By Gregor Brown in Loudenvielle
Axel Merckx is close to ending his 15-year career as a professional rider but he insists on enjoying the final moments. The 34 year-old Belgian is looking forward to the five days remaining of the 94th Tour de France but he is happy to reflect on his proudest moments, including riding with Floyd Landis as race leader through Paris.
"I know this is the last time and I absolutely want to make the best out of it, and make it to Paris, for sure," commented Merckx on Monday morning to Cyclingnews, the day before the Tour's rest day in Pau. He made the switch this last winter from Phonak to T-Mobile and he used his domestique abilities to ensure the team's youngster Gerdemann was in yellow with a stage win on that hot day to Le Grand-Bornand.
"It has been fifty-fifty for T-Mobile at the Tour but you always remember the good parts and the good memories," the son of Eddy continued. "Having the yellow already with Linus, who is only 24 years-old, was really exciting. It was beyond our expectation. We have to acknowledge his accomplishment and look forward to a great future from him. ... It was for sure my favourite moment of this Tour; that day was the best moment of the Tour."
He is hoping there could still be a chance for him to grasp that coveted Tour stage to add to a palmarès that includes wins in the Dauphiné Libéré, the Giro d'Italia, the Belgian Championships and a Bronze in the 2004 Olympics. "I will try. I know that yesterday was fast and I am short of being with the best in the climbs. I know it will be tough but I will keep trying to see if I have a bit of luck to be in a good break.
"Over the years there have been some ups and downs that is life in general, and in cycling particular. I have had some tough moments but some really good moments here too, but I think that is the case every year in the Tour." The best came in 2006. "Riding with the yellow jersey in the Champs-Élysées was pretty exceptional [as part of Floyd Landis' team]. Being part of that winning team was special, the feeling of that Tour de France was special and pretty high for me."
Wife Jodi popped in to check on her favourite rider during the transitional stage of Marseille and she will return one last time in Paris. The two are looking forward to spending more time in Canada with their daughter after Merckx retires. "I will head there [to Canada] at the end of August, my daughter is starting school there in September so we will go there before then. We will be based ourselves out of there, just outside of Vancouver, and then we will wait and see what I will do next year."
Merckx is in the finishing stretch of his cycling career. "Right now, I am trying to enjoy it as much as I can, day in and day out. I know that soon this will all be over with and it will only be a good memory. To have a career for 14 years means a lot and it is a big part of your life and, of course, I tried to make the best out of it. I will also try to make the best out of my future. Cycling was really challenging for me; it was a great experience."