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Axel Merckx fears Van Aert and Van der Poel could suffer burnout

OUDENAARDE BELGIUM OCTOBER 18 Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Team Jumbo Visma Mathieu Van Der Poel of The Netherlands and Team AlpecinFenix Breakaway Cobblestones during the 104th Tour of Flanders 2020 Ronde van Vlaanderen Men Elite a 2433km race from Antwerpen to Oudenaarde RVV20 FlandersClassic on October 18 2020 in Oudenaarde Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Axel Merckx has found enough money to keep the Hagens Berman Axeon team on the road in 2021. In a column for Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure, the manager also warned Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel against burnout. 

Despite a number of his alumni shining in 2020, such as Tao Geoghegan Hart and Joao Almeida at the Giro d'Italia, Merckx's renowned development team has been threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which heavily reduced the U23 calendar this year.

He was looking to fill a shortfall of 300,000 euros but has now found a chunk of that figure - enough to keep the team alive, at least.

"I needed 300,000 euros with my team for my budget for 2021 and have now found more or less half," Merckx wrote in La Dernière Heure, according to Het Nieuwsblad.

"As a result, we will be able to run a normal season with a nice program in Europe."

The Continental team is based in the US but racing in Europe is vitally important to aspiring young riders, although expenses like training camps might have to be scaled back. Four riders from the 2020 squad are due to step up to WorldTour or ProTeam level in 2021.

A warning to Van Aert and Van der Poel

Merckx, who lives in Canada, also used his column to warn Van Aert and Van der Poel about the dangers of over-racing and training.

Cyclo-cross has been cited as a benefit as the pair have stormed onto the road scene but Merckx feels that racing 'cross over the winter and a busy road race schedule could lead to burnout. 

"It seems that Wout van Aert will soon be back in action in the fields but his road season had only just ended," Merckx said, adding that Van Aert only this year came back from a long injury lay-off. 

"The energy it took to get back from that should not be underestimated. In the meantime, he hasn't had a real break in three years. I am a bit worried about that, just like Mathieu van der Poel."

Merckx feels that Marianne Vos is an example of his concerns.  

The Dutchwoman dominated the sport for a number of years, winning world titles in three disciplines, but suffered burnout in 2015. She has since returned to win more than 40 races but races less often. 

"She has done and won everything for years: the road, time trial, track, cyclo-cross. But one day her body said stop, fell ill, and never returned to her old level, except for a few flashes," Merckx wrote.

"I hope that Wout and Mathieu will think about this with their coaches and entourages."