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Eddy Merckx: I’m a big fan of Remco, let that be clear

Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) at the UCI Road World Championships 2021
Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) at the UCI Road World Championships 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Eddy Merckx has looked to end his public fallout with Remco Evenepoel by insisting he is a fan of the young Belgian, describing him as having a serious 'engine'.

Evenepoel has often been described as the next Merckx since winning the junior time trial and road race titles in 2018, sparking hype and hope in Belgium that he can be as successful as the Cannibal in the late 60s and 70s.    

However, Merckx has never warmed to Evenepoel and has often questioned his talents, character and love for social media. 

Before this year’s World Championships in Flanders, Merckx suggested Evenepoel shouldn’t have been selected for the Belgian team for the Worlds because he was not a team player. Evenepoel was not afraid to respond to the greatest rider of all time, saying: “I have a lot of respect for Eddy and apparently that is not mutual.” 

In Belgium some have suggested that Merckx is critical of Evenepeol because he opted to turn professional with Deceuninck-QuickStep rather than race in the under-23 ranks with Axel Merckx’s Hagens Berman Axeon team. Eddy has dismissed that and now admited he is a fan of Evenepoel, despite the two not meeting to resolve their differences.    

“As far as I'm concerned there's no problem. I’m a big fan of Remco — let that be clear,” Merckx told Het Laatste Nieuws during a joint interview with Belgian football legend and close friend, Paul Van Himst. 

“Remco can race. There is a serious 'engine' in that body,” he added. “Given the circumstances, Remco had an excellent year. Don't forget that he fell heavily [at the 2020 Il Lombardia], it could have all turned out differently.”

Merckx explained that he was not critical of Evenepoel after his performance at the World Championships but rather of the race tactics of the Belgian team. Evenepoel joined two early attacks and then sacrificed himself to ride for designated team leader Wout van Aert, only for the Jumbo-Visma rider to fade in the final laps of the Leuven circuit.     

“Obviously he was fine! That's the sad thing. But that tactic…” Merckx said. 

“It all started with the team selection. Wout is your only leader, but why didn’t he get a teammate like Nathan Van Hooydonck for support. That makes no sense. And all those QuickStep riders, was that necessary? I didn't like it. But the biggest mistake was Remco. If you take him, it can’t be as a domestique. That was, in fact, my message in that article.”

Merckx was asked if Evenepoel could have become world champion.

“Who knows… Look, that's impossible to say, but Remco should have at least been given the freedom to ride for himself the last 30 kilometres. Then he could have either helped Wout or taken his own chance.”

Last week Merckx attended an event in Italy with Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). He appeared to like the Slovenian more than Evenepoel, going as far as suggesting he could be the ‘new Merckx’. 

“You can't compare generations, you can only compare palmares. Well, in that area Pogačar did well this year. He’s a bit like I was back then and he has a similar style,” Merckx said in praise of the two-time Tour de France winner, who also completed the rare feat of also winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia.    

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