Axel Merckx - Hamilton already on his mind.
Axel Merckx is determined to do well in this year's Worlds at Hamilton and it is not just the lure of the rainbow jersey that inspires him, in fact his wife Jodi wife is originally from that City and naturally he wants to shine in front of his wife's home crowd.
Axel, who has spent the last two months training hard in the sun of San Diego, California, is looking sun tanned and in good shape for the coming season. Talking today to La Dernière Heure (http://www.dhnet.be/) Merckx discussed his hopes and plans for 2003.
How did your winter training go?
AM "I would say that it was a typical off - season. After having fully recovered from the tiredness of the season, I gradually went back to work. Luckily I neither fell or had any injury problems, which is always extremely important in the preparation of a new campaign."
Which is your programme for the beginning of season?
AM "Normally, I should start with the Tour de Haut-Var (the team will not ride the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana this year) then I will ride the GP de Chiasso and GP de Lugano in preparation for Paris-Nice and Milan-Sanremo. Then I will have a small rest, and will restart in the Critérium International before going to the Tour du Pays Basque to prepare for the second half of the Classic season with the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège."
So we will not see you in Belgium for the Flemish Classics.
AM "No. There are sufficient good riders, and leaders (Van Petegem, Baguet, McEwen) in the team so that they can do without me for the early Northern races. Everyone will try this year to shine in his own specialist field.
Yours is also the Tour of France, but, you are not absolutely certain to race it this year...
AM "That is true. One thing is sure, I will only one race in one of the major Tours. I admit I am undecided between the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. If I ride the Giro with total commitment, then rest and prepare for the end of the season and the Championship of the World in Canada , that would be, to some extent, an ideal program, since I totally committed to do well in Hamilton. It is my wife's home town and over the years I have got to know many people there. In addition, the Tour remains the Tour, with all that it conveys - its magic, and its history. But I do not want to finish it on my knees as it was the case in 2002. My heart leans towards the French race. If I prepare my calendar of races with intelligence then, I should be in great shape for the Worlds in Canada.
Rik in Pink 2001
2001 was a truly scintillating season for Rik Verbrugghe and although 2002 had its disappointments, it was not a total loss.
His 9th place in the Giro d'Italia was the best performance by a Belgian rider since Claude Criquielion - his current sporting director - in 1989 (7th).
"Well, without my knee troubles, I could had finished higher in 5th or 6th place. My 2002 could well have been even better than 2001 but for the physical problems I suffered. Even in Tirreno, I was sick and that upset my chances in the Ardennes Classics. And later, my shoulder injury in the Tour of France compromised the second half of my season. I did my best to restart my season in the Tour of Poland and in the Italian races in September, but in vain."
Today, before flying off for the Tour of Qatar, Rik is happy with his winter preparation.
"I need to polish my form in races from the good base I have gained during the winter. After Qatar, I will race the Ruta del Sol. And, in March, before Milan-San Remo, I will race the Tirreno-Adriatico."
Italy has become like a second home to Rik Verbrugghe. Having worn the maglia rosa in the Giro 2001 (thanks to success in the prologue of Pescara), and having won a stage and having finished 9th in 2002, Rik Verbrugghe will compete in the Giro d'Italia 2003 with the objective to finish it among the three first.
"The fact that there is no prologue at the start does not worry me. It may mean that my team mates will not have to withstand the pressure of the race from the start."
But Rik also intends to race in this year's Tour de France.
"I will go there after having, also competed in the Tour de Suisse. It is a Tour of France which seems to me interesting for the attackers. This is why a final position the top 10 does not appear insurmountable to me."
As for the Ardennes, Rik is happy to be able to be in the same team as Axel Merckx:
"He is a laid back guy, like me. Consequently, the agreement can only be excellent!"
Rik losing Pink 2001
Rik: Pain in Pink 2001