Markel Irizar is heading up the initiative to develop Lidl-Trek's next-gen stars
Lidl-Trek has undergone a seismic shift in the last month and a half, bringing on Lidl as a new sponsor, and along with it new kits, a new name and even greater ambitions in the WorldTour.
But beneath the surface, the operation isn’t changing much. The same world-class performance management team will oversee a strong and balanced group of men’s and women’s riders, and the team will still build around a culture of camaraderie and development. If anything, the team is doubling down on what has made it successful for years.
Today, Lidl-Trek is announcing the first eight riders to take part in its newly-established development team, with more riders to be announced at a later date. Those eight riders are:
- Tim Torn Teutenberg (Germany, 20 years old)
- Mats Wenzel (Luxembourg, 20 years old)
- Axandre Van Petegem (Belgium, 21 years old)
- Kristian Egholm (Denmark, 19 years old)
- Nils Aebersold (Switzerland, 20 years old)
- Louis Leidert (Germany, 18 years old)
- Liam O’Brien (Ireland, 18 years old)
- Patrick Frydkjaer (Denmark, 18 years old)
The development team was one of the road program’s biggest priorities after Lidl became its new partner. The devo team will allow Lidl-Trek to bring in some of the most promising young riders in the world and raise them under a patient, guiding hand at second- and third-tier events. In turn, when those riders are ready for their WorldTour call-ups, they will have already spent plenty of time among their big-name teammates and sports directors to slide into the faster peloton relatively seamlessly.
The team will be registered at Continental level and will be based in Deinze, Belgium, where the Trek Factory Racing service course is located. And accommodations will be made for the young riders, including an option to stay at an apartment in Girona, Spain, where they can enjoy pristine training roads.
The devo team will be managed by Markel Irizar, who has headed up Lidl-Trek’s talent scouting operation since retiring as a rider in 2019. He will be in charge of recruiting and signing young riders to the squad, as well as overseeing their mentorship and performance. The new role is a major promotion for Irizar, and highlights the incredible confidence Lidl-Trek leadership has in his abilities.
The devo team will fundamentally change Irizar’s role with Lidl-Trek. Before, if he wanted to sign a young rider he had scouted, he had to be very sure that they were ready to step directly into the WorldTour, both physically and mentally. With the devo squad, he’ll be under less pressure to bring in polished prospects. Instead, he’ll be able to take in riders who may require significant training and guidance, but who have incredible potential if all goes right.
Irizar explains his role as any good Basque native should: Through cooking.
“In the Basque Country, we have a big cooking culture. Very big,” Irizar says. “In this case, I know that we have very good chefs. A very good kitchen. My job is to go to the market, and I buy very good fish. And if I am able to buy the best meat, I know that my chefs, they’re gonna make something amazing.”
I'm gonna be the chain between the devo team and the World Tour team. ... We need to have the resources that the team will need in the future.
- Markel Irizar
The devo team will help Lidl-Trek make sure it can sustain success well into the future. It currently has a solid core of young WorldTour riders like Mads Pedersen (27 years old), Giulio Ciccone (28) and Mattias Skjelmose (22), who were all developed within the program. But the devo team will make sure there’s depth behind them as those riders age, or in case the team finds itself deficient in any area due to unforeseen circumstances like injuries.
Wherever there’s a hole in the WorldTour roster, the hope is that there will be a devo team rider ready to fill it.
“I’m gonna be the chain between the devo team and the World Tour team,” Irizar explains. “If [Lidl-Trek general manager] Luca [Guercilena] tells me, ‘Markel, do we have a super good climber?’ I can say, ‘We have it.’ If he says ‘I need someone who can pull, do you have a strong rider with 80 kilos who can pull for five hours?’ I can say, ‘We have it.’ We need to have the resources that the team will need in the future.”
Irizar is well-suited to lead the devo squad. He’s a recently retired rider who understands how to thrive within the modern peloton. He also has a deep respect and passion for what Lidl-Trek represents as a former 10-year Trek athlete, not to mention a bottomless well of energy.
Irizar has spent the last three-plus years meeting young athletes and their managers alongside race courses and in their homes to assess their fit as Lidl-Trek riders. In his new role, Irizar will spend a little less time on the recruiting trail, and more time mentoring and evaluating riders who are already under the Lidl-Trek umbrella.
He wants riders who can perform well, of course. But just as importantly, Irizar wants riders who appreciate the opportunity to race, and who are eager to be good teammates.
“We need the performance and we want to win races, of course. But it’s super important that we need ambassadors of the values of the brands that are sponsoring the team,” Irizar says. “I want riders that come ready to learn everything. When we win, we enjoy it, but we respect that there are others that aren’t so happy. And when we don’t win, we don’t find excuses. We need to know that we are here because of the fans.”
Irizar will also be involved in recruiting young women’s riders as part of his ongoing development as a scout and DS. Neither he nor Lidl-Trek are done evolving. And with legends like Guercilena lending a hand, Irizar believes the devo team could become one of the most important initiatives of the burgeoning Lidl-Trek era.
“When you are able to buy something fresh and of good quality, with the know-how we have, with the chefs we have, with the kitchen we have, we should have no problem,” Irizar says. “We are gonna cook.”