Eddy Merckx

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For the bicycle brand, see Eddy Merckx Cycles. For the billiards player, see Eddy Merckx (billiards player).
Eddy Merckx
Merckx holding a bicycle. His shirt says "Molteni Arcore", and his hair is slicked back.
Merckx in 1973
Personal information
Full name Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx
Nickname The Cannibal[1]
Born (1945-06-17) 17 June 1945 (age 69)
Meensel-Kiezegem, Brabant, Belgium
Height 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)
Weight 74 kg (163 lb; 11.7 st)
Team information
Current team Retired
Discipline Road and track
Role Rider
Rider type All-rounder
Amateur team(s)
1961–1964 Evere Kerkhoek Sportif
Professional team(s)
1965 Solo-Superia
1966–1967 Peugeot-BP-Michelin
1968–1970 Faema
1971–1976 Molteni
1977 Fiat
1978 C&A
Major wins

Grand Tours

Tour de France
General classification (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974)
Points classification (1969, 1971, 1972)
Mountains classification (1969, 1970)
Combativity award (1969, 1970, 1974, 1975)
Combination classification (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974)
34 individual stages (1969–1975)
Giro d'Italia
General classification (1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974)
Points classification (1968, 1973)
Mountains classification (1968)
24 individual stages (1968–1974)
Vuelta a España
General classification (1973)
Points classification (1973)
Combination classification (1973)
6 individual stages (1973)

Stage races

Paris–Nice: (1969, 1970, 1971)
Tour de Suisse: (1974)

One-day races and Classics

Milan – San Remo (1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1976)
Tour of Flanders (1969, 1975)
Paris–Roubaix (1968, 1970, 1973)
Liège–Bastogne–Liège (1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975)
Giro di Lombardia (1971, 1972)
Super Prestige Pernod International (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975)
National Road Race Championships (1970)

Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Merckx (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈmɛrks]) (born 17 June 1945), better known as Eddy Merckx, is a Belgian former professional road and track bicycle racer. He was born in Meensel-Kiezegem, Brabant, Belgium to a couple who ran a grocery store. He grew up playing several sports, but found his true passion in cycling. Merckx got his first bicycle at the age of three or four and competed in his first race in 1961. After winning eighty races as an amateur racer, he turned professional on 29 April 1965 when he signed with Solo-Superia.

Merckx won nine races in his first season and switched to Peugeot-BP-Michelin for the 1966 and 1967 seasons. With Peugeot-BP-Michelin, Merckx competed in his first Grand Tour and won two editions of the Milan – San Remo. In 1968, he moved to Faema and stayed with them for three seasons. Merckx’s success increased during that span, winning four Grand Tours and eight classics. Upon the conclusion of the 1971 season Merckx moved to Molteni, where he stayed through the 1976 season. During this span, Merckx accomplished the Triple Crown in 1974, won six more Grand Tours, set a new hour record, along with several other victories. His performance dropped off in the 1977 and 1978 seasons.

On 18 May 1978 Merckx announced his retirement from the sport. He has since started his own bicycle chain, Eddy Merckx Cycles. He commentated for RTBF television on bicycle races. Merckx coached the Belgian national cycling team in the 1990s.

Merckx has been considered by many to be the greatest and most successful cyclist of all time, with 525 victories to his name. He has won eleven Grand Tours, twenty-eight classics, the world championship on three occasions, and several stage races multiple times. Merckx was known for his tenacious riding style and desire to win any race he competed in. However, Merckx was caught in three separate doping incidents during his career.

Early life and amateur career[edit]

Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx was born in Meensel-Kiezegem, Brabant, Belgium on 17 June 1945 to Jules and Jenny Merckx.[2][3] Merckx was the first born of the family.[2][3] In September 1946, the family moved to Sint-Pieters-Woluwe, near Brussels, Belgium in order to take over a grocery store that had been up for lease.[4][5] In May 1948, Jenny gave birth to a twins, a boy, Michel, and a girl, Micheline.[6] As a child Eddy was hyperactive and was always playing outside.[7]

As a child, Eddy was a competitive child and played several sports including: basketball, boxing, football, and table tennis.[8][9] He even played lawn tennis for the local junior team.[9] However, at the age of four Merckx claimed he knew he wanted to be a cyclist and that his first memory was a crash on his bike when he was the same age.[10] Merckx began riding a bike at the age of three or four and would ride to school everyday beginning at age eight.[11] Merckx would imitate his cycling idol Stan Ockers with his friends when they rode bikes together.[12]

In the summer of 1961, Merckx bought his first racing license and competed in his first race a month after he turned sixteen, coming in sixth place.[13] He rode in twelve more races before winning his first, at Petit-Enghien, on 1 October 1961.[14][15][16] In the winter following his first victory, he spent time and trained with former racer Félicien Vervaecke at the local velodrome.[17] Merckx then picked up his second victory 11 March 1962 in a kermis race.[17] Merckx competed in 55 races during the 1962 calendar year and as he devoted more time to cycling, his grades at school began to decline.[18] After winning the Belgian amateur road race title, Merckx declined an offer from his school's headmaster to have his exams postponed and dropped out of school.[19][20] He finished the season with twenty-three victories to his name.[20]

