Merckx heads to Phonak

Axel Merckx gets out of his Davitamon contract to join an old friend at Phonak, while Erik Zabel is

Axel Merckx gets out of his Davitamon contract to join an old friend at Phonak, while Erik Zabel is

PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM

Axel Merckx on Sunday morning informed his Davitamon-Lotto team-mates that he would be leaving them for the Phonak team at the end of the season.

Merckx announced his decision on the TGV train which took all 155 riders remaining in the Tour from Saint Etienne to Corbeil Essonnes ahead of the final stage of the Grande Boucle. The 32 year old's contract with Davitamon-Lotto was due to expire at the end of 2006, but Merckx persuaded the Belgian team's managers to let him join his old friend and Phonak chief John Lelangue.

"I have signed for one year with an option for a second, because I may still retire at the end of 2006," Merckx later confirmed. "The negotiations were very fast and straightforward. I'm happy because I'll be renewing my old friendship with John Lelangue, who I rode with as an amateur. The only negative aspect of the deal is that I won't be riding on Eddy Merckx bikes any more!"

Merckx is unlikely to be Lelangue's last signing between now and the start of the 2006 season. Erik Zabel has been tipped as Phonak's next high-profile capture, but is now also being linked with a shock move to Domina Vacanze.

According to L'Equipe, Domina Vacanze see Zabel as the ideal mentor and perhaps also lead-out man for Alessandro Petacchi, who signed for the Italian sponsor last week. The German airline TUI is apparently ready to bankroll Zabel's salary in return for its logo being displayed on the Domina team jersey.

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