Tim Merlier’s recon of the European Championships course in Munich confirmed what the start list had already suggested: the title is likely to be decided in a bunch sprint on Sunday afternoon.
Although the course features 1,200 metres of total ascent, the Belgian champion does not envisage the climbs on the road to trouble the sprinters unduly.
“Normally not,” Merlier told Sporza (opens in new tab). “There's one tough climb in there, but that should be okay. The road is always wide after a hill too, so I'm not worried about that.
“Later on, we’ll explore the urban part of the course, because a local circuit like that can always be dangerous for a late crash, for example. That's something we have to take into account.”
Merlier leads the Belgian lineup in Germany before he sets off for the Vuelta a España, his final Grand Tour in Alpecin-Deceuninck colours. The 29-year-old will ride for the rebranded Soudal-QuickStep in 2023 and one of his rivals in Munich will be his future teammate, Fabio Jakobsen (Netherlands).
The peloton also includes fast men of the calibre of Sam Bennett (Ireland), Arnaud Démare (France), Alexander Kristoff (Norway), Elia Viviani (Italy), Pascal Ackermann (Germany) and Mads Pedersen (Denmark). There should be no shortage of teams working to tee up a bunch sprint.
“Being one of the favourites doesn't give me any extra pressure, it feels good,” said Merlier, who won stages of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in 2021.
“When I look at other favourites for victory if it comes to a bunch sprint, I’m mainly looking at riders like Jakobsen, Kristoff, Ackermann or Pedersen. Will it be a duel against my future teammate Fabio Jakobsen? Let's hope so.”
The elite men’s road race was first introduced to the European Championships in 2016, when Peter Sagan (Slovakia) claimed the inaugural title. Kristoff was the winner 12 months later in Herning and Italy have dominated ever since, with Matteo Trentin, Viviani, Giacomo Nizzolo and Sonny Colbrelli taking victory in successive years.
Belgium, by contrast, have been restricted to three medals, with Wout van Aert picking up bronze in 2018 and Yves Lampaert (2019) and Remco Evenepoel (2021) taking silver. Van Aert, Lampaert and Evenepoel are all absent here, with the Belgian team built squarely around Merlier’s sprint.
“If the race goes differently, we also have riders like Dries De Bondt, Aimé De Gendt or Dries Van Gestel, who have already been able to finish it off in certain situations,” national coach Sven Vanthourenhout told Sporza. “There will always be countries that want to avoid a sprint, but a lot of countries have a fast rider in their teams, so there is a good chance that it will also turn out to be a sprint.
"Tim Merlier is more than ready. He is also going to the Vuelta soon, so we have confidence in him.”
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