Merckx was selected for the men's road race at the 1964 Summer Olympics, where he finished in twelfth position.[21][22] Later in the season, he won the amateur road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Sallanches, France.[23] Merckx remained an amateur through April of 1965 and finished his amateur career with eighty wins to his credit.[24][25]

Professional career[edit]

1965–1967: Solo-Superia & Peugeot-BP-Michelin[edit]

Merckx turned professional on 29 April 1965 when he signed with Rik van Looy's Belgian team, Solo-Superia.[26] He won his first race in Vilvoorde where he beat out Emile Daems for the win.[27][28] On August 1,[27] Merckx finished second at the Belgian national championships, which qualified him for the men's road race at the UCI Road World Championships.[29] Merckx was approached by Bic team manager Raphaël Géminiani at the world championships and offered 2,500 francs a month to join their team the following season.[30] Merckx chose to sign; however, since he was a minor the contract must have been signed by his father or mother, meaning the contract was invalid.[30]

After finishing the road race in twenty-ninth position,[31] Merckx returned to Belgium and discussed his plans for the next season with his manager Jean Van Buggenhout.[30] Van Buggenhout helped orchestrate a move that sent Merckx to the French based Peugeot-BP-Michelin for 20,000 francs a month.[30][29] Merckx chose to leave Solo-Superia due to his treatment from the other riders, but primarily captain van Looy.[29] Van Looy and other teammates would mock Merckx for his various habits such as his eating or call him names.[32] In addition, Merckx later stated that during his time with van Looy's team he had not been taught anything.[28][29] During his tenure with Solo-Superia, he won a total of nine races out of the nearly seventy races he entered.[30][33]

A man on a bicycle, with a car behind him.
Merckx finished in twelfth position in the men's road race at the 1966 UCI Road World Championships.

In March of 1966, Merckx entered his first stage race as a professional rider, the Paris-Nice.[34] He took the race lead for a single stage before losing it to Jacques Anquetil and eventually coming in fourth overall upon the race's conclusion.[34] Milan – San Remo next on the calendar for Merckx. He managed to stay with the main field as the race entered the final climb of the Poggio.[35] He attacked on the climb and managed to reduce the field to a group of eleven, himself included.[36] Merckx was advised by his manager to hold off on sprinting full-out as late as possible. [35] Three other riders reached the line with Merckx, of which Merckx got the best and won the race.[35] In the following weeks, he raced the Tour of Flanders and the Paris-Roubaix, the former of which he crashed in and the latter of which he had a punctured tire.[37] At the 1966 UCI Road World Championships he finished twelfth in the road race after suffering a cramp in the closing kilometers.[37] He finished 1966 season with a total of twenty wins, including his first stage race win at the Tour of Morbihan.[37]

He opened the 1967 campaign with two stage victories at the Tour of Sardinia.[38] Right after he entered the Paris-Nice and won its second leg after a solo attack, giving Merckx the race lead as well.[38] Two stages later, teammate Tom Simpson attacked with several other riders on a climb and obtained an advantage of close to twenty minutes over Merckx, who was still in the peloton.[38] Merckx attacked two days later on a climb seventy kilometers into the stage.[39] Merckx was able to garner a firm advantage, but succumbed to orders from his manager to wait for the chasing Simpson.[39] Merckx won the stage, while Simpson solidified his impending victory.[39]

Three cyclists on a podium.
Merckx (center) on the podium after winning the men's road race at the 1967 UCI Road World Championships.

On 18 March,[40] Merckx started the Milan – San Remo and was seen as a 120–1 favorite to win the race.[39] He attacked on the Capo Berta and again on the Poggio, which left only him and Gianni Motta.[41] The two slowed their pace and were joined by two other riders.[41] The race came down to a sprint finish that Merckx managed to win.[41] His next victory came in La Flèche Wallonne after he missed out on an early break, caught up to it, and attacked from it to win the race.[42] The Giro d'Italia was Merckx's first Grand Tour, which began 20 May.[43] He won the twelfth and fourteenth stage en route to finishing ninth in the general classification.[44]

He signed with Faema on 2 September for ten years worth 400,000 Belgian francs.[45] He chose to switch over in order to be in complete control over the team he was racing for.[45] In addition, he would not have to pay for various expenses that came with racing such as wheels and tyres.[46] The next day, Merckx started the men's road race at the 1967 UCI Road World Championships in Heerlen, Netherlands.[47] The course consisted of ten laps of a circuit, of which Motta attacked on the first one.[46] Merckx joined Motta, along with two others and, later, three more.[47] He won the sprint ahead of Jan Janssen to win the event.[47] He became the third rider to win the world road race amateur and professional title.[47]

1968–1970: Faema[edit]

Merckx's first victory with his new team came at the Tour of Sardinia and then entered the Paris-Nice.[48] He was forced to quit the race due to a knee injury he sustained during the event.[49] He was unable to win his third consecutive Milan – San Remo and narrowly missed out at the Tour of Flanders.[49] His next victory came at Paris-Roubaix when he bested Herman Van Springel in a race that was plagued by poor weather and several punctures to the competing riders.[49]

At the behest of his team, Merckx raced the Giro d'Italia instead of the Tour de France.[49] He won the race's second stage after he attacked with one kilometer to go.[50][51] The twelfth stage was marred by rainy weather and featured the climbs of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. By the time Merckx had reached the punltimate climb, there was a six-man group at the front of the race with a nine minute advantage.[52] Merckx attacked and was able to get a sizable distance between himself and the group he left before he stopped to change his wheel in order to slow down due to orders from his team manager.[51][53] Merckx got back on his bike and caught the leading breakaway and rode past it to the finish, where he won the stage and took the race lead.[51][54] Merckx would go on to win the race, along with the points classification and mountains classification.[51]

In 1969, he first won Paris–Nice. In the time trial, he overtook the five-time Tour de France winner, Jacques Anquetil,[55] who for 15 years had been the world's best time-triallist. Merckx won Milan–San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

During the 1969 Giro d'Italia, he was found to have used drugs and was disqualified.[25] (See below – Doping)

A green field with the words "Coupe du monde".
Velodrome Eddy Merckx at Mourenx. Named in his honour in 1999.

