After Movistar team boss Eusebio Unzué raised the idea of allowing substitutions in Grand Tours and spoke about the prospect of reducing the races in length, perhaps as short as 15 days, his fellow manager, Soudal-QuickStep CEO Patrick Lefevere, has come out strongly against both proposals.
The Belgian, speaking to Het Laatste Nieuws, said that reducing the length of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta a España “would wipe away the entire history” of the races, and questioned how a rider substitution system would work fairly.
The pair of ideas came up during Unzué’s interview with Cyclingnews and other media ahead of the Tour Colombia, in which he discussed the Saudi-financed One Cycling project to reform cycling, calling it “the most conservative sport” and wondering why the rules of the sport have changed very little over the years.
“I’ve known Unzué for a long time. He means well, but he’s sometimes too agreeable,” Lefevere said. “In this case, I disagree with him. With this rule, you would wipe away the entire history of the Grand Tours.
“The challenge is to keep it up for three weeks, The Tour, Giro, and Vuelta last for 21 days, not 17 or 15. I think it’s human, but we’re not going to make a big fuss of it, are we?”
Lefevere, who has led QuickStep since 2003 but has been in cycling as a director and manager of various teams since 1980, said that “crashing and getting sick” is part of the sport.
He noted that a big appeal of cycling is seeing riders respond to setbacks, as opposed to being substituted out of races.
“Unfortunately, crashing and getting sick are part of it. A big part of your team’s success is being resilient, being able to switch to a Plan B,” he said.
“Those are the moments when the great champions rise up and bounce back from a setback. That’s what people want to see. “Racing is like boxing – just because you’re hanging on the ropes at a certain moment doesn’t mean that you lose the match.”
Lefevere also questioned how it would be determined that a rider is unwell or injured to the extent that they must leave a race. In theory, teams could game any substitution system well into a Grand Tour by overstating an illness and then calling up a fresh star rider held in reserve.
“Racing is not football. Who will determine when an injury or illness is real? I’m already looking forward to the VAR. It will be absolutely impartial and will undoubtedly consist of French doctors,” Lefevere sarcastically said.
“No, this is going to give us a headache. I’m not going to stop this, but I’m not going to support it either. It will be for cycling after Lefevere.”