Axel Merckx on long list for Belgian national coach role

Dutch media report Peter Van Petegem also in the running

Axel Merckx could become the new national coach for Belgian Cycling, but would face stiff competition from fellow former pro Peter Van Petegem, according to a Dutch cycling website.

According to Wielerflits.nl, Merckx – who runs the US-based Hagens Berman Axeon Pro Continental team – would be "honoured" to take the role, which has become available following the resignation of Kevin De Weert, who will join Lotto Soudal as their new performance manager.

De Weert vacated his position after the UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, last month, where the Belgian national team largely failed to perform, other than in the junior men's events, with Remco Evenepoel winning both the time trial and the road race – although De Weert had already resigned to join Lotto Soudal before the Worlds.

Merckx – son of five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx – heads up the Hagens Berman Axeon development squad, but would apparently be keen to take on the role of Belgian national coach in addition to his current duties, explaining that his team will be racing in Europe a lot more in 2019, which could resolve any reservations the Belgian federation have about his availability for the role, which is not full-time.

"I think about 80 per cent of our races will be in Europe next season," Merckx told Wielerflits.nl. "That means that I'll be there for a number of races.

"I would be honoured to become the Belgian national coach," he continued. "I've always liked racing in the national kit, and achieved many of my best results wearing it."

Indeed, Merckx won the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic road race in Athens while representing Belgium, and was fourth at the 1996 Worlds road race in Lugano, Switzerland.

He was also the 2000 road race national champion, in the same year that he won a stage at the Giro d'Italia.

As a team director and owner, Merckx has learned how to pick the most talented riders, which would be a key requirement of the Belgian federation role when selecting riders for the Worlds, for example.

In his role at Hagens Berman Axeon, and the team's previous guises as Trek Livestrong, Bontrager and the Bissell Development Team, Merckx has helped deliver a number of young riders to WorldTour level, including Taylor Phinney, Alex Dowsett and Ben King, and, most recently, Sean Bennett, who will leave Hagens Berman Axeon to join EF Education First-Drapac for 2019.

While Merckx's racing palmarès is impressive, and his results as a team manager equally so, compatriot Peter Van Petegem, who is also on the long list for the role, can boast two Tour of Flanders titles – 1999 and 2003 – and a win at the 2003 Paris-Roubaix.

Either would be a popular choice with Belgian cycling fans.

According to the Dutch website, Belgian Cycling director Jos Smets confirmed that both former riders were in the mix for the vacant role – "Merckx and Van Petegem are two names on a list of 20" – while Merckx said that at this stage he'd only received a phone call from the federation to gauge his interest and to ask whether holding two roles would be "practically feasible". 

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