Track crash[edit]

In 1969 Merckx crashed in a derny race in the Blois velodrome towards the end of the season. A pacer and a cyclist fell in front of Merckx's pacer, Fernand Wambst. Wambst died instantly, and Merckx was knocked unconscious. He cracked a vertebra and twisted his pelvis. He said his riding was never the same after the injuries.[25] He frequently adjusted his saddle while riding – including coming down the col de la Faucille on the way to Divonne-les-Bains – and was often in pain, especially while climbing.[56]

1969 Tour de France[edit]

The 1969 Tour de France was the first which Merckx won,[57] even though he was almost deprived of it by a doctor in Lille who found abnormalities in his heart rhythm.[58] Merckx was cleared to start after medical colleagues said the hearts of endurance athletes were often unusual.

Merckx won the 17th stage, over four cols from Luchon to Mourenx[N 1] by eight minutes after riding alone for 140 km.[57] He climbed the col du Tourmalet in a small group including Roger Pingeon and Raymond Poulidor, having dropped Felice Gimondi. On the final bend to the summit, Merckx attacked and opened a few seconds. By the foot of the col d'Aubisque he had more than a minute and by the top eight minutes. He maintained the pace for the remaining 70 km to Mourenx, an industrial town near Pau.

He won the general classification (yellow jersey), points classification (green jersey) and the mountains classification. No other rider has achieved this triple in the Tour de France, and only Tony Rominger and Laurent Jalabert have matched it in any grand tour.[N 2] Merckx also won the combination classification and the combativity award. Merckx led the race from stage six to twenty-two. His 17-minute 54 second margin of victory over second-placed Roger Pingeon has never been matched since. It was the first time a Belgian had won the Tour since Sylvère Maes 30 years earlier, and Merckx became a national hero.

1970 Tour de France[edit]

In the 1970 Tour de France, Merckx took the yellow jersey in the prologue, thrashing his bike. As the previous year he let the yellow jersey pass to a teammate, this time Italo Zilioli, taking it back after seven stages at Valenciennes. He won the prologue, in road stages, the final time trial and on Mont Ventoux. There he pushed himself so hard that he collapsed while talking to journalists, saying "No, it's impossible!"[59] He was carried to an ambulance for oxygen.[57] His eight stages equalled the record set in 1930 by Charles Pélissier.[60] He won the mountains classification and finished second in the sprinter's classification. He won by 12m 41s over Joop Zoetemelk.

1971–1976: Molteni[edit]

1971 Tour de France[edit]

Merckx chose a different preparation for his third Tour de France in 1971. In order to arrive fresher and as well to be in better condition in the autumn, Merckx chose not to defend his title at the Tour of Italy and instead rode two-week-long stage races, the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and the Grand Prix du Midi Libre, both of which he won the first stage and held on to the lead of both races until the end. Merckx arrived at the start of the Tour which began that year in Mulhouse to the pre-Tour hype which was summed up by former winner Jacques Anquetil who, speaking on French television program Les Dossiers de l'Ecran the day before the race began, said he wished that Merckx would be defeated.[61] The only rider of the period to shake Merckx was the Spaniard, Luis Ocaña, who lived near Mont-de-Marsan in south-west France. Ocaña cared little for Merckx's reputation and attacked him on the Puy de Dôme, dropping him but not taking the yellow jersey. Three days later, Ocaña attacked when the race reached the Alps. By Orcières-Merlette he had taken 8m 41s out of the Belgian. By then resentment had built at the way Merckx was winning everything.[62] Chany wrote, "There was a feeling that it would be good for cycling if he lost."[63] The title on the front page of Paris-Match was: "Is Merckx going to kill the Tour?" A rider at the Grand Prix du Midi Libre was quoted as saying: "When you know how much Merckx is earning, you sometimes lose the will to make an effort if you're paid in loose change [rabais]."[63] The resentment left Merckx to chase Ocaña without help. One rider, Celestino Vercelli, said:

Merckx never let anybody break away. But that day... we don't know.... The start was on an upgrade and he wasn't that brilliant in the beginning. Maybe he was still warming up and his adversaries, Luis Ocaña, Joaquim Agostinho, Joop Zoetemelk, noticed that and decided to break away immediately. It cost him dearly because the stage was long and very hard and there were four or five climbs. He took it badly, because it had never happened to him to be behind and lose so much time. Usually he was the one who was nine minutes in front the others![64]

