Tough day for Tim Merlier in Talavera de la Reina. Fifteen minutes after stage winner Mads Pedersen, he crossed the line, accompanied by Alpecin teammates Jimmy Janssens and Lionel Taminiaux, who rode with him all day to meet the time limit. “It was very tough,” said Merlier. “The sprint days in this Vuelta are always the warmest. (laughs).”
It was – as agreed in advance – Gianni Vermeersch who could take his chance at Alpecin-Deceuninck. He took a good third place. “Gianni is my roommate and I told him this morning what to do in the sprint,” said Merlier. “If he finishes third, he must have listened carefully.”
For Merlier himself, the Vuelta is a little agony: he gives up in the mountain stages and the few times he comes to sprint, it just didn’t work out or not at all. This is partly due to bad luck: in stage three to Breda his chain came off, after a perfect lead out. “I think Tim had always won there,” said teammate Gianni Vermeersch.
In the other two sprints – Utrecht and Cabo de Gato – the lead-out always went wrong. Alpecin-Deceuninck did not bring riders with a lot of experience in that work to this Vuelta. Lionel Taminiaux a bit, for Vermeersch and Xandro Meurisse it is new. “It will have to do with my leaving the team,” said Merlier. “But everyone is doing what they can. I continue to believe in it. If you can win a stage in the Giro and the Tour, you should also succeed in the Vuelta. But apparently it’s not that simple.”
Sports director Michel Cornelisse said earlier that the team would like to give Merlier a parting gift and the rider himself also feels that way. “A lump in the throat”, he gets from the hard work Jimmy Janssens did for him yesterday.
In Madrid, Merlier will have one last sprint chance on Sunday. If he takes it, his Vuelta is still successful and he will answer, among others, Patrick Lefevere and José De Cauwer. They said in advance that Merlier “should do a big lap now.” The Belgian champion shrugs: “In the Giro I gave up last year because it was planned that way. In the Tour I fell the first day and then I held up three kilos of fluid. I also didn’t get the support (uphill) that I do have now. I have always found that story of driving out to be bullshit.” (jpdv)