MILAN (VN) — Axel Merckx has helped 18 cyclists — including Taylor Phinney and Joe Dombrowski — graduate to UCI WorldTeams over the last six years, a success rate he said is thanks to Axeon’s independence.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Merckx told VeloNews. “It’s a formula that works, not for everyone but for a big majority of the guys out there.
“I’m really proud of the team, it’s something that we’ve built up over the years. I’m trying to keep it going as long as I can.”
The Belgian former professional and son of cycling great Eddy Merckx announced in December a new look to his team for 2015. Bissell stepped down from the title sponsorship and took a smaller role, and the team was rebranded as Axeon.
Axeon is not a company, but a name that Merckx wants to help establish in cycling.
“One that is sustainable, with longevity that the fans and athletes can recognize,” Merckx said. “It’s a mix between the Axel Merckx Project and Neon Adventures, a group that invests in youth.”
Over the last six years, Merckx directed the team known as Trek-Livestrong, Bontrager, and in 2014, Bissell. In his stable, he had Phinney, who eventually signed with BMC Racing, Dombrowski (Sky), Ian Boswell (Sky), Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin), and many other talented cyclists.
Merckx said the freedom his team offers when cyclists want to move up to the professional ranks is better than that offered by the WorldTour farm teams.
“We have a great program that’s independent and riders are free to go where they want after they have been with us,” added Merckx. “You don’t want to be categorized with some team from the start. Once you enter that program, you are already ‘in the company’ and it’s hard to move away and move on. With us, you are free to go wherever you want.”
BMC, Etixx-Quick Step, Sky, and other WorldTeams have their own development teams or are linked to continental teams.
“I don’t blame the big teams for doing so, you want to have those young riders as soon as you can, but at the same time, you can’t forget that it’s not always the best path for them,” Merckx said.
“You want to make them come to you, you don’t want to force them to come to you by signing them early, telling them we’ll pay you X amount more. They are 18 and 19, and they need to think long-term.
“Those teams have a lot of background and resources for development, but the racing part of it has to remain, that’s the difference in being a part of a WorldTour team and being a part of a team like mine. You’re going to go to the start line under a big team with a big brand, with a lot of pressure, or you are going to go to the start line with big ambition, no pressure.”
Axeon plans to start in several big races in 2015, including U23 Paris-Roubaix, the Amgen Tour of California, the USA Pro Challenge, and the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. Its roster includes 12 cyclists, two at the club level.
2015 Axeon roster
Geoffrey Curran (USA)
Greg Daniel (USA)
Daniel Eaton (USA)
Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBR)
James Oram (NZ)
Logan Owen (USA)
Chris Putt (USA)
Keegan Swirbul (USA)
Ruben Guerrero (POR)
Justin Oien (USA)
*Will Barta (USA)
*Phil O’Donnell (USA)
*denotes club riders