A rest day followed and then a stage from Orcières-Merlette to Marseille. It started with 20 km downhill, followed by 280 km along a valley. Merckx and his team attacked from the start, led by Rini Wagtmans, immediately gaining several minutes. But the speed downhill and the heavier braking needed for bends led rims to overheat, melting the glue that held tyres to the rim. It happened to several riders and Merckx lost some of his teammates as a result.[64]

Merckx got to Marseille half an hour faster than the fastest expected time. The entire Kas team finished outside the time limit but were reinstated.[65] Only 1,000 spectators were at the finish early enough. Among those too late was the mayor of the city, Gaston Deferre,[N 3] who decided to see the finish at the last moment but arrived after the riders had left for the showers and the officials for their hotels. He forbade the Tour to return to the city for the rest of his career.[62] It next stopped in Marseille in 1989, three years after his death. Despite a stage that averaged 45.4 km/h, Merckx cut Ocaña's lead only to 7m 32s. He waited for the Pyrenees. There, on the col de Mente, hail and rain flooded the road. Unable to shake off Ocaña on the way up, Merckx tried to do so on the way down. The storm broke at the summit. Merckx missed a bend, hit a low wall and fell. He got up straight away but two spectators had gone to help him. Ocaña ran into them, crashed heavily and was hit by Zoetemelk and then two other riders who had been following by a few seconds. Merckx who was descending the mountain fell a further two times before hearing what had happened behind him.[61] Ocaña's fall had taken him out of the race and gave the yellow jersey to Merckx, although he declined to wear it next morning in respect for the Spaniard.[62][66] Merckx won the Tour by 9m 51s over Zoetemelk and 11m 6s over Lucien Van Impe. After the Tour, the Belgian Cycling Federation named the team for the world championships and despite his wish to have several trade teammates on the team, Merckx would only have one trade teammate. In response, Merckx re-arranged his post-Tour schedule and trained with complete resolution to win. On a challenging circuit in Mendrisio, Switzerland Merckx attacked several times and broke away with Felice Gimondi whom he beat in the sprint to take his second rainbow jersey.[61]

1972 Tour de France[edit]

In 1972, there was anticipation of a rematch between Merckx and Ocaña.[67] Merckx won the prologue at Angers but lost the yellow jersey when Cyrille Guimard won the following day at St-Brieuc. Guimard held the lead for seven stages, despite growing knee pain. Merckx won the stage at Luchon on day eight and with it the lead. He kept the yellow jersey to the end, winning the sprint competition and coming second to Van Impe in the mountains. The battle with Ocaña fizzled out when the Spaniard crashed in the Pyrenees again,[67] falling on the Aubisque, and dropping out with a lung infection on the 15th day.[68]

With four wins, Merckx was approaching Jacques Anquetil's record of five, and the French public was becoming hostile. He had already been whistled at the finish in Vincennes after winning in 1970.[69] For that reason, the Tour organisers asked Merckx not to start in 1973; instead he won the Vuelta a España, where he beat Luis Ocaña and Bernard Thévenet, and he won the Giro.

Hour record[edit]

An orange bicycle behind glass.
The bicycle Merckx used during his hour speed record attempt. On display at the Eddy Merckx metro station on the Brussels Metro.

Merckx set the hour record in 1972. On 25 October, after he had raced a full road season winning the Tour, Giro and four classics, Merckx covered 49.431 km (30.715 miles)at high altitude in Mexico City.[70][71]Merckx used a Colnago bicycle to break the record, which had been lightened to a weight of 5.75 kg – lighter than bicycles used in subsequent hour record attempts by Francesco Moser, Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman. Merckx described his ride for the hour record as “the longest of my career”.[72]

The record remained untouched until 1984, when Francesco Moser broke it using a specially designed bicycle, meticulous improvements in streamlining and medical advice from Francesco Conconi. Over 15 years, various racers improved the record to more than 56 km. However, because of the increasingly exotic design of the bikes and position of the rider, these performances were no longer reasonably comparable to Merckx's achievement. In response, the UCI in 2000 required a "traditional" bike to be used. When time trial specialist Chris Boardman, who had retired from road racing and had prepared himself specifically for beating the record, had another go at Merckx's distance 28 years later, he beat it by slightly more than 10 meters (at sea level). To date, only Boardman and Ondřej Sosenka have improved on Merckx's record using traditional equipment.

1974 Giro d'Italia[edit]

His final victory came in a battle with the Italians Gianbattista Baronchelli, whom he beat by 12 seconds, and Felice Gimondi, who lost by 33 seconds.[73]

1974 Tour de France[edit]

By 1974, "the wear and tear was beginning to show," Merckx acknowledged.[74] Yet he still won the Giro, the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France, including its closing stage in Paris, within eight weeks. Far from challenging Merckx, Ocaña rode the Vuelta with bronchitis, started the Midi-Libre but dropped out, then broke a bone in the Tour de l'Aude. His sponsor, the pen and lighter company, Bic, fired him.[75][N 4]

The novelty of the Tour was its first excursion to England, for a criterium up and down an unopened bypass near Plymouth. By the ninth stage, the race looked over. Patrick Sercu had the sprinters' jersey after winning three stages, and Merckx was in yellow. The Dutchman, Gerben Karstens, challenged both by collecting repeated bonuses in the intermediate sprints each day but lost his chance in a war of words as well as wheels[76] when Sercu and Merckx joined forces as rivals against a common enemy. The race then settled in to ride round France in a heatwave. And then, said Chany, came a remarkable attack on the Mont du Chat, above Lac du Bourget.

