FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Cycling’s top team Quick-Step Floors is struggling to find sponsorship to continue at the top level in 2019.

Team boss Patrick Lefevere admits he has not found a replacement for Quick-Step Floors and he cannot keep his ‘wolfpack’ together. Yesterday, star rider and 2018 Tour of Flanders winner Niki Terpstra announced he will join French team Direct Energie in 2019.

“It always hurts,” Lefevere told Sporza of seeing top riders leave his team.

“Sylvain Chavanel hurt a lot because he was a wonderful rider and did a great job, Niki [Terpstra] causes a lot of pain, Matteo Trentin too, Julien Vermote, even Mark Cavendish.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have a chest to draw out the money I would like, otherwise I would be the boss of Team Sky and not of Quick-Step.”

Quick-Step Floors’ budget is around €18 million (or $20.4m), competitive with other top teams but not in the same stratosphere as Team Sky’s with around £31 million ($39.4m).

Lefevere has been searching for some time for a new sponsor to ease the burden on owner Zdenek Bakala and to replace title sponsor Quick-Step Floors.

The team is number one in terms of wins. It finished 2017 on top and for 2018, it counts 54 victories so far. The second best team, Sky, has 36.

Lefevere welcomed smaller sponsors recently. He brought in supermarket chain Lidl in September 2015 and this summer at the Tour de France, he welcomed Maes 0.0% beer. Big money backers like Emirates airline company or Sky media group have not appeared, however.

“Quick-Step will stay for at least another three years, but they would prefer to become a second sponsor,” Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad earlier this week. “I do not have that main sponsor yet.”

“I do not really care where the sponsor comes from. That may well be China or Mongolia. As long as they bring real money and no Monopoly money.”

Working with Mapei and with the Quick-Step team since 2003, Lefevere has learned how to stretch his dollar. He scouts talented new riders and signs contracts with them while their value is still low. The problem is, after he develops them, he no longer has the money to keep everyone.

Budget constraints forced him to let go of some of his star cyclists at the end of the 2017 season. Dan Martin joined UAE Team Emirates, Matteo Trentin went to Mitchelton-Scott, and Marcel Kittel left to Team Katusha. Now, he let Niki Terpstra go.

Terpstra joined the team in 2011 from Milram. Over the eight seasons, the Dutchman won Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders.

“There was no offer on my part because I did not have the money,” Lefevere said. “I think I’m still an honest man at 63. I’m not going to promise someone something I cannot give.

“I didn’t have enough money to make a proposal. I fear that tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or next week, the budget might be there and then it will hurt more [losing Terpstra].”

Lefevere is making the best with his current crop of star riders. He built the eight-man Vuelta a España team, announced today, around Italian Elia Viviani. Viviani, who counts 14 wins so far in 2018, will race for sprint victories in the Spanish tour starting August 25 in Málaga.

Viviani will have support from Michael Mørkøv, Fabio Sabatini, Kasper Asgreen, Laurens De Plus, Dries Devenyns, Enric Mas, and Pieter Serry