IN­TER­VIEW: PATRICK LE­FE­VERE

The man be­hind Bel­gian win­ning ma­chine Quick-Step Floors, Patrick Le­fe­vere, tells Pro­cy­cling what drives him

Procycling - - CONTENTS - Writer: Wil­liam Fother­ing­ham

The brains be­hind Quick-Step Floors on what keeps him mo­ti­vated year af­ter year

There is a pho­to­graph on the wall of Patrick Le­fe­vere’s of­fice in the anony­mous build­ing on an in­dus­trial es­tate near Kor­trijk that houses the Quick-Step Floors team’s ser­vice course. It has been cropped long and thin, and shows a pen­cil-slen­der youth with wild curly hair, his eyes look­ing di­rectly at the cam­era as he ped­als slowly to­wards the pho­tog­ra­pher, with a bou­quet of flow­ers on his han­dle­bars.

There are tro­phies on the wall, fine art­works, and a jer­sey from a lit­tle-known team, Ebo, which Le­fe­vere rode for, but the pho­to­graph is clos­est to his heart, you sense. It was taken in the Quick-Step boss’s se­cond year as a ju­nior, he says, a sea­son when he won over 30 races. “I still have my note­books,” he says, and pulls out of the cup­board a pile of lined ex­er­cise books. The writ­ing in­side would be neat for an adult, but for a teenage boy, it speaks of an al­most painfully close at­ten­tion to de­tail.

We met in April, as the Flem­ish Clas­sics sea­son was at its height; by Oc­to­ber, Quick­Step had won 73 times, wins head­lined by the Tour of Flan­ders for Niki Terp­stra and the King of the Moun­tains jer­sey at the Tour de France for Ju­lian Alaphilippe. Most im­por­tantly, per­haps, 14 of their 28 riders had crossed the line first. Quick-Step was, by a large mar­gin, the most pro­lific team of 2018, and the key to that suc­cess lies in this of­fice, in the head of their head hon­cho, and - ar­guably - in those note­books.

The races in Le­fe­vere’s note­books are listed metic­u­lously: the num­ber of starters, the place, his per­for­mance, all in those tiny, per­fect let­ters. There are press cut­tings, pho­to­graphs; ev­ery­thing a cy­clist would keep. But it is the tiny, per­fect writ­ing that hits you. This is no youth scrawl­ing down ca­sual thoughts. This stuff mat­tered. It must have been ev­ery­thing this boy lived for. Le­fe­vere is a driven man, and one who lives for de­tail. Why? Go back to his child­hood in the vil­lage of Ledegem, not far from Roe­se­lare, up the road from Kor­trijk.

“I was left-handed,” he says, be­fore go­ing on to ex­plain how at pri­mary school he was sub­jected to an at­tempt to make him right-handed. “They bound my left hand to the chair arm.” When the teacher at his Catholic school asked if he was still writ­ing with his left hand, Le­fe­vere re­calls, “I told him I was still do­ing it and I would never use my right. He hit me. I didn’t care.” The priest’s re­sponse was to tell him, “‘If you come here and ask for work, you will never get a job be­cause you are left-handed.’

“I turned pro­fes­sional in 1976. Af­ter two years I went to an­other team, not quite the equiv­a­lent of World­Tour but a bit big­ger and we were able to do the Vuelta.” There, he won a stage in 1978, aged 23; his other ma­jor pro­fes­sional win was Ku­urneBrus­sels-Ku­urne. “Then I stopped in the mid­dle of the sea­son. I didn’t dis­cuss it with any­one, I spoke to my un­cle that morn­ing – he was like my se­cond fa­ther. I said to him, ‘This is the last time you put this bike in your car.’” Le­fe­vere had no job to go to, but he had trained as a book­keeper and he found his way into man­age­ment at the Marc-Su­pe­ria team. In one year, 1980, they won Om­loop Het Volk with Eddy Mer­ckx’s for­mer do­mes­tic Jos Bruyère and moun­tain stages in the Tour de France with an­other for­mer Mer­ckx gre­gario, Jos de Schoen­maecker, and the jour­ney­man, Ludo Loos. But none of the team’s Bel­gians were se­lected

“I write ev­ery­thing down. Ev­ery Mon­day morn­ing I spend an hour look­ing at the pa­pers, the in­ter­net, get­ting in­for­ma­tion”

for the 1980 Worlds at Sal­lanches, and the spon­sor pulled out. Le­fe­vere was only 25.

A year on, af­ter the demise of his next team, IJs­boerke, Le­fe­vere went back to Marc, the soap com­pany that had spon­sored his first squad, bought a com­puter and taught him­self to use it. Then he re­struc­tured the en­ter­prise. From there it was back to cy­cling, of­ten with Wal­ter Gode­f­root, a Flan­drian hard­man iconic for his longevity, cun­ning and bloody-mind­ed­ness.

LE­FE­VERE’S IN­FLU­ENCE

Most Bel­gian squads be­tween 1981 and 1990 had Le­fe­vere in there some­where: Aernoudt, Hi­tachi, Lotto, Domex, TVM - a brief Dutch ex­cep­tion - and fi­nally GB-MG, born of Italy’s Del Tongo team and the chaotic Ton­ton Tapis out­fit man­aged, kind of, by four-time Paris-Roubaix win­ner Roger de Vlaem­inck. It was rel­a­tively plain sail­ing un­til Mapei (it­self the fruit of merg­ers with El­dor-Viner and ClasCa­jas­tur) linked up with GB-MG in 1995 to form the su­per-squad that has in­di­rectly mor­phed into to­day’s all-singing, all­danc­ing, all-win­ning Quick-Step Floors. Le­fe­vere is Flan­drian cy­cling through and through. “This re­gion is full of small fac­to­ries, there are two sports: cy­cling and foot­ball. The first Bel­gian win­ner of the Tour, Odile De­fra­eye, was from my vil­lage. It was a way to es­cape poverty; it still is. Look at Yves Lam­paert, who is from this area, from Roe­se­lare. He went to agri­cul­tural col­lege, and if he hadn’t turned pro­fes­sional, he’d be work­ing in the fields. I like that. He still speaks di­alect, not quite pure Dutch, and when he was in the TV stu­dio af­ter win­ning Dwars door Vlaan­deren, the in­ter­viewer said to me, ‘Don’t teach him to com­mu­ni­cate.’ He’s a rider who’s stayed authen­tic, not like all the guys who make it.”

