By Brecht Decaluwé in Montceau-les-Mines
As reported previously on Cyclingnews, Eddy Merckx had a particular interest in Floyd Landis' success in stage 19, vis à vis getting the maillot jaune back in advance of the Tour finish in Paris on Sunday. His son Axel rides for the team, he is very good friends with manger John Lelangue [and his father, who was a colleague of his both during his racing career and afterwards], and he also stood to gain a bit of cash due to a cheeky little bet he made.
Cyclingnews spoke to the legendary five-time winner of the Tour at the finish line, asking him firstly how he followed the stage today. "I was in the car together with Bernard Hinault, driving behind Fränk Schleck," he said. "First we were serene but once the stage unfolded, it became a bit more lively."
"It's fantastic what Landis has done. He deserves to win the Tour de France, if you look at the way he did it. He's the deserved winner of the race." Merckx was also happy for Lelangue and his own son. "It's great for John [Lelangue] but also for Axel. He always wanted to take part in a team which won the Tour de France," he said.
Lots of people have been speculating as to what Eddy Merckx said to Landis when he had his major setback on La Toussuire. We asked him to fill us in. "I just told the guys that the battle was lost, but that the war isn't over until the peloton arrives in Paris," he explained. "It was great to see how Landis reacted."
So, looking back to this Tour de France, how high would Eddy Merckx rate the performance of his son? "Landis will be grateful for the work Axel did," he responded. "He performed really well, just like everybody in the team."
Finally, we asked Eddy Merckx if we could expect him to be celebrating along with team Phonak in Paris: "No, no, now I'm just the father. The party in Paris is there for the riders and their wives!" Merckx laughed.