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Quick Step boss Lefevere is rooting for Sky in sponsor search

The Belgian said he would like Sky to stay afloat, but with a smaller budget to make the peloton more even.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — If Team Sky finds a replacement sponsor with less money then that would level the playing field, says Deceuninck-Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere.

The British super team with six Tour de France wins is looking for a new financial backer after its sponsor for the last 10 years, Sky Media, announced that 2019 would be its last year in professional cycling. The team’s annual budget is believed to be north of $40 million.

“People might have thought I was a happy man with the news of Sky leaving, but that’s not true,” Lefevere said at the team’s media day.

“I hope David Brailsford finds a backer because if the team disappears it would be like losing Manchester United or Real Madrid. It’s not good for the sport.

“But I hope he finds a sponsor for 25 million [euros], not 40 [million euros], then the races might be more exciting.”

Brailsford, Sky’s general manager, gave himself until the Tour de France in July to find a new backer or he would free up his riders to find new teams.

La Gazzetta dello Sport reported Wednesday that Sky Media could offer a safety net. It would back the team at 70 percent of the current budget if a replacement sponsor is not found for 2020.

Team Sky’s budget is the largest in cycling. It is double that of its top rivals like Sunweb with Tom Dumoulin at 17 million euros or Bahrain-Merida with Vincenzo Nibali at 15 million euros.

Already, there have been calls for the UCI to put budget caps on teams. No rules or plans are in place, however.

“Sky has a big budget, they can have the best riders, and having the best riders who can control the race so it becomes a little easier for them,” Nibali said at the 2018 Tour. “If Bahrain had a budget of 10 million more then things would change.

“Maybe we need a budget cap, that wouldn’t be bad, it might balance things out and make things more interesting.”

“You have a small group of wealth and teams who are dominating the sport and turnover in the mid- to lower-level teams that don’t have the money,” former Team HTC-Highroad owner Bob Stapleton said.

“I do think we need to level the playing field in terms of what it takes to be a competitive team.”

Lefevere has been searching for a new high-end sponsor for the last few years to replace the support from owner Zdenek Bakala and sponsor Quick-Step Floors. He struggled to keep his Belgian team going at the same level despite winning 73 races last year, far more than Sky’s 43 victories.

Lefevere had to cut some riders, letting stars Niki Terpstra and Fernando Gaviria transfer to other teams. Gaviria was able to end his contract one year early due to Lefevere’s problems. Deceuninck joined as a sponsor in October and helped keep the team afloat.

“You do not have to be an accountant to understand that I would have been in the rats without them,” he said. “Winning 73 times in a season is no guarantee of sponsor.”

Lefevere added that Chris Froome’s anti-doping case for over-use of salbutamol created problems in his sponsor search. Froome, Sky’s leader, was cleared days before the 2018 Tour after the case had dragged on since the anti-doping control was taken during the 2017 Vuelta a España.

“Doping continues to be an obstacle, the Froome case has taken a toll, it was handled with lack of honesty by the media and UCI,” he said. “It went on for nine months, or look at the manure around the [Bradley] Wiggins story. [Lance] Armstrong has not been forgotten either.

“Having to answer those questions was a real ordeal for me. I hope that Dave Brailsford will have fewer problems than I had trying to save his team.”