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Trek-Livestrong to develop riders for Team RadioShack

Axel Merckx called Taylor Phinney's U23 Paris-Roubaix win the highlight of the team's 2009 season.

Axel Merckx called Taylor Phinney's U23 Paris-Roubaix win the highlight of the team's 2009 season. (Image credit: Tom De Meyer)

Lance Armstrong's Trek-Livestrong team will act as a feeder squad for Team RadioShack in the coming years, with the U23 team already confirming that half the roster will change for 2010. Speaking to team director Axel Merckx at the Interbike Trade Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Belgian outlined the team's plans for next year.

"RadioShack will be a sponsor [of the Under-23 team] for next year. We'll share some responsibilities and for me it's also great to have Johan Bruyneel as a sounding board for advice. Also, we can use the service course in Belgium and they can use our services in the US. We'll still be two different teams but what we're trying to produce are two riders that will move up to their team and develop every year," Merckx said.

"It will be interesting how the team evolves in the next couple of years. It's been really exciting for me."

As for the make-up of his 2010 squad, Merckx could only confirm that nine riders had been signed so far, with more possible signings still to be finalised. Remaining with the team will be Jesse Sergent and Taylor Phinney, while Ryan Baumann and Sam Bewley will leave as they no longer meet the age guidelines.

The fact that Phinney will remain with the squad suggests that he could be one of the first riders to graduate to RadioShack in the coming years. However, Merckx, himself a successful teen prodigy, who hailed from a family steeped in cycling, believes that Phinney, 19, has time on his side.

"My situation was a bit like his but for me, amateur racing in Belgium was really hard. I was a target, the guy to beat and it was difficult mentally. So I made the step so that I could develop at my own pace. With Taylor we have to see. He's having great results but everyone wants to beat him and when he doesn't win people ask questions of him.

"He's still only 19 but he's got time. He's comfortable with us and there's no rush. In my eyes he should stay another two years unless he really dominates next year. Maybe he can ride as stagiere at the end of next year," Merckx said.

As for the team's debut season, which started at the Vuelta Mexico Telmex in March and concluded with the Univest Grand Prix earlier in September, Merckx pinpointed Phinney's Under-23 win in Paris-Roubaix as the highlight. "Taylor winning was exceptional. He mastered that race and I was really impressed with how he rode. He was in a break at the end and up against a team that had four riders in it. He still has a long road to go but I'm pleased with how the team performed and that we can step it up next year."

Not only was 2009 the team's first season but it was also Merckx's debut as a director, something he admits was a challenge at first. "I was thrown in at the last second last year and it was really overwhelming but the team is growing nicely. I've been really lucky that I had a really good group. They never gave me any trouble and they know I'm here to guide them and help. I want to create a team that I wish I was on as a kid."