Relegation for Lotto-Soudal is ‘just a change of logo’

The Belgian team have a central goal for the coming three seasons: finish as the best of the rest of the non-WorldTour.

Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.

Jump To Comments

The atmosphere around the Lotto-Soudal bus is fairly muted. Of course, it’s the final breaths of the 2022, a pleasant week in the Veneto region of Italy with a smattering of lovely one-day races, albeit slightly less alluring if you’ve spent all season on the road and now just want to go home. Lotto-Soudal’s presence was a brace against a more tightly fought relegation battle.

Mathematically, the Belgian squad will lose their place in the top tier, as will Israel-Premier Tech, but as the team with the most points of the non-WorldTour teams (Alpecin-Deceuninck and Arkéa-Samsic after both squads are promoted to WorldTour status) they will still receive automatic 2023 wildcard invites to all of the big races they did in 2022. This fact means that for the soon-departing Lotto-Soudal boss John Lelangue, relegation is little more than a “change of logo.”

Approaching Lelangue outside his team’s bus in the centre of Padova, he asks what it is I want to talk about. A recent Twitter spat with former Lotto-Soudal boss Marc Sergeant was an ugly way to end his time with the team. But when told it’s only the topic of relegation that’s up for discussion, the 51-year-old is placated, unfolding his arms and leaning in towards the dictaphone.

“In the end, we have exactly the same programme possibilities next season as we’ve had this season, it was also the same for Alpecin-Deceuninck for the last three years. It’s a little bit different for Israel-Premier Tech who will not get these wildcards after their bad season this year,” he tells CyclingTips. “This is a different kind of situation. But for us, it’s clear that with the team we have and with a good season that we’ve had this year the fact we are the first of the non-WorldTour guarantees us good participation in all the races next season. It won’t change a lot.”

The riders, programme and team will be the same, Lelangue continues, although he won’t be at the helm. “Philipsen winning two stages in the Tour de France or Caleb Ewan winning two stages in the Tour de France, one at WorldTour and the other when he was ProTeam, at the end it’s two stages of the Tour de France, it’s not a handicap race. It’s not like football or Formula 1 and 2 where there are two different categories. We are competing with the same start and finish line, the same race, we have just a change of logo.”

Now, the storied outfit has almost a singular goal.

“We’ll be keeping the level high so we can guarantee this first position from the ProTeams for the coming years and then if we do three good seasons we will re-enter, like Arkéa and Alpecin did, in the WorldTour in 2026.”

Outside of gaining WorldTour status or automatic wildcards as the top ProTeam, star riders on rosters can help sway race organisers to hand out wildcards to teams. With Alpecin-Deceuninck and Arkéa-Samsic, the prospect of Mathieu van der Poel and Nairo Quintana on a start line has often helped smooth the path to whatever Grand Tour they want to line up at. For B&B Hotels, the likely arrival of Mark Cavendish should help them retain a coveted Tour de France wildcard.

“I know that for us it won’t change anything,” Lelangue says. “We’ll still develop young and new riders and we know we don’t have a GC leader, which would make it a totally different story. We are going for those one-day races, we have sprinters, we have the young generation.”

The likes of Alec Segaert and Jarne Van De Paar are both talents being nurtured in the U23 club, which will become a Continental-level development team next year. Both riders will then turn pro with the WorldTour team in 2024.

“We will not change what we have been doing because [we have had] 25 victories this season,” Lelangue says defiantly. “Since 2015 or 2016 we haven’t had that, [a time] when we had André Greipel and others. And we’ve also taken these 25 victories with 10 different riders. Young guys like Arnaud De Lie, Florian Vermeersch and Maxim Van Gils who are all succeeding, so this is what we want to continue in the future.”

When it comes down to how Lotto-Soudal found themselves in this situation, Lelangue points out that the plethora of one-day races, of which Arnaud De Lie has won plenty this season. So many, in fact, that the neo-pro has the sixth-most UCI points of all riders this season, with 2,268.

“We were always thinking about the points but what no-one was thinking about was the pandemic,” Lelangue explains. “The pandemic changed a lot of things for us. We do a lot of one-day races, which are 1.1 1.Pro series, if you remember when the season stopped in 2020 all the big Tours, the big races, were re-positioned. But those 1.Pro series were not organised.”

As well as that, Lelangue says that Caleb Ewan could only target one Grand Tour that year. “All of this was a disadvantage,” Lelangue continues. “We didn’t change philosophy, we were fighting for victory every year, still this year, we got 25 victories and we couldn’t complain.”

While from the sporting side, not much has or will change, the commercial ramifications are very real. “If I had known in January what I knew in May,” the CEO of new title sponsor Dstny, Daan de Wever, told Het Laatste Nieuws about the prospect of the team’s relegation, “I don’t think I would have signed this sponsorship deal.”

Yet another reminder that while for Lotto-Soudal relegation may just be a change of logo, for teams with a less understanding sponsor, demotion from the WorldTour could result in the disappearance of other logos, too.

Editors' Picks