Deceuninck-Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere has taken a swipe at teams currently taking a break from racing due to the coronavirus outbreak – and, notably, Team Ineos – saying, “With a budget of €40 million a year, I’d sit down with a cigar and whisky, too.”
The Belgian also questioned whether those teams may also have a hidden agenda, hinting that they may have suspended themselves from racing due to riders having contracted the virus.
Team Ineos is one of a number of WorldTour teams that last week said they would not participate in races including Paris-Nice, with others missing that race being Astana, CCC, Jumbo-Visma, Mitchelton-Scott, Movistar and UAE Team Emirates.
The British team said last week that its decision to withdraw temporarily from competition was due to the shock death due to a heart attack of sports director Nicolas Portal at the age of 40.
The Frenchman’s funeral in Auch yesterday was attended by Tour de France winners Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal, plus team principal Sir Dave Brailsford.
Deceuninck-Quick Step continues to race and Sporza reports Lefevere as saying on Belgian TV: “I feel sorry for (CCC rider) Greg Van Avermaet and his colleagues who are not allowed to ride.”
Referring to Portal’s death, he said: “I can also understand the position of Ineos, they have lost a team leader.
“But,” he went on, “with a budget of €40 million a year, I'd sit down with a cigar and whisky too.”
Speaking about the impact of coronavirus on the sport, which has led to major spring races in Italy being cancelled and security measures introduced at Paris-Nice, he said: “I never panic. I think panic is a very bad advisor.”
He continued: “For two years now we have been making sure that everyone disinfects their hands. Not because we expected a virus, but because riders are very skinny and threaten to get sick so quickly.”
At the end of February, riders and staff at the UAE Tour were put into lockdown in an Abu Dhabi hotel after the diagnosis of two cases of coronavirus in members of the UAE Team Emirates staff. Six further cases involving riders and staff of teams at the race have since been reported.
Lefevere said that he believes the voluntary suspension of racing by some teams may be explained by an ulterior motive.
“I suspect other teams of a hidden agenda. Maybe they are struggling with the coronavirus in the team, but they keep it quiet.”
He said that he could not be entirely sure, but added: “It is what I hear in Radio Peloton. You know how it works – riders talk to each other. And they all know each other.”
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.