Poulidor's tentative attack didn't succeed and next day he lost five minutes. But he twice more bettered Merckx in the Pyrenees, at St-Lary and on the Tourmalet. Merckx won the Tour 8m 4s ahead of Poulidor and a further three in front of Vicente Lopez-Carril. It left journalists divided about whether they had seen a remarkable comeback by Poulidor or the first signs of vulnerability in Merckx.[77] Michel Pollentier, "at the price of unbelievable contortions [on his bike]",[75] beat Merckx by 10 seconds in the time trial at Orléans just before Paris.

Victory gave Merckx five wins in the Tour, equalling Anquetil. Over the next 25 years, only Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain were able to equal him.

1975 Tour de France[edit]

Merckx's domination in the grands tours ended in 1975. The race started well – he held the yellow jersey for eight days, raising his total to 96 – but ended in disappointment.

The finishing climb on the Puy de Dôme (12 km, 7% gradient) was the beginning of the end for Merckx. The legendary giant of the Massif Central has provided the Tour with great drama over the years. This year's battle would write another chapter in Tour history. Just over 4 kilometers up the finishing climb, Thevenet charged off the front with Van Impe in tow. The two slowly pulled away from Merckx and Zoetemelk. The race leader, trying to limit his time loss, was forced to do all the work in pursuit of the breakaway. As Merckx tried to close the gap near the top of the climb he was punched by a spectator. Review of French TV film shows the man standing alongside the road with his hands at his side. As Merckx passes him the man punches him in the lower right abdomen (not a kidney punch as has been claimed in the past) with as much force as he probably could from launching the punch from a hip position. Most of the force was pushed away as the man's arm was thrown back from the momentum of the movement of Merckx up the hill. Merckx grabbed his side for a second. But, a second later, he had both hands back on the handlebar and was moving at the same speed as he was before the spectator hit him. The image of the spectator is very clear in the film. He was identified and charged with assault on Merckx that day and fined with symbolic one franc. The exhausted Merckx couldn't close the gap. But, he did hold on to finish third, 34 seconds behind Thevenet who was second and, Van Impe who was first. But, the Frenchman had landed a fatal blow that cut into the overall lead and trailed Merckx by only 58 seconds as the Tour headed into the Alps .

After a rest day in Nice, the Tour continued with a 5-climb stage. On the Col des Champs, the third climb of the day, Thevenet repeatedly attacked in an effort to crack the race leader. Gamely Merckx was able to cover all of Thevenet's moves and launched an attack of his own on the descent. Thevenet managed to catch Merckx in the valley just before the Col d'Allos. The always-aggressive Merckx, searching for weakness, attacked again on the Allos. Over the top with a lead, he plunged down the descent. On the narrow bumpy road, Merckx took all the risks necessary to gain time. He sailed through the bottom of the descent with over a minute lead on the Thevenet led chasers. The Cannibal then set his sights on the final climb to the top of Pra Loup. He had a 2-minute lead on the chasers as the road turned upward.

Merckx was 6 km from putting the race out of reach. However, the long breakaway effort had taken its toll and Merckx began to slow. Gimondi was the first to catch the leader, then Thevenet, then Van Impe and Zoetemelk. The Frenchman sensed a weakness and sprinted by the tired race leader. Thevenet took the stage win by 1m 58s over Merckx and gained the race lead.

Inspired by the yellow jersey, Thevenet attacked on the next stage and rode away from the Merckx group on the classic climb of the Col d'Izoard. He rode alone to win his second stage in a row. Thevenet's win and time gain widened the gap to the now second-place Merckx to 3m 20s. There was still one climbing stage remaining in the Alps and Merckx needed time gains.

Eddy Merckx had one intention at the start of stage 17 in Valloire, get back the yellow jersey. Merckx launched an all-out attack from the starting line, 225 km from the finish at the top of the Col d'Avoriaz. Misfortune struck early when Merckx slid and crashed heavily. Although injured, he quickly remounted his bicycle and continued the race. His injuries include a bruised hip and knee, as well as a broken jaw, but he continued to ride hard. Although struggling to breathe, he refused treatment. By the end of the stage, the injured Cannibal finished third, 2 seconds ahead of Thevenet. The "never say die" Belgian was fighting all adversities to the end.

Gamely, Merckx gained another 15 seconds on the final ITT in Chatel, but the finish in Paris was only four flat stages away. When the Tour reached the final stage, Thevenet had an insurmountable 2m 47s lead on Merckx and cruised down the Champs Elysees for his first Tour de France victory. Gracious in defeat the second-place Merckx said, "I tried everything and it didn't work. It's always the strongest that wins, and the strongest is Thevenet." The winner returned the compliment saying, "Tell me who was second to you and I will tell you the value of your victory."

He said riding the 1975 Tour did not in itself shorten his career, but...

