Merckx: Alonso is the best thing to happen to cycling

Eddy Merckx says that the Fernando Alonso project is one of the best things to happen to cycling in a long time.

"It's downright exciting news, the best cycling has received in recent years, if not the best," Merckx said to Spanish newspaper AS. "No doubt it will be a major project, as he has already announced it. I hope his arrival brings more sponsors to our sport to grow, which it deserves after this bad time."

Alonso has suffered a few setbacks in his bid to start a cycling team, but is still planning to open up shop in 2015. With a string of teams folding at the end of 2013, cycling is in great need of new sponsors. Merckx believes that doping scandals are no longer a barrier to teams entering the sport and says that cycling is in a better position than it has ever been when it comes to the fight against doping.

"I think that cycling has never been cleaner than now. There are many measures employed to ensure the race results, from the controls to the biological passport, which I consider a very useful tool," he explained.

The former rider says that the biggest issue faced by cycling is money, which is proving increasingly more difficult to come by. "For me, the main problem is the economic crisis that has affected the whole world. Once the storm passes I am sure things will go better and you can get money back."

Over the past decade, Merckx has been involved in the expansion of cycling into the Middle East. He organises the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman, with assistance from ASO.

The 68-year-old thinks that there is still more scope to expand into the region and that it could hold the key to cycling’s future. "Qatar and Oman have been joined this season by Dubai, and Bahrain also seem ready to assemble something like these countries.

"I maintain a very good relationship with Qatar and its emir, and I am proud to work and have brought the bikes there. Others have imitated their example. Perhaps the evolution of cycling depends on its expansion and investment from the Arabian Peninsula."

Merckx is also involved in the organisation of the World Championships, which will take place in Qatar in 2016. Last month, the Belgian confirmed that the event would be moved to later in the year, to avoid the heat of September, with a possible date of 9-16 October. "It is most feasible to shuffle things and delay it three weeks, until October, to avoid the high temperatures that we could encounter."

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