Merckx in 1973
|Full name||Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx|
17 June 1945 |
Meensel-Kiezegem, Brabant, Belgium
|Height||1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)|
|Weight||74 kg (163 lb; 11.7 st)|
|Discipline||Road and track|
|1961–1964||Evere Kerkhoek Sportif|
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. His first victory came at Petit-Enghien in October 1961.
After winning eighty races as an amateur racer, he turned professional on 29 April 1965 when he signed with Solo-Superia where his first major victory came in the Milan–San Remo a year later after switching to Peugeot-BP-Michelin. Following the 1967 season, Merckx moved to Faema where he won the Giro d'Italia, his first of eleven Grand Tour victories – a record that still stands today. In each year following the 1969 season until 1974, Merckx managed to complete a Grand Tour double each season, with his final double also coinciding with winning the men's road race at the UCI Road World Championships to make him the first rider to accomplish cycling's Triple Crown. Merckx even broke the hour record in October 1972, extending the record by almost 800 meters.
He acquired the nickname "The Cannibal" after a teammate told his daughter of how Merckx wouldn't let anyone else win and the daughter referred to him as a cannibal. Merckx finished his eighteen-year career with 525 victories to his credit. He is one of only three riders to have won all five 'Monuments of Cycling' (i.e., Milan–San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris–Roubaix, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and the Giro di Lombardia). The other two are fellow Belgians Roger De Vlaeminck and Rik Van Looy. The only major one-day race he did not win was Paris–Tours; his best performance was sixth in 1973. Merckx was able to achieve success on the road and on the track, as well as in the large stage races and one-day races. He is widely thought to be the greatest and most successful rider in the history of cycling.
Since Merckx's retirement from the sport on 18 May 1978, he has remained active in the cycling world. He began his own bicycle chain, Eddy Merckx Cycles, in 1980 and its bicycles were used by several professional teams in the 1980s and 1990s. Merckx coached the Belgian national cycling team for eleven years, stopping in 1996. in 2001, he played a large role in getting the Tour of Qatar organized and geared to start up in 2002. He co-owns the tour and also the Tour of Oman, both of which he still organizes.
Early life and amateur career
Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx was born in Meensel-Kiezegem, Brabant, Belgium on 17 June 1945 to Jules and Jenny Merckx. Merckx was the first born of the family. In September 1946, the family moved to Sint-Pieters-Woluwe, in Brussels, Belgium in order to take over a grocery store that had been up for lease. In May 1948, Jenny gave birth to twins, a boy, Michel, and a girl, Micheline. As a child Eddy was hyperactive and was always playing outside.
Eddy was a competitive child and played several sports including: basketball, boxing, football, and table tennis. He even played lawn tennis for the local junior team. 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. Merckx began riding a bike at the age of three or four and would ride to school everyday beginning at age eight. Merckx would imitate his cycling idol Stan Ockers with his friends when they rode bikes together.
In the summer of 1961, Merckx bought his first racing license and competed in his first official race a month after he turned sixteen, coming in sixth place. He rode in twelve more races before winning his first, at Petit-Enghien, on 1 October 1961. In the winter following his first victory, he spent time and trained with former racer Félicien Vervaecke at the local velodrome. Merckx then picked up his second victory 11 March 1962 in a kermis race. 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. 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. He finished the season with twenty-three victories to his name.
Merckx was selected for the men's road race at the 1964 Summer Olympics, where he finished in twelfth position. Later in the season, he won the amateur road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Sallanches, France. Merckx remained an amateur through April 1965 and finished his amateur career with eighty wins to his credit.
1965–1967: Solo-Superia & Peugeot-BP-Michelin
Merckx turned professional on 29 April 1965 when he signed with Rik van Looy's Belgian team, Solo-Superia. He won his first race in Vilvoorde where he beat out Emile Daems for the win. On August 1, Merckx finished second at the Belgian national championships, which qualified him for the men's road race at the UCI Road World Championships. 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. 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.
After finishing the road race in twenty-ninth position, Merckx returned to Belgium and discussed his plans for the next season with his manager Jean Van Buggenhout. Van Buggenhout helped orchestrate a move that sent Merckx to the French based Peugeot-BP-Michelin for 20,000 francs a month. Merckx chose to leave Solo-Superia due to his treatment from the other riders, but primarily captain van Looy. Van Looy and other teammates would mock Merckx for his various habits such as his eating or call him names. In addition, Merckx later stated that during his time with van Looy's team he had not been taught anything. During his tenure with Solo-Superia, he won a total of nine races out of the nearly seventy races he entered.