He con­tin­ues: “It’s spe­cial here, of course, al­though it’s the same in Colom­bia; it’s just that no one knows about it. You start out, you be­come the hero of your vil­lage. The guys in the fac­tory bet on the races, even just five eu­ros. You can touch the riders - at Man­ches­ter United, David Beck­ham was 100m away; at a ker­messe, it’s one me­tre.”

In April, Le­fe­vere was al­ready look­ing for a backer to come in along­side Quick-Step for 2019. The search took him un­til early Oc­to­ber, and pretty much proved what he told me when we met: it’s not easy run­ning a team in the 21st cen­tury, no mat­ter how many races you win. “It looks good here, but if you take away the govern­ment in­volve­ment in Flan­ders and Bel­gium as a whole, you take away Lotto and Top­sport - which is funded by the Flem­ish govern­ment - it’s a dis­as­ter.”

Team bud­gets are too big for the small to medium sized com­pa­nies that are the most

suited to back­ing a team. “It’s not about multi­na­tion­als. Com­pa­nies that come into cy­cling usu­ally have one boss, who is still the owner; some­times their pas­sion is for sport, some have ra­tio­nal rea­sons to spon­sor a team, some are cy­clists.”

Get­ting those com­pa­nies to back a team is tricky; the bud­gets are large, and there need to be as few back­ers as pos­si­ble, to max­imise their re­spec­tive ex­po­sure. The sport is, how­ever, far bet­ter struc­tured now. “Back in the day, guys like Al­bert De Kimpe or Lomme Driessens would pick up the yel­low pages and phone up the com­pa­nies. By May, the bud­get would be gone. It was ama­teur.”

Le­fe­vere knows what his teams can do. “We can make names fa­mil­iar for peo­ple within a year. Domo had a tricky rep­u­ta­tion af­ter a tax af­fair, but we turned that around. Davi­ta­mon, we made them a house­hold name in the space of 12 months. GB, that was a tricky one, they were two let­ters that had come from the merger of three com­pa­nies. They took us on to get a win­ning feel­ing, be­cause the unions weren’t happy and the work­ers weren’t mo­ti­vated; now, ev­ery­one knows of them.”

Ask Le­fe­vere what drives him, and the an­swer is sim­ple. “What is more beau­ti­ful than com­ing to a race and win­ning with a guy that no one knows, and they all say, ‘Where the f*ck did you find this guy?”

The sup­ply of mo­ti­vated, tal­ented, young riders mat­ters, al­though Le­fe­vere is un­sure it will con­tinue. “There are fewer races for pro­fes­sion­als in Bel­gium, and fewer riders rac­ing in the youth cat­e­gories,” he says. “I think we have prob­lems. Par­ents are afraid of the traf­fic for their chil­dren. They send out a young lad of 12 and they aren’t sure if they will see him in the evening. We are los­ing against field sports - rugby, hockey, sta­dium sports.”

Bur how does he do it? How does Le­fe­vere turn up gems such as Lam­paert, Ál­varo Hodeg and Fabio Jakob­sen, sea­son af­ter sea­son af­ter sea­son? The an­swer lies in those note­books he showed me in his of­fice. “I write ev­ery­thing down. Ev­ery Mon­day morn­ing I spend an hour look­ing at the pa­pers, look­ing at the in­ter­net, get­ting in­for­ma­tion,” he says.

“I be­lieve that you can dis­cover ta­lent when a rider is a ju­nior. They must have good par­ents, go to school prop­erly, have a mar­gin for im­prove­ment. I have peo­ple on the ground look­ing as well.”

There’s a para­dox, though: the way cy­cling is struc­tured, there is no in­cen­tive for some­one like Le­fe­vere to run a U23 de­vel­op­ment team, which he used to do un­der the ban­ners of Bodysol-Brus­tor and Klein Con­stan­tia. “The prob­lem is that you have zero guar­an­tee that the riders will come to your team.” In­stead, he now scouts riders for his World­Tour team.

It’s this drive to un­earth new ta­lent that has fu­elled Le­fe­vere for the last 30 years and which has this year, as in the past, made him the most pro­lific man­ager in cy­cling. That drive has given the World­Tour Lam­paert, Hodeg, Fer­nando Gaviria, Alaphilippe and many more. And, from 2019, he will have on his books the best ju­nior cy­cling has seen for many years, Remco Evenepoel.

He calls it “look­ing for the white black­bird.” In 2018, those white black­birds have laid him a very large bas­ket of eggs.

“We can make names fa­mil­iar for peo­ple within a year. Domo had a tricky rep­u­ta­tion af­ter a tax af­fair, but we turned that around. Davi­ta­mon, we made them a house­hold name”

Mapei’s Tom Steels gets a help­ing hand from Le­fe­vere be­fore the 1996 Paris- Roubaix

Le­fe­vere wel­comes Terp­stra home af­ter the Dutch­man won the Tour of Flan­dersBack in 2001 and Richard Virenque and Le­fe­vere con­fer about tac­tics mid-race Steven Krui­jswijk was im­pe­ri­ous in the Alpe de Siusi TT, but bad luck killed his race

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.