“Glad Paris-Nice was not cancelled” – Thomas De Gendt
And now aiming for the Tour de France?
John Lelangue, general manager of Lotto Soudal, sighs. As many managers these days. Nobody escapes the consequences of COVID—19. Everybody suffers and sportsmen see their goals go up in smoke.
“Obviously, it is just sport but in top sport it is all about large investments. » John Lelangue says. « Each year we work hard, and we fight to close the budget, so you want to give your sponsors the appropriate return. And just this season we were well prepared for the spring classics. Both Philippe Gilbert, John Degenkolb as Tim Wellens were ready to score. We have been working towards this period since December. All for nothing. It applies to all cycling teams off course.”
-Do the sponsors understand the situation?
“Off course. Our sponsors are loyal too. They know we work hard and that now we cannot do anything else than wait. Moreover, economically these companies suffer more than their cycling team.”
-How do you keep the cyclists motivated?
“That is going well. Almost all our cyclists are already very motivated. We must rather restrain them. We had to oblige some of them to come back from training abroad. I want every cyclist to be in his home country. If there is a complete lockdown, it is better to be at home with your family.”
-Nobody knows when races can be organised again. How do the cyclists solve this?
“Not one classic race is still feasible. However, we must be ready to race as soon as it is allowed again. Then we must immediately be ready to compete for a victory. The difficulty is that our doctors will advise not to train intensively because then one is more vulnerable to diseases. In the end, only one thing is important and that is the public health. Not only the health of our cyclists but that of the entire population. Most of our riders remain very active but on a lower level than usual, until we have view on improvement or on races thus. We will be very happy if we can race again in June. Then we will have a Tour de France like you’ve never seen before. Everybody will want to score. We also intend to do that with Caleb Ewan and our other top riders.”
-Your staff is out of work now?
“We still have many people who are busier now. I am thinking of our doctors, trainers, people of the administration etc. The physiotherapists are a bit more on the side-line now, but I decided not to make them technically unemployed. They would lose a considerable part of their income. Furthermore, it would also put a damper on the excellent atmosphere in the whole group. In the end, I will need them more during a later period of the year. I assume, at least I hope, we will have a very busy autumn. We might be riding a lot on three fronts then. Those who are laying low now, will have to make an extra effort. We hope that many races which are cancelled now, will get a new place on the calendar. The organisers are even bigger victims than us. They work a whole year to organise their race. They deserve and get all our respect; they can also count on us in the future. We are confident that the UCI will do everything they can to make the impossible possible. Teams, UCI and organisers are in constant contact with each other. Together we will get out of this crisis.”
-Are you optimistic?
“Absolutely! Certainly in the long term. Unfortunately, we must bite the bullet now. The end is not yet in sight. On the contrary. As a team we obey the rules imposed by the government and by our doctors. For this generation, this is an unprecedented situation. I am glad everybody is understanding the severity of the situation. And one day, the sun will shine again.”