Axel Merckx's cycling dream team

In a new run of features, Cyclingnews sits down with some of the sport's well-known personalities as they pick their cycling dream teams. This week, 2004 Olympic Road Race bronze medallist and current Axeon Hagens Berman team director Axel Merckx selects his dream team.

The Rules:

  • Each team must feature nine riders, one of which can be the rider selecting the team, in which case they would pick eight riders to join them. The riders chosen need to have been teammates with the person picking the team.

Leader: Paolo Bettini

Paolo would be the leader for the Ardennes and Milan-San Remo-type races. Anything besides maybe the flatter races like Paris-Roubaix or Tour of Flanders, although he did some good rides in Flanders also. Paolo's results kind of speak for themselves, all the races that he's won. He's always been a leader and he's a great guy. He can win everywhere. He's the kind of guy you want to have on your team because he really can win anywhere, whether it's a big stage race, a one-week stage race, Spring Classics, World Championships, Milan-San Remo. He's one of the most talented riders that I've raced with, especially for one-day races.

Sprinter: Tom Steels

I've known Tom since we were amateurs. We were racing amateurs together, and he developed as the best sprinter of his generation. What was so special to me with Tom was that he could motivate his teammates in a calm and stylish way. It's always a big difference between racing with somebody or for somebody when they are a friend you've grown up with from a young age. He's got a couple dozen titles from great wins at great races and some sprints in the Grand Tours, so that's why I picked him as the top sprinter.

Image courtesy of Pro Cycling Trumps

Rouleur: Jacobus "Koos" Moerenhout

Koos was my roommate for years and years. Koos is a luxury domestique, I would say. He won a few big races, a couple times Dutch national champion, but also someone who would sacrifice himself no matter what. You could ask him to do some, what I would call dirty work. You need someone who can not only do that but also be active and be in breaks and win some races and finish the race off. And he's one of my best friends.

Climber: Giuseppe Guerini

I was with Guerini at Polti for a couple of years, and then I was with him again during my last season at T-Mobile. When you see his results, I mean he won Alpe d'Huez and he won some big stages in the Giro, where he finished on the podium one year. And he's a great guy, to be honest with you. He's got lots of experience and he was always calm. He was always dedicated. He always came to races ready and had a great attitude. A great personality to have around, easy going and good laughs. We had good laughs with him. And he's a great climber, so that's why I picked him as my top climber.

Rouleur: Wim Van Sevenant

I was teammates with him, but most importantly, and I always say this, without Wim I never would have got my Olympic medal. He's a guy – and that day especially although I don't want to single one day out – but he got the water bottles all day long when it was 40 degrees out, and I'm sure that made the difference at the end of the race. Forever that kind of stays in my memory. But also Wim was a guy who always sacrificed himself. He was always close to Peter van Petegem in the Classics years. He would be with him all the time and take care of him, pulling for him and racing for him. He was a good domestique. He would sacrifice himself and he was happy with that role and he was perfect at it. You knew what you had with him and you could rely on anything he did. He was always ready to go down and do the dirty work but was a great guy also, a really great guy.

Image courtesy of Pro Cycling Trumps

Rouleur: Johan Museeuw

I don't think I have to present Johan, but I was lucky enough to spend a couple of years with him – well more than couple of years – I think four years with him at Domo and with Mapei. He is the Lion of Flanders. He's not only a great guy on the bike, but off the bike, too. I have some great memories, and I was really looking up to him when I joined Mapei at the beginning. He was the legend, and to be able to share the team with him and be racing with him was a great honour. He's still what I consider the best rider of Flanders. There's no other definition. I started off racing with him in Lugan in '96 when he was world champion and I was helping him out. A lot of respect grew from that day, and I think it's a mutual respect. That's why I have him on the team, because you can always rely on him for those races.

Rouleur: Serge Baguet

Serge Baguet is a great old rider also. Kind of the same type as Koos, a good guy who can win some good races. He won a stage in the Tour and was the Belgian champion. You can rely on him and he knew his way. He was very smart in a race. He could read the race really, really well, so when there was a decision that had to be made we'd always go back to him and kind of talk about it. He just had an awesome sense for racing. A great guy and a great talent also, with great victories, too, but also a guy who could sacrifice himself and just go out there and work hard for the big leaders.

Rouleur: Marc Wauters

I was teammates with Marc on the national team. He was in the Olympics also with me, and we did a couple of world championships with him, but when you see his career it was kind of the same rider also. He won a stage in the Tour and had the yellow jersey. He was always there and was a guy who would sacrifice himself, but he could win also. It's always good to have those guys, because you can use them in so many different ways. I had a great relationship with him also off the bike, and I have some good memories of world championships and the Olympics. His dedication that he had for Rabobank, which was basically the only team he raced for, was quite impressive because they knew what they had with him and they knew that he could win some big races, too.

Image courtesy of Pro Cycling Trumps

Rouleur: Sean Yates

The first time I met Sean I was still a young junior racer and he was racing for 7-Eleven. He came to Belgium for the GP Eddy Merckx and he won. He destroyed everybody there, and then I had the chance to race with him. That guy was amazing. It was amazing the dedication that he had and the commitment he had for the team, and also the tactical sense. I really learned a lot from him and looked up to him all those years. He had a great team spirit, but he was also kind of the guy who wouldn't say a lot of words, but when he said something it was the right thing to say at the right time. You were really looking up to him as a young rider.

Directors: Valerio Piva and Brian Holm

I had a hard time choosing between the two, that's why I put both names. Brian Holm was at T-Mobile with me and Valerio was at T-Mobile with me, too. I really like both their personalities. They might be a little bit different in their coaching style, but I really enjoyed them. Brian was actually my first roommate ever, so I was looking up to him. And when I was working with him at T-Mobile I was very impressed with how professional he was and just how much tactical sense he had in a race. He could read the race very well. Whenever he said anything it was usually spot on, he was right on. He was just that good.

Valerio was really strong also, but he's more Italian, so let's put it this way: he was a little bit more hot and he can be a little bit more aggressive in his coaching. But what I really appreciated with him was that he would tell you the way it is; he would tell you what he thought. I kind of like that, and I think it's very important for riders to have that. Back when I was racing with him or he was my director he was that way. We collided a couple of times, but that's OK. That's part of a great relationship also. You have to hear the bad side of the story, too, you know. You can't always be told you're doing great, you're doing wonderful. Somebody has to tell you when you mess up or disappoint.

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