Opinion: Enough is enough, Patrick Lefevere’s comments must be stopped

The Soudal–Quick-Step team boss has one of the most powerful voices in cycling, but repeatedly fails to use it wisely

Patrick is just Patrick. For a long time, this seems to have been the excuse each and every time Soudal–Quick-Step boss, Patrick Lefevere, has spewed unprofessional, offensive and damaging words to the media, both regarding the team he manages and surrounding the role of women in sport and beyond. When it comes to his former riders, the list of Lefevere’s victims seems to grow by the seasons. Sam Bennett, Yves Lampaert and Kasper Asgreen are just the most recent pros to have felt the wrath of Lefevere, who disparages athletes with concerning regularity. The Belgian businessman lashes out further if his ego is bruised when a rider leaves his team for a better contract offer elsewhere, or if he is trying to force his current riders to start putting in better performances.

The most recent torrent of abuse from Lefevere’s scathing tongue has been directed at former world champion, Julian Alaphilippe. While the French rider was once Lefevere’s protégé, with pictures of the pair drinking wine together circulating on social media during the honeymoon period (when Alaphilippe was still winning), it appears that Lefevere is ready to wash his hands of Alaphilippe after a couple of lacklustre seasons. 

Speaking to Belgian outlet, HUMO, Lefevere discussed how Alaphilippe has failed to perform since he signed his 2021 contract off the back of another rainbow jersey win. Lefevere put Alaphilippe's subpar results down to “too many parties, too much alcohol.” He then, bizarrely, added Alaphilippe's wife, Marion Rousse (director of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and a former pro racer) as another reason why the French rider’s win rate has decreased.

“Julian is seriously under the spell of Marion. Maybe too much. Julian is a young dog full of energy – you should let him cross in the yard every now and then. And you must also say: this far and no further. There is still a bad boy inside him,” Lefevere said. “I spoke to him in November last year, in the presence of Marion and his manager Dries Smets. I said: ‘It cannot continue like this. If you mess up one more time, I’ll fire you on the spot.’ The message was received. He is getting back together.”

Since the statements were made public, Rousse has rightly responded to Lefevere’s comments on her own social media channels. The Frenchwoman explained that she doesn’t drink alcohol, and added: “You will not succeed either, as you have already mentioned to me, in stopping me from working to keep myself busy and stay close to Julian during his career. The jobs I carry out fascinate me and know that I have lots of projects. But I tell you, under no circumstances will I allow you to talk about my private life. Please now stop talking indiscriminately and show more respect … and class.”

The altercation between Lefevere and Rousse is not the first time in which the team boss has shown archaic attitudes towards women. In 2021, he appeared on a Belgian TV show and responded to a woman explaining that she didn’t feel safe walking home alone at night by saying that when he was young, women did not go out and drink. The host of the show quickly diverted the conversation, but it doesn’t take much to work out that Lefevere was insinuating that women drinking was the problem, rather than the men who attack them.

Lefevere has made damaging comments against women in a sporting context too, When questioned about whether he would start a women’s team in 2021, Lefevere responded that “With all due respect, I’m not the OCMW”, which is a Belgian welfare charity. To Lefevere's credit, he did subsequently retract that comment and began to back the NXTG women's outfit in 2022. Since then, that team has achieved WorldTour status and added AG Insurance as a sponsor, coming under the Soudal–Quick-Step banner in 2023. Even despite his involvement in women's cycling, though, Lefevere commented last year that he thinks the sport is ‘artificially pushed’. Speaking to Krant van West-Vlaanderen, Lefevere said: "Take, for example, the minimum wage: in the WorldTour, it's €60,000 on an annual basis, the same amount as the men's. That's not OK."

Despite all of the above, Lefevere remains a figurehead in the sport – if you’re looking for answers as to why so few women work in cycling, Lefevere’s comments go a long way in making many feel as if it is not a welcoming space for them. The message behind his comments towards Rousse are symbolic of Lefevere’s old-fashioned and antiquated mindset, whereby women should always put the needs of their partner before those of themselves. Women in positions of power within cycling are few and far between, and Lefevere seems to be doing his best to ensure that it remains as such.

Alaphilippe’s well-being must be considered in all of this, too. Lefevere’s comments touched some extremely private and personal details about the Frenchman’s life, something that could have certainly caused Alaphilippe emotional harm. The structure of cycling is such that situations like that of Alaphilippe and Lefevere have become worryingly normalised, and there are no protocols in place which would lead to consequences for the Soudal–Quick-Step team manager’s behaviour. The disdain on social media towards Lefevere has been palpable, but the cycling world is fickle enough that this will undoubtedly all blow over once the next big news story breaks. Then, in a few months, time, it will probably happen all over again.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Lefevere’s repeated offensive remarks is the impact it has on the sport as a whole. There are plenty of positive stories to tell within cycling, Rousse’s work on the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift has transformed the women’s side of the sport, for example. Yet as soon as Lefevere speaks, it’s as if we’re transported back centuries to an era where none of this would have been possible.

There is no place for Lefevere’s behaviour in modern cycling, and the sheer fact that he has been in the sport for so long should not be a reason for him to remain in it. He may have power and money, but Lefevere’s comments show a lack of compassion and empathy – he bulldozes through riders without worrying about the destruction he leaves in his wake. His recent words towards Alaphilippe and Rousse are shocking, but they are not the first and they will not be the last. That is, until those with power in cycling take a stance and say enough is enough – and the sport will be a better place for it. Shrugged shoulders and vacant looks will not suffice, change is needed.

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