Eddy Merckx criticises Mathieu van der Poel's decision to quit Tour de France

The cycling legend also described Mark Cavendish's return to form as a "miracle"

Mathieu van der Poel
(Image credit: Getty)

Eddy Merckx has expressed his disappointment at Mathieu van der Poel quitting the Tour de France, saying that the Dutchman should not have done so.

Van der Poel won stage two of this year’s race and wore the yellow jersey for six days before abandoning on the morning of stage nine, citing the need to recover and prepare for the upcoming Olympic Games where he will try and win gold in the mountain bike event.

Merckx, who won the Tour five times during his illustrious career, was an impressed onlooker at Van der Poel’s debut in the race, but he feels like he should not have left the race after the first week. 

The man widely regarded as the best male cyclist of all time made similar comments when Caleb Ewan quit the Giro d’Italia, sparking a debate that dominated the narrative for a number of days. 

“I couldn’t do it [quit after one week],” Merckx told Sporza in Belgium. “If you start a race, it’s not a goal to leave it.

 “Otherwise, you have to prepare for the Games in a different way. [Quitting] does not benefit cycling.

“Van der Poel himself is asking for such a full schedule. Nobody forces him to do all that.

“The Tour de France is the biggest race of the year and in cycling and I think it’s a pity.

Merckx, however, was keen to praise the performance of Van der Poel, especially with how he claimed yellow on the race’s second day.

“What he did on the Mûr-de-Bretagne was magnificent,” he continued. “To grab the bonus seconds on the first [finishing] lap and then the victory on the second lap you have to be really strong.

“I went to dinner with Mathieu van der Poel and his grandfather [Raymond] Poulidor. Pou-Pou was convinced that Mathieu could win the Tour. Unfortunately, I have to say that that is not possible.”

During the opening half of the Tour, Merckx’s name has been mentioned more times than usual due to Mark Cavendish’s comeback which could potentially see the Briton supersede the Briton as the man with the most Tour stage wins in history.

Across seven Tours, Merckx won a record 34 stages, a tally that most thought unsurpassable. 

For five years Cavendish was stuck on 30, but his two wins last week means that he is just two from equalling Merckx and three from taking the record outright.

“To be honest, I no longer believed in his comeback,” Merckx admitted. “Miracles can sometimes happen in cycling and I think that’s such a miracle. 

“If he gets closer, he has earned it. Cavendish is a fantastic and joyful boy. He is now in a team where he is revived.

“Being in a team with a good atmosphere and where the people hang out, you can always outdo yourself there.”