In March 1966, Merckx entered his first stage race as a professional rider, the Paris–Nice. 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. 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. He attacked on the climb and managed to reduce the field to a group of eleven, himself included. Merckx was advised by his manager to hold off on sprinting full-out as late as possible.  Three other riders reached the line with Merckx, of which Merckx got the best and won the race. 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. At the 1966 UCI Road World Championships he finished twelfth in the road race after suffering a cramp in the closing kilometers. He finished 1966 season with a total of twenty wins, including his first stage race win at the Tour of Morbihan.
He opened the 1967 campaign with two stage victories at the Tour of Sardinia. Right after he entered the Paris-Nice and won its second leg after a solo attack, giving Merckx the race lead as well. 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. Merckx attacked two days later on a climb seventy kilometers into the stage. Merckx was able to garner a firm advantage, but succumbed to orders from his manager to wait for the chasing Simpson. Merckx won the stage, while Simpson solidified his impending victory.
On 18 March, Merckx started the Milan–San Remo and was seen as a 120–1 favorite to win the race. He attacked on the Capo Berta and again on the Poggio, which left only him and Gianni Motta. The two slowed their pace and were joined by two other riders. The race came down to a sprint finish that Merckx managed to win. 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. The Giro d'Italia was Merckx's first Grand Tour, which began 20 May. He won the twelfth and fourteenth stage en route to finishing ninth in the general classification.
He signed with Faema on 2 September for ten years worth 400,000 Belgian francs. He chose to switch over in order to be in complete control over the team he was racing for. In addition, he would not have to pay for various expenses that came with racing such as wheels and tyres. The next day, Merckx started the men's road race at the 1967 UCI Road World Championships in Heerlen, Netherlands. The course consisted of ten laps of a circuit, of which Motta attacked on the first one. Merckx joined Motta, along with two others and, later, three more. He won the sprint ahead of Jan Janssen to win the event. He became the third rider to win the world road race amateur and professional title.
Merckx's first victory with his new team came at the Tour of Sardinia and then entered the Paris-Nice. He was forced to quit the race due to a knee injury he sustained during the event. He was unable to win his third consecutive Milan–San Remo and narrowly missed out at the Tour of Flanders. 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.
At the behest of his team, Merckx raced the Giro d'Italia instead of the Tour de France. He won the race's second stage after he attacked with one kilometer to go. The twelfth stage was marred by rainy weather and featured the climbs of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo for the stage finish. By the time Merckx had reached the penultimate climb, there was a six-man group at the front of the race with a nine minute advantage. 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. 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. Merckx would go on to win the race, along with the points classification and mountains classification. In the Volta a Catalunya, Merckx took the race lead from Gimondi in the race's time trial stage and would go on to win the event as a whole. He finished the season with 32 wins in the 129 races he entered.
On 30 March 1969 Merckx earned his first major victory of the 1969 calendar with his win at the Tour of Flanders. On a day that was marred by rainy conditions and strong winds. He attacked first on the Oude Kwaremont, but a puncture nullified any gains and again on the Kapelmuur, but his efforts were matched by a few riders. As the wind shifted from a crosswind to a headwind with close to seventy kilometers left to go, Merckx increased the pace and rode solo to victory. The seventeen days after the Tour of Flanders saw Merckx win nine times. He won the Vuelta a Levante and the Paris–Nice, winning stages in each of the races. In addition, he won the Milan-San Remo after descending the Poggio at high speeds. Merckx saw victory again in mid-April at the Liège–Bastogne–Liège after attacking in the pouring rain with seventy kilometers to go.
He began the Giro d'Italia on 16 May, with the aims of riding less aggressively than the year before, in order to save energy for the Tour de France. Merckx had won four of the race's stages and held the race lead going into the sixteenth day of racing. However, before the start of the stage race director Vincenzo Torriani, along with a television camera and two writers, entered Merckx's hotel room and informed him that he had failed a doping control and was disqualified from the race, in addition to being suspended for a month. On 14 June, the cycling governing body, the FICP, overturned the month long suspesion and cleared him due to the "benefit of the doubt."
Before starting the Tour, Merckx had spent a large amount of his time resting and training, racing only five times. Merckx won the race's sixth stage through attacking before the leg's final major climb, the Ballon d'Alsace, and then outlasting his competitors who were able to follow him initially. During the seventeenth stage, Merckx was riding at the head of the race with several general classification contenders on the Col du Tourmalet. Merckx shifted into a large gear, attacked, and went on to cross the summit with a 45 second advantage. Despite orders to wait for the chasing riders, Merckx increased his efforts. He rode over the Col du Soulor and Col d'Aubisque, which saw the gap increase to eight minutes. With close to fifty kilometers to go, Merckx began to suffer hypoglycemia and rode the rest of the stage in severe pain. At the end of the stage, Merckx told the journalists "I hope I have done enough now for you to consider me a worthy winner." Merckx finished the race with six stage victories to his credit, along with the general, points, mountains, and combination classifications, and the award for most aggressive rider.
