A day after their remarkable victory with Mathieu van der Poel in the Tour de France, Alpecin-Fenix showed no sign of easing up on Monday as Tim Merlier secured their second stage win in 24 hours. Van der Poel both led out his teammate and then crossed the line with the yellow jersey still securely in his own grasp.
To make matters even more impressive, Alpecin-Fenix collected the top two places on stage 3, the top spot thanks to Merlier and teammate Jasper Philipsen, the German team’s third alternative for a bunch sprint, in second.
For Merlier, his Tour de France triumph represents the continuation of a breakthrough year in which he has already taken a Giro d’Italia stage win, also in the first week of the race, and a total of seven victories racked up this season to date.
For a rider like Merlier, who had problems in finding a team to continue his career as little as three years ago when he briefly dropped down to Continental level after two seasons with the Verandas Willems-Crelan Pro. Conti squad, such a long and high-profile run of success surely tastes all the sweeter.
Either way, the 28-year-old has now secured his team’s first win in a Grand Tour in the Giro, and on Monday scored their second in the Tour de France. All this, too, following a heavy crash on Saturday’s opening stage.
“I was very nervous again, I thought it wouldn’t be possible to go for the sprint after the first day, but thankfully it wasn’t, even if once again there were a lot of crashes,” Merlier said.
“I fell on the first day, Jasper crashed recently in the Tour of Belgium, so decided that we’d both do the sprint, and I think we got one-two today.”
Merlier said he had heard there had been a lot of problems as numerous riders were caught up in crashes. “I was happy I wasn’t in them,” he added phlegmatically.
On the plus side, he pointed out, “I think we can be happy with two stages, and taking yellow, too. Whatever happens from here on, this race is already a big success for our team.”
Given his predicament three years ago, he added, “I’m living in a dream right now and that’s all I’m going to say. I already won a stage in Giro, now I’ve got one in the Tour, the biggest race in the world.” However, underlining how much that latest win had yet to sink in, he added jokingly, “at least, people say that’s just what happened, so I guess I should believe them.”
Weighing up his future options, Merlier said that while more stage wins were definitely an objective, going for the green points jersey in his third Grand Tour and first Tour de France was not in his potential targets.
“Green is too big for me,” he said simply. “I don’t know how many points I have right now, but I don’t think I’ll go for it.”
Quite apart from taking a stage, other dream scenarios Merlier has already enjoyed in the Tour included, moments beforehand, having teammate Van der Poel in the maillot jaune leading him out, in person.
“That made me really nervous,” he said, “when he said he’d do it this morning at the team meeting, I asked him not to go too fast as he did in Tirreno-Adriatico a couple of years ago, when he went so quick it was too hard to sprint behind him.
“Today he was really strong, and maybe he can do better for himself in the next couple of days as well.”
Another potential duty for Merlier could be leading out Philipsen, who was clearly on good form on Monday, too. However, Merlier reserved judgment on that particular task. “We’ll see what team directors say and do what they say,” he said, “but it’s possible.”
What is definite, in any case, is the name of Monday’s stage winner. And Merlier surely has no reservations about that.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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