With a stage victory and six days in yellow, Mathieu Van der Poel was one of the great leaders of the first week of this Tour de France. But the Dutchman did not take the start on Sunday of the 9th stage between Cluses and Tignes to prepare for the Olympic Games.
Much to the regret of Eddy Merckx, questioned by Sporza on this subject. The five-time winner of the Grande Boucle does not appreciate that riders voluntarily leave a Grand Tour. He had also strongly criticized Caleb Ewan after his retirement from the Giro: “I don’t understand that. When you start a stage race, it’s not to give it up”, began the Cannibal, “In other words, he should have prepared for the Olympics in another way. Voluntarily abandoning the Tour de France is not good for cycling.”
Merckx doesn’t want to hear that Van der Poel’s big goal is the Olympics: “The Tour de France is the biggest race of the year, to abandon it, I find that a shame.”
But the greatest Belgian sportsman of the 20th century nevertheless fell in love with the Dutchman during this first week: “What he did in Mûr-de-Bretagne was magnificent.”
Apart from Van der Poel, Eddy Merckx is also under the spell of Tadej Pogacar who dominates this Tour de France head and shoulders: “Roglic and Bernal are obviously not here but I think Pogacar is better than them. He is an exceptional champion.”
“Evenepoel? I’d rather not say anything about it. He’s still going to need several more years to reach Pogacar’s level.”, concluded the former Belgian champion.