Cycling's greatest rider Eddy Merckx paid a visit to the Tour de France in Nice on Tuesday. The now 68 year-old Belgian living legend was spotted at the Orica-Greenedge bus just before their final recon ride. Perhaps the Australian team's motivation was boosted by the presence of the Cannibal. In a chat with Cyclingnews, Merckx looked back on the Corsican prelude, the lack of potential Belgian Tour winners and the role of Chris Froome (Sky) as race favourite.
"Froome is the big favourite and then Contador, Evans, Van Garderen, Rodriguez and so on," Merckx told Cyclingnews. While Lucien Van Impe, winner of the Tour de France in 1976, stated that Froome was too nervous to win the Tour de France this year, it was clear Merckx thought differently. "It's too early to say that he's nervous," Merckx said.
Froome's attack on the Côte du Salario at the end of stage 2 from Bastia to Ajaccio was a much-discussed action. "The effort he did there will not cost him anything in the remainder of the Tour. He probably wanted to test the other GC-riders a bit. There was also the descent ahead. It wasn't harmful at all."
When asked about the chances for the Belgians to finally get another Tour de France winner Merckx played down the expectations. "I can't see a Belgian winner of the Tour de France for now," Merckx said. Jurgen Van den Broeck finished fourth in 2010 and 2012 but as it turns out Merckx felt more was needed to win the Grande Boucle. "If he improves then it's possible. He has to improve. The boy is working very hard for it. He's a real example of professionalism for others but that's not enough." Is it the engine, talent? "Yes."
The five-times winner of the Tour de France also offered his view on the three Corsican stages which kicked of this centenarian edition. The first thing he thought about was the big crash which occurred at the end of the first stage. After a relatively easy build-up the finish line was modified twice and a crash in the bunch made a lot of casualties.
"There was the big crash in Corsica. If the pace isn't high all day long then you get situations like that. Corsica is quite hard. There were nice winners with Kittel, Gerrans and Bakelants. What Bakelants did was quite a number he pulled off. The spectators lacked a bit but I think that Corsica was beautiful. I know it as I've been riding my bike over there with friends. It's quite hard to ride around in Corsica."
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