• "I'm not very worried about riders coming and going": Lefévère. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Rather than bemoan those who leave him, the most successful WorldTour manager on a per-win basis thrives on the opportunities it presents, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
23 Aug 2017 - 4:46 PM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2017 - 4:52 PM

If you were a manager of a WorldTour squad, under normal circumstances, you would do everything you could to retain your two best-performing riders from the Tour de France, especially when one wins five stages and the other finishes a career-high sixth overall.

Not Patrick Lefévère.

On August 16, it was announced Marcel Kittel had signed a two-year deal with Katusha-Alpecin. After being left off the Tour roster in 2015, it wasn't surprising to see the German join what was then Etixx–Quick-Step for the 2016 season (Team Giant-Alpecin, now Team Sunweb, released him from his contract, which still had a year to run) - but to leave an outfit that allowed him to realise his best to date and see him firmly established as the world's best sprinter?

"I know exactly how much money I have, and what I can spend. If another team comes and tells me they can pay (one of my riders) double, then I say, 'Goodbye and good luck'."

"With this step, I also hope to get new inspiration," the 29-year-old Kittel said in a team press release. "I think, I find all the requirements in the team that I need to be strong in the sprint finals. I saw that the sprint train is functioning very well. Team Katusha-Alpecin has undergone a major change in recent years. I've been watching these changes for a long time and I think it's good. That is why I am looking forward to being part of the team and share the direction they are headed."

Following eight seasons with various incarnations of the team owned by Slipstream Sports (now Cannondale-Drapac) and managed by its co-founder Jonathan Vaughters, it was understandable Daniel Martin was seeking new motivation when he joined Etixx–Quick-Step the same year as Kittel. Seventh overall at the 2014 Vuelta a España, he wanted an environment that would allow him to further his GC ambitions while also contend in the hilly classics, and in Lefévère's squad he found that. Ninth at last year's Tour then sixth this year while riding 12 stages with two fractured vertebrae (his injuries came after he fell in the same ninth stage crash that took out Richie Porte), on the penultimate stage, Martin wrote in his Tour diary for the Irish Times: "I feel that one day I can actually take the yellow jersey all the way to Paris."

As of last Friday, we learned his intention is to try and do that someplace else. "UAE Team Emirates share my vision, my attention to detail and my passion for the sport, and as I enter into the most important years of my career, they offer me the best platform possible to reach my potential and fulfil my sporting goals," he said in a team release, which also revealed he will be with the First Abu Dhabi Bank-sponsored team till at least the end of 2019.

'Did you try to keep him?' The Cycling Podcast's Lionel Birnie, the morning of the opening road stage of this year's Vuelta, asked Lefévère of the 31-year-old Irishman.

"No."

'Were there any contract negotiations at all?'

"None."

Said the 62-year-old team manager: "I'm a bookkeeper. I know exactly how much money I have, and what I can spend. If another team comes and tells me they can pay (one of my riders) double, then I say, 'Goodbye and good luck'.

"I'm not very worried about riders coming and going. This is work, this is cycling. For me, I'm more worried about my structure. It hurts me more if a soigneur or mechanic who works 10 years for me goes, because these are my people in the team, even more important than (the) riders. The riders have agents, and the agents want to earn money; if the agent can sell a rider for more money, he earns (more) money... and we have to live with it."

It might sound like sour grapes that Lefévère says he values his soigneurs or mechanics above the riders, and there may be a hint of that, but the sports director and manager of 37 years is absolutely correct. And for every Mark Cavendish or Kittel or Dan Martin he's lost, the man from Moorslede in West Flanders, has, by keeping his nose to the ground, gained at least that back in burgeoning talent. "I follow young people very well. I probably have one of the only teams in the world that has a professional full-time scout," he told Birnie, referring to Spaniard Joxean 'Matxín' Fernández, a former sports director with Lampre, Saunier Duval and Geox-TMC, employed by Lefévère since 2014. "He has quite an eye to spot talent and quite a mouth to attract it," Spanish cycling journalist Fran Reyes colourfully noted.

That the likes of Julian Alaphilippe, Gianluca Brambilla, Fernando Gaviria, Bob Jungels, Philippe Gilbert, Yves Lampaert and Matteo Trentin have all decided to stay with Quick-Step Floors, or whatever it will be called next, since a new title sponsor is yet to be announced, it's not hard to see why Lefévère doesn't seem the least bit perturbed about the comings and goings of the transfer season. Tom Boonen was perhaps the only rider he had a soft spot for, which, given what he delivered on- and off-the-bike, isn't difficult to comprehend; finishing 13th in his final Paris-Roubaix, a race he won four times, and after 15 seasons under the same manager, 'Tommeke' called time on his illustrious career. (Read Tan Lines: Merci, Tommeke!)

After Birnie spoke with Lefévère in Nîmes, 26-year-old Belgian Lampaert won the Vuelta's second stage and briefly took the race lead. The day following their GC rider David de la Cruz, seventh overall last year, finished second on the first mountain leg to Andorra la Vella and is currently second on GC behind Chris Froome. And Tuesday in Tarragona, Trentin came through to take Quick-Step Floor's 12th Grand Tour stage victory this season, becoming the 100th man in history to win stages in all three Grand Tours.

"I like different. It's not nice to eat the same plate (of food) every day," Lefévère said with a laugh.

Yep, he ain't worried. Ain't worried at all.