By Andrew Hood
Axel Merckx was back at the races last month in the Ardennes, but this time dressed in civilian clothes.
The son of Eddy Merckx was made a triumphant return in his native Belgium and had a handful of cycling tourists in tow as he made the rounds before Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“It’s nice to be back. I have brought along some guests from my bike touring business and the reception here has been very nice,” Merckx told VeloNews. “I’ve been staying busy with my family and with things at home, but now I’m looking forward to staying in touch with the cycling world.”
Since retiring last year, Merckx has been living in British Columbia in Canada with his wife, Jody, and their two daughters, Axana and Athina Rose. He started the bike touring company and will do television commentary with Belgian TV during the Tour de France.
“I’m happy to be retired now and I don’t miss racing. It was time for me to retire, for me and for my kids,” he said. “I’m still riding some to stay fit, but not like before. Now it’s for pleasure.”
Merckx was close to rejoining the peloton in a much more active way after opening negotiations this spring to join Rock Racing as a sport director, but the deal fell through following differences with team owner, Michael Ball.
Merckx told the Belgian daily La Deniere Heure that a compromise couldn’t be reached on key issues as who would have control of the team.
“It was an interesting project and I saw it as a true challenge. It’s a big sponsor with a big budget. They have the money to do things in the right way. It’s the type of sponsor to bring a fresh view and an exciting image to cycling,” Merckx said of Rock Racing. “I didn’t have the feeling that I could really make my own decisions. I couldn’t have total control, especially in the recruitment of the riders. It was the patron who had the power to make that decision, but he didn’t know anything about cycling. I didn’t want to work like that.”
Merckx is hoping to return to cycling as a sport director at some point, adding that cycling “is really growing on the other side of the Atlantic,” but it won’t be with Rock Racing.