Van der Poel has not yet made his Grand Tour debut, although the Dutchman suggested his Alpecin-Fenix team could push for an invitation to postpone the Tour de France 2020, which was postponed from 29 August to September 20.“I think Van der Poel can win everything, even the Tour de France,” said Merckx Het Nieuwsblad.
“He will fail in the high mountains against [Tadej] Pogacar and [Egan] Bernal, but if Geraint Thomas can win the Tour, Van der Poel can do it too. However, he will have to focus more on road racing and less on mountain biking. Of course, he could have his own ideas on this. “
Van der Poel won his third world cyclo-cross title in February but only raced once on the road in 2020 – ranking 45th overall in the Volta ao Algarve – before the coronavirus pandemic hit. sees the competition suspended in March. The 25-year-old had planned to target the spring classics this season, as well as the mountain biking event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, since postponed to 2021.
The UCI has since developed plans for a revised racing calendar in the hope that competition can resume in August, although French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu said Eurosport last week that “it will not be the end of the world” if the Tour de France is not taking place this year. She also said that the first sporting events to be held after the current lockdown would take place behind closed doors or with strict restrictions on the number of spectators.
Talk to Het Nieuwsblad, Merckx expressed opposition to the idea of a closed-door tour.
“A Tour de France without audiences is just not a Tour de France,” said Merckx. “The people on the side of the road are not part of the race, are they? Don’t get me wrong, I also hope the Tour can continue. I understand that this is important for runners and teams. But for me personally, I don’t prefer a tour rather than a tour without an audience. I would find it pathetic. “
Merckx compatriot Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was one of the most successful runners in the first part of the 2020 campaign, winning the general classification titles at Vuelta a San Juan and Volta ao Algarve . The 20-year-old was due to make his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d’Italia in 2020. The race is now scheduled for October as part of the revised UCI calendar.
“He still has to prove everything. Last year he won San Sebastian at some point in the season when the rest may have been a bit tired, “said Merckx. “Sure, he has a lot of capabilities, but there is still a long way to go, you know. “