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2006 last season for Axel Merckx?

Axel Merckx after winning stage five of the 2005 Dauphiné Libéré

Axel Merckx after winning stage five of the 2005 Dauphiné Libéré (Image credit: Sirotti)

Axel Merckx might quit professional racing at the end of the 2006 season. In an interview with Belgian HNB, the son of legendary cycling icon Eddy said he missed his family too much to be away from home as much as he has been as a cyclist.

For what might be his last season in the peloton, Merckx made the move to the Swiss Phonak team where he will work together with close friend and team director John Lelangue. But after last year's Tour de France, his relationship with Davitamon turned sour, although he denied that this was one of the reasons that made him leave.

"That's not the reason I left," the 33 year-old said. "I'm not going to deny I wasn't happy when the team chased me while I was so close to a stage win in the Tour de France last year. But the guys who were ordered to do so weren't happy about it either. We are friends, you simply don't chase each other then. But they had to. Who made them? The team management. They put all their hopes on McEwen. But after he got disqualified there was no way he'd win the green jersey. And my chances for taking a win were a lot bigger than McEwen's at that point. Afterwards they claimed I had had my chance; but my chances were blown."

Merckx added that the change of management of his former squad - from sponsor Lotto to Davitamon - had a considerable impact on the way the team was conducted. "I have known beautiful moments with the Lotto team," he said. "They allowed me to stay at home from the Belgian championships for the birth of my daughter, that was a cool gesture. But since Lotto turned into Davitamon, things aren't the same. Before, the man in charge of sporting decisions was Marc Sergeant. Now Marc Coucke holds a strict reign. Not a bad word about mister Coucke, but he has never been a professional cyclist."

Now with Phonak, there's very little risk of problems: the ties between John Lelangue and the Merckx family go back a long time. "With Phonak, I have no pressure, I don't have to reach certain set goals," Merckx explained, nevertheless pointing out that he was going to give his very best in 2006. "I do have my own goals: the Wallonian Classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the start of the Giro, the Tour. Those are my races, but they didn't attach any results to it. We hope I will have my best season ever."

It's very different from his previous team. "With Davitamon, everything was a must. The ambition grew as the results came in. In Qatar they wanted us to win, and while I'm not calling that race pure training, it's not Paris-Nice! And when we were leading the ProTour ranking after the classics, they wanted us to keep hold of that place while it was normal that we fell back in the rankings."

But the personal relationship Merckx has with Phonak team manager John Lelangue was the decisive factor for the change. "Phonak's budget is about the same as Lotto has available. The wages are less though. I'm not saying I'm earning less, but that's not why I'm doing it," Merckx said. "John and I have been friends since our youth. For years we have been saying we'd work together. It was now or never, because I might be stopping at the end of the year. I have a contract for another season, but Phonak is stopping their sponsoring. And more important: I miss my children. I don't know if the will to race is big enough to make up for those feelings. If I can keep it in check, I might just race another year."

Asked, what were his plans beyond his days as a rider, Merckx said, "I'm not going to go into my father's business, no. My father would love it; but if you do something against your own will, you can't do a good job and he understands that. Maybe I'll stay in cycling - not as a full-time team director but for about fifty days per year, for the smaller stage races or so. And do some PR work on the side. I speak several languages, and I can explain things quite well, so I like that thought. I'll keep the apartment in Monaco as a pied-à-terre in Europe, because we'll definitely move to Canada. We've built a house there, close to a lake with a nature reserve behind us. Magnificent. I want my children to go to school there. My future is in Canada."

While Axel Merckx knew he would never be able to get anywhere near the results of his father Eddy, he was satisfied with what he'd achieved since he turned pro with Team Telekom in 1994. "I've always given a 100 percent, you can't regret anything then," he said. "My results? You can't compare me to my father. But I'm satisfied. It's not a disgrace being beaten by someone stronger. Maybe I should have been more selfish some times; but that's not my nature. I've always raced with the team's best interest in mind."

Courtesy of Sabine Sunderland

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