Words by Jeremy Whittle | Photo by SWpix.com
Soudal-QuickStep team boss Patrick Lefevere adds drinking slur to past sexist comments
Patrick Lefevere may remain one of the most renowned and successful team managers in professional cycling, but, outside the Belgian bubble, the 68 year old is overshadowing that status with a fast-growing reputation as world sport’s leading dinosaur, following yet more disparaging comments towards women on International Women’s Day (March 8).
Appearing on Belgian TV station VRT’s evening show, De Afspraak, Lefevere reacted to one guest saying that it was unsafe for women to be out alone on the streets after dark, by asserting that when he was young, women did not go out and drink.
Although on this occasion he was quickly interrupted by the show’s host, Lefevere’s latest comments rank alongside his sexist sniping of recent years. According to some in the Belgian media, Lefevere was “saved” by the show’s host, who stopped him in his tracks before he said anything more.
But Lefevere’s dismissiveness towards women has been consistent. The Soudal-Quick Step boss and patriarch said only last month that “women’s cycling was being artificially pushed” and added: “Take the minimum wage, for example: there are riders who are not worth that amount at all.”
His latest comments only further fuel the now-entrenched impression of an influential team boss who makes no attempt to hide his disparaging view of women. After Lefevere and former sponsor Deceuninck went their separate ways, company CEO Francis Van Eeckhout said: “Women’s cycling is increasing in importance and we cannot ignore that. We discussed that, but Patrick is Patrick.”
While the mainly male milieu of men’s WorldTour racing has kept schtum over Lefevere’s disparaging comments, the biggest names in the women’s peloton have given him short shrift. After he said that he no desire to invest in women’s cycling because he was “not welfare,” Lizzie Deignan responded by saying: “I’m glad he has no interest in women’s cycling because we have no interest in him.”
Like it or not, Lefevere remains one of the most influential and experienced figures within world cycling. From the Iljo Keisse controversy in 2019, when the rider mimicked a sexual position behind a waitress working in a cafe on the Vuelta a San Juan, to Lefevere’s clumsy comments on abusive relationships and mental health as he bid farewell to Sam Bennett, he has reinforced a divisive and demeaning image of cycling.
On March 7, the day before International Women’s Day, the UCI launched their ‘Ride Together Pledge’ supporting the key principles of equality, diversity, and inclusion at this year’s UCI World Championships, and emphasising the following five key commitments:
Promoting inclusion through the power of the bike, improving wellbeing, and building a fairer, more inclusive society for all; the growth and sustainability of women and girls cycling in Scotland; inclusivity and accessibility; seeking out opportunities to activate programmes in support of EDI; using the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships to raise awareness about EDI. Signatories to the UCI’s laudable campaign include UK Sport, British Cycling, Glasgow Life, Scottish Cycling and partners.
But where does the Lefevere worldview sit within all this? Surely his frequent high-profile sexism flies in the face of the UCI’s objectives and needs to be addressed? If Julian Alaphilippe is disciplined for the heinous sin of removing his helmet, why does Lefevere feel able to so often make offensive discriminatory comments that counter the UCI’s high-profile initiatives?
That’s nothing to do with vegan diets, oat milk, or woke liberalism: it’s just about showing respect to all fellow professionals, particularly women, working within the sport.