...the fact that I continued in the 1975 Tour de France after I crashed definitely did shorten it. My build-up to that race had already been problematical, and actually I wasn't in the best of health when I started it. But after the crash, in which I fractured my cheekbone, I suffered like you cannot imagine possible. I could not take in anything but liquids. I had to race on empty. I had to continue for the sake of the race, for honour and for my teammates. They depended on my prize money. Remember that I still finished second. What I should have done, looking back, was pay my riders what I would have earned out of my own pocket and left the race. Then maybe with my strength rebuilt I could have been competitive in 1976.[56]

1976 Tour de France[edit]

Merckx began 1976 by winning his seventh Milan – San Remo[78] but missed winning the Tour of Flanders after falling on the Koppenberg and walking to the top because it was too steep to get back in the saddle.[78] A saddle sore still troubled him and his doctor told him not to ride the Tour.[79]

1977–1978: Fiat & C&A[edit]

1977 Tour de France[edit]

"It was no different until the [1977] season got into full swing. I prepared well and actually won my first big race, the Tour of the Mediterranean, but as soon as more racing came along my body failed. I kept catching colds and other minor illnesses, where before I rarely did. I started to get little niggling strains and injuries too. Still, I was sixth in the Tour de France that year, and won 17 races. Wouldn't Belgium like to have someone who could finish sixth in the Tour now?
But deep down I knew it was gone."

Eddy Merckx[56]

The 1977 Tour was one too many for Merckx.[78] He suffered on the col de la Madeleine and lost 13 seconds to Hennie Kuiper on Alpe d'Huez. Didi Thurau, a 22-year-old German, beat him in the Pyrenees and bettered him by 50 seconds in the time trial. With Géminiani, his manager in the Fiat team, he had agreed to ride a light start to the season with the aim of a sixth win.[80] But having been outridden by both Thurau and Thévenet, he fell ill. Chany wrote:

By St-Étienne, Merckx had risen to sixth place and began talking of riding the Tour again in 1978, "stupifying those who heard him and splitting his team," according to Chany. The 1977 Tour collapsed into a doping scandal when Zoetemelk was found guilty. Rumours abounded about others. Thévenet won for the second time and four months later said he had succeeded by taking cortisone.[81] Merckx finished sixth, 12m 38s behind. He never did ride in 1978, the year which produced the first victory by Bernard Hinault, the next to win the Tour de France five times.

World championship victories[edit]

A few men riding on racing bicycles with a lot of spectators cheering.
Merckx at the 1974 world road championship in Montreal

Merckx also won the world championship in 1974 for the third time, which only Alfredo Binda and Rik van Steenbergen had done before him, and only Óscar Freire would do after him. Because of his victories in the three most important races of the year, the 1974 Tour de France, the 1974 Giro d'Italia and the 1974 world championship, Merckx won the Triple Crown of Cycling. Since then, only Stephen Roche has been able to do that, in 1987.

Classics victories[edit]

Merckx had an impressive list of victories in one-day races, the Classic cycle races, (See Significant victories by race). Among highlights are a record seven victories in Milan – San Remo (absolute record in one classic), two in the Tour of Flanders, three in Paris–Roubaix, five in Liège–Bastogne–Liège (record), and two in the Giro di Lombardia, a total of 19 victories. He also won the world road championship a record three times in 1967, 1971 and 1974, and most of the major classic races, a notable exception being Paris–Tours.

The only rider to have won all the classics is Rik van Looy, Merckx having missed Paris–Tours. A lesser Belgian rider, Noël van Tyghem, won Paris–Tours in 1972[82] and said: "Between us, I and Eddy Merckx have won every classic that can be won. I won Paris–Tours, Merckx won all the rest."[83]

Retirement[edit]

Building.
The Eddy Merckx bicycle factory in Meise.
Merckx awarding the leading jersey to Ellen van Dijk during the 2015 Ladies Tour of Qatar

Merckx's last victory was an omnium at Zürich on 10 February 1978 with Patrick Sercu, in preparation for the 1978 road season and after a successful yet demanding Six Days saison, winning five out of seven participations, cramped into a period two and a half months, and winning the European Championship Madison in November, all with Sercu as his racing partner in these events. His last race was the Omloop van het Waasland, at Kemzeke on 19 March 1978. He finished 12th. He had already abandoned the Omloop Het Volk, exhausted. His sponsor, the clothing chain, C&A, had supported his team only after long and difficult negotiations[84] and did not intend to continue next season. Merckx told his soigneur, Pierrot De Wit, during their journey home that he had ridden his last race. De Wit argued but Merckx announced his decision at a press conference in Brussels on 18 May 1978. Merckx said:

I am living the most difficult day of my life. I can no longer prepare myself for the Tour de France, which I wanted to ride for a final time as a farewell [apothéose]. After consulting my doctors, I've decided to stop racing.[84]

Doping[edit]

Merckx was leading the 1969 Giro d'Italia upon the conclusion of the sixteenth stage in Savona.[85][86][87] After the stage, Merckx traveled to the mobile lab that traveled with the race and conducted the drug tests.[88][N 5] Merckx’s first test came up positive for fencamfamine, an amphetamine.[85][86][88][87] A second test was conducted and also came up positive.[86][88][87] The word spread about Merckx's positive test while Merckx himself was still asleep.[87] The positive test meant Merckx was to be suspended for a month.[89] Race director Vincenzo Torriani delayed the start of the seventeenth stage in an attempt to persuade the president of the Italian Cycling Federation to allow Merckx to begin the stage.[87] However, the president was not in his office and Torriani was forced to start the stage, disqualifying Merckx in the process.[87] In the succeeding days, the Union Cycliste Internationale removed the suspension put in place.[86][87]

