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Tim Merlier: Everyone always wants more and I’m the same

Belgian sprinter looks to replicate breakout 2021 season, builds toward classics and Giro d'Italia.

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TAVIRA, Portugal (VN) – One of the most fascinating plots from last year’s sprints in the men’s WorldTour was the dramatic rise of Tim Merlier.

The 29-year-old built on an already promising 2020 with a breakout season that included a stage win apiece in both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, as well as string of other major honors.

A late developer in the sprint game, Merlier returned to the fray in 2021 at the Volta ao Algarve, and although he has yet to open his account he finished second on stage 3, even after an early crash in the opening 10 kilometers.

The challenge facing Merlier this year comes in attempting to match those 2021 exploits.

“For sure I want to do well, like last year but we’ll have to see if it’s possible or not. I still have strong sprint legs, so I hope do the same,” he told VeloNews in Algarve.

“I didn’t expect last year to go that way but I always tried, and once you win one race you often win a second, and then a third. You start to believe more in yourself and that’s the key, I think.

“That belief of course wasn’t there in the start of my career. I don’t know why, but like I said winning can become automatic. The feeling of the team, the work we did together, it brought everything together really well. Momentum and confidence are important, but you also need the legs as well.”

Merlier isn’t daunted by the idea that his rivals will pay him even more attention this time around.

According to the Alpecin-Fenix rider that level of respect came during the previous campaign when his leadout consistently helped position him perfectly in several key sprints.

“They were already looking at me last year,” he said.

“Of course, they’re looking at me but I’m just going to keep doing my thing and try to be there in the final to ride my sprints. I put pressure on myself because I want results. Everyone wants more and more, and I’m the same. I want more and more. If that’s possible, I don’t know, but we’ll have to see.”

The coming weeks will see Merlier ramp up his season with a string of races on home soil.

Should Mathieu van der Poel return to fitness, Merlier and the Dutchman aim to carve up the spring classics between them, and Merlier has his eyes firmly fixed on picking up a semi-classic. After that the Belgian will build up for the Giro d’Italia. A return to the Tour de France is unlikely at this stage but a lot can happen between now and July.

“The big target for me is maybe a semi-classic in Flanders but you need to have the condition for that, so we’ll have to see over the next few weeks,” he told VeloNews.

“We’ll have to see after the Giro, and then we’ll decide if it’s possible or not for the Tour. Of course, I’d like to go to the Tour. It’s hard but if you win a stage there, it’s the biggest race in the world. A big win there, as a sprinter, it means that you’ve really shown yourself.”