Last year, Tim Merlier won a stage at the Tour de France and was part of Alpecin-Fenix's two-pronged strategy along with star Mathieu van der Poel. But the Belgian will not be reprising that role as the team has chosen to stay with their plan to send Jasper Philipsen alongside Van der Poel to the Tour.
"I'll get ready, you never know someone might drop out," Merlier said in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad. "I hope that I will be selected for the Vuelta. But I haven't heard from the team yet."
Merlier, 29, has yet to confirm news that he plans to sign with QuickStep-AlphaVinyl when the 2023 transfer window opens in August 1. The Belgian had a strong start to the season, winning a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico, Nokere Koerse and the Brugge-De Panne Classic.
However, a crash in Paris-Roubaix left Merlier with a deep wound to his elbow that required surgery and kept him from racing the Giro d'Italia as planned.
Merlier said it was painful to watch his teammates racing on television. "It hurt when I saw my teammates on TV, but I quickly set new goals. I didn't watch too much either, only the last kilometers," Merlier said. "I am happy with the three stage wins from the team."
Van der Poel won the opening stage and the first maglia rosa in the Giro d'Italia, while Stefano Oldani and Dries De Bondt also took home their first Grand Tour stage wins there.
"Some riders were down when it became clear that I had to forfeit but they have done brilliantly. You also saw that the atmosphere was fantastic, thanks in part to Mathieu van der Poel."
Merlier still has to keep his elbow from becoming infected and said the dry weather on Tenerife has been ideal to keep dirt out of the now almost-healed wound.
"And training on the climbs here is fun if you can ride at your own pace, that is. Riders like Jasper Stuyven, Dylan van Baarle and Filippo Ganna were also here, but I trained alone the whole time. One day Kenneth Vandendriessche drove along. He won the Ironman of Lanzarote last week and came here to rest. But he had brought his bike and wanted to keep me company for a few hours."
The season will resume for Merlier this weekend at the Brussels Cycling Classic and Ronde van Limburg before he heads to Tour of Slovenia. His main target is the Belgian Championships in Middelkerke on June 26. He won the title in 2019 but had a limited number of days racing in front of his home fans in the national jersey because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I want to make up for that," he said.
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.