From the start, Merckx claimed his innocence saying that "I am a clean rider, I do not need to take anything to win."[90] He maintains that his samples were mishandled.[86][87][91] After the incident, several conspiracy theories emerged including: the urine that tested positive wasn't Merckx's,[92] a move to give Italian Felice Gimondi a better chance at victory,[93][94] and Merckx's had been given a water bottle with the stimulant in it.[94]

On 8 November 1973, it was announced that Merckx had tested positive for norephedrine after winning the Giro di Lombardia a month earlier.[95][96] Upon learning of the first test being positive in later October, he had a counter-analysis performed that also turned up positive.[95] The drug was present in a cough medicine that the Molteni doctor, Dr. Cavalli, prescribed to him.[95] Merckx was disqualified from the race and the victory was awarded to second place finisher Gimondi.[95][96][97] In addition, Merckx was given a month suspension and fined 150,000 lira.[95][96] Merckx admitted his fault in taking the medicine but said that the name norephedrine was not on the bottle of cough syrup he used.[95]

Then he was caught after taking Stimul (pemoline) in the 1977 Flèche Wallonne. Merckx said:

"That, I can't deny. I was positive along with around 15 others. I was wrong to trust a doctor."[25]

The World Anti-Doping Agency removed norephedrine, phenylpropanolamine, from the list of banned drugs in 2004;[25] however, this drug is currently on the WADA list of banned substances and therefore would garner a suspension of current riders.[98] Merckx said in 2007 that he wanted the Union Cycliste Internationale to give him back his victory: "I was disqualified for taking a syrup which had been taken off the list of forbidden products." At the time, 1973, banned drugs were listed individually; they were later classed by category.

Because of his doping record, the organisers of the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart asked Merckx to stay away. The decision was criticized in the press and by the UCI.[99] When he confirms his stance against doping, Merckx points out that cycling is unfairly treated compared to other sports.

In the 1990s, he became a friend of Lance Armstrong, and supported him when Armstrong was accused of drug use, stating he rather "believed what Lance told him than what appeared in newspapers". Dr. Michele Ferrari claimed that Merckx introduced him to Armstrong in 1995.[100]

Post-retirement[edit]

Main article: Eddy Merckx Cycles

On 28 March 1980, Merckx opened a bicycle factory in Brussels, Belgium, called Eddy Merckx Cycles.[101] It quickly gained prominence in the cycling world, and today still is considered one of the most prestigious brands in the world of cycling.[101][102]

Merckx is a race commentator on RTBF television.[103] He was coach of the Belgian national cycling team during the mid-90s, and part of the Belgian Olympic Committee. Merckx is still asked to comment as an authority. As such, he was advisor for the Tour of Qatar in 2002. He lives in Meise, Vlaams-Brabant.

Personal life[edit]

Merckx began dating Claudine Acou in April 1965.[104] Acou was a 21-year-old teacher and daughter of the trainer of the national amateur team.[105] On December 5, 1967 Merckx married Acou.[104][106]

The couple married at the town hall in Anderlecht, a suburb of Brussels. The mayor said: "Sometimes I am envious of cycling champions. When they win, there is always a pretty girl to give them a kiss. For my part, no one kisses me when I have a good win, so I'm going to profit from this occasion by kissing the bride now."[105] The witnesses to the marriage were Merckx's manager, Jean van Buggenhout, and a cabinet-maker from Etterbeek, who taught Merckx to ride a bike. The religious service which followed was in Merckx's local church rather than his bride's. Merckx's mother asked the priest, Father Fabien, to celebrate the ceremony in French, a choice that ended up being a contentious issue in Belgium.[N 6] The priest said: "You are now started on a tandem race; believe me, it will not be easy."[105] The couple have two children: a daughter (Sabrina) and a son, Axel, who also became a professional cyclist.[25]

In 1996 Albert II of Belgium King of the Belgians, gave him the title of baron.[103] In 2000 he was chosen Belgian "Sports Figure of the Century". In March 2000 he was received by the Pope in the Vatican.[74]

Merckx is known as a quiet and modest person. Three of his former riders have worked in his bicycle factory and join him during recreational bike tours.[56] Merckx has become an ambassador for the Damien The Leper Society, a foundation named after a Catholic priest, which battles leprosy and other diseases in developing countries. Merckx is an art lover; his favourite artist is René Magritte; a Belgian surrealist.[56]

In May 2004, he had an esophagus operation to cure stomach ache suffered since he was young. He lost almost 30 kg and took up recreational cycling again. In March 2013, Merckx had surgery to add a pacemaker to correct the problem with his heart's rhythm.[107]

Legacy[edit]

Merckx has been regarded by many as the greatest cyclist of all-time.[24] Merckx won a total of 525 races as both a professional and an amateur racer. During his professional career, he won 445 of the 1585 races he entered.[24]

Dutch cycling great Joop Zoetemelk said there "First there was Merckx, and then another classification began behind him."[24] Ted Costantino wrote that Merckx was undoubtedly the number one cyclist of all time, whereas in other sports there are debates that go on about who is actually the greatest of all time.[24] Gianni Motta told of how Merckx would ride without a racing cape when it was snowing or raining in order to go faster than other riders.[33]

Relationship with contemporary cyclists[edit]

