career. The majority of us riders on the team have been sent left and right to do bike races so we can scrape together some points,” he told BT.

In recent weeks the UCI’s position on relegation has softened slightly with David Lappartient stating that the system will be looked at over the coming weeks. That in itself comes off the back of Israel-Premier Tech owner Sylvan Adams threatening to take the UCI to CAS if his team is relegated.

One easy fix for the teams and the UCI at this point would be to cap the number of WorldTour teams to 20 in 2023, instead of the current limit of 18, thus avoiding potential legal battles and huge uncertainty surrounding two teams that have plowed millions into the sport over the last few years.

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