His next major race was the two-day race, Paris-Luxembourg. Merckx was down fifty-four seconds going into the second day and attacked eight kilometers from the finish, on the slopes of the Bereldange. Merckx rode solo to catch the leading rider Jacques Anquetil, whom he dropped with a kilometer remaining. Merckx won the stage and gained enough time on the race leader Gimondi to win the race.
On 9 September, Merckx participated in a three-round omnium event at the cement velodrome in Blois where each rider was to be paced by a derny. Fernand Wambst was Merckx's pacer for the contest. After winning the first intermediate sprint of the first round, Wambst chose to slow their pace and move to the back of the race despite Merckx wanting to stay out in front for fear of an accident. Wambst wanted to pass everyone to provide a show for the crowd. The duo then increased their pace and began to pass each other contestant; however, as they passed the riders in first position, the leading derny lost control and crashed into the wall. Wambst chose to avoid the derny by going below it, but the leader's derny came back down and collided with Wambst, while Merckx's pedal caught one of the dernies. The two riders landed head first onto the track.
Wambst died of a fractured skull as he was being transported to a hospital. Merckx remained unconscious for 45 minutes and awoke in the operating room. He sustained a concussion, whiplash, trapped nerves in his back, a displaced pelvis, and several other cuts and bruises. He remained at the hospital for a week before returning to Belgium. He spent six weeks in bed before beginning to race again in October. Merckx later stated that he "was never the same again" after the crash. He would constantly adjust his seat during races to help ease the pain. Merckx stopped racing on 26 October to recuperate.
Merckx entered the 1970 campaign nursing a case of mild tendonitis in his knee. His first major victory came in the Paris-Nice where he won the general classification in addition to three stages. On 1 April, Merckx won the Gent–Wevelgem, followed by the Tour of Belgium, where he braved a snow and followed the day up with a victory in the final time trial to secure the race, and the Paris-Roubaix. In the Paris-Roubaix, Merckx was battling a cold as the race began in heavy rain. He attacked thirty-one kilometers from the finish and went on to win by five minutes and twenty-one seconds, the largest margin of victory in the history of the race. The next weekend Merckx attempted to race for teammate Joseph Bruyère in the La Flèche Wallonne; however, Bruyère lost his impetus, leaving Merckx to win the day.
After the scandal at the previous year's Giro d'Italia, Merckx was weary of returning to the race in 1970. His entry to the race was contingent upon all doping controls be sent to a lab in Rome to be tested, rather than being tested at the finish like the year before. He entered the race and won its second stage, but four days later showed signs of weakness with his knee as he was dropped twice while in the mountains. However the next day, Merckx attacked on the final climb into the city of Brentonico. He took the race lead and won the stage. He won the stage nine individual time trial by almost two minutes over the second place finisher, expanding his lead significantly. Merckx didn't win another stage, but managed to expand his lead a little more before the race's conclusion.
Before beginning the Tour, Merckx won the men's road race at the Belgian National Road Race Championships. Merckx won the Tour's opening prologue to take the race's first race leader's yellow jersey. After the second stage, he lost the lead to Italian Italo Zilioli. He won the sixth stage after forming a breakaway with Lucien Van Impe, in addition to regaining the race lead. After expanding his lead in the stage nine individual time trial, Merckx won the race's first true mountain stage, stage 10, and expanded his lead to five minutes in the general classification. Merckx won three of the five stages contested within the next four days, including a summit finish to Mont Ventoux, where upon finishing he was given oxygen. Merckx won two more stages, both individual time trials, and won the Tour by over twelve minutes. He exited the Tour finished the race with eight stage victories and won the mountains and combination classifications. The eight stage wins equaled the previous record for stage wins in a single Tour de France. Merckx also became the third to accomplish the feat of winning the Giro and Tour in the same calendar year.
Faema folded at the end of the 1970 season so Merckx and several of his teammates moved to another Italian team, Molteni. The first major victory for Merckx came in the Giro di Sardegna, which he secured after attacking on his own and riding solo through the rain to win the race's final stage. He followed his victory in the stage race with third consecutive Paris-Nice victory, which he led from start to finish. In the Milan-San Remo, Merckx worked with his teammates in a seven man breakaway to set up a final attack on the Poggio. Merckx's attack succeeded and he won his fourth edition of the Milan-San Remo. Six days later, he won the Omloop Het Volk.
After winning the Tour of Belgium again, Merckx headed into the major spring classics. During the Tour of Flanders, Merckx's rivals worked together against Merckx to prevent him from winning, and a week later he suffered five flat tires during the Paris-Roubaix. On a day marred by cold and rainy weather, Merckx attacked