Because Merckx was so dominant, very few fellow riders wanted to help him to win races, the rivalry was especially strong with other Belgian riders. But Merckx was able to get a few loyal team mates to help him, such as Joseph Bruyere. A star of the winter Six-Day track circuit Patrick Sercu was one of the very few riders that could match Merckx for status, and together they made a very formidable racing partnership, winning several Six-Day races. Merckx was often treated like a royal VIP wherever he went, which sometimes upset other riders, who felt they deserved more respect. Even after his retirement, many subsequent stars still feel over-shadowed by his fame and race results. Merckx befriended Fiorenzo Magni when he began racing for an Italian team.[108]

Career achievements[edit]

Grand Tour and World Championship results timeline[edit]

Grand Tour 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977
Vuelta a España - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Giro d'Italia - - 9 1 Dsq 1 - 1 1 1 - 8 -
Tour de France - - - - 1 1 1 1 - 1 2 - 6
World Championship Jersey rainbow.svg 29 12 1 8 Abn 29 1 4 4 1 8 5 33

Dsq : disqualified for doping
Abn : abandoned

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ The "Eddy Merckx" velodrome at Mourenx was named in his honour on the 30th anniversary of his first Tour de France victory in 1969. Merckx was present for the ceremony.
  2. ^ Tony Rominger (1993) and Laurent Jalabert (1995) have won all 3 jerseys in the Vuelta a España
  3. ^ Gaston Defferre was mayor of the city of Marseille for more than 30 years. He was repeatedly linked to dubious business ventures and to the Mafia. The city became Europe's biggest drug-provider in the two decades after the war, culminating in the so-called French Connection. In 1983 he managed to be re-elected with fewer votes than his opponent, having changed the city's voting rules while also minister of the interior.
  4. ^ The Ocaña episode ended Bic's sponsorship. The team wasn't pleased that he had raced when he was ill, nor to read in the papers rather than hear from Ocaña that he wouldn't ride the Tour. On the other hand, Ocaña had complained publicly that he had not been paid. The Baron Marcel Bich, owner of Bic, said the money had left him. When he heard that it hadn't reached Ocaña, he dropped out of professional cycling. See Raphaël Géminiani.
  5. ^ At the 1969 Giro d’Italia the top two in the general classification were drug tested after each stage, along with two other cyclists chosen at random.[88]
  6. ^ Brussels is a largely French-speaking enclave in the Dutch-speaking, northern half of Belgium. History, changes in regional prosperity and different attitudes have long separated Belgium more than geographically. Merckx, who is bilingual, was born in one of the few regions of Brussels in which both languages were spoken but more Dutch than French. He then lived in one in which the languages were reversed. His command of both languages and his residence in Brussels meant both communities claimed him. Even his name confuses the situation. Merckx, with its consonants, is a Dutch-sounding name. The contraction of Edouard to "Eddy" is a French customary nickname. Had he been a pure Fleming, it would probably have been shortened to "Ward". Merckx has always resisted saying whether he feels aligned to one community more than another. He finished high in both the Flemish (3rd) and Walloon (4th) editions of the Greatest Belgian contest in 2005.
Citations
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  2. ^ a b Friebe 2012, p. 104.
  3. ^ a b Fotheringham 2012, p. 20.
  4. ^ Fotheringham 2012, p. 22.
  5. ^ Graham Robb (2012-03-16). "Merckx: Half-Man, Half-Bike by William Fotheringham – review". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 2013-04-13. 
  6. ^ Fotheringham 2012, p. 23.
  7. ^ Fotheringham 2012, p. 23-24.
  8. ^ Fotheringham 2012, p. 24.
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  11. ^ Fotheringham 2012, p. 30.
  12. ^ Fotheringham 2012, p. 28-29.
  13. ^ Fotheringham 2012, p. 31.
  14. ^ Vélo, France, November 2000
  15. ^ Fotheringham 2013, p. 15-16.
  16. ^ Friebe 2012, p. 108.
  17. ^ a b Fotheringham 2012, p. 32.
  18. ^ Friebe 2012, p. 108-109.
  19. ^ Friebe 2012, p. 109-110.
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  100. ^ An Interview With Dr. Michele Ferrari, part two, 2003, Tim Maloney / Cyclingnews European Editor
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  103. ^ Cite error: The named reference MrBio was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  104. ^ a b Fotheringham 2013, p. 69.
  105. ^ a b c Cycling, UK, 16 December 1967, p22
  106. ^ Friebe 2012, p. 11.
  107. ^ "Eddy Merckx fitted with a pacemaker to control heart issues — VeloNews.com". Velonews.competitor.com. 2013-03-22. Retrieved 2013-10-30. 
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Bibliography
Further reading
  • Vanwalleghem, Rik (1989). Eddy Merckx, mijn levensverhaal : de ware selfmade man als wielrenner en als zakenman (in Dutch). Helios. ISBN 90-289-1465-X. 
  • Rosier, Erik (1973). Eddy Merckx (in Dutch). Franco-Suisse. OCLC 57423874. 
  • Cornand, Jan and Blancke, Andre (1975). Hoe Merckx de tour verloor / wielerseizoen 1975 van A tot Z (in Dutch). Het Volk. 

External links[edit]

Records
Preceded by
Ole Ritter
UCI hour record (49.431 km)
25 October 1972 – 27 October 2000
Succeeded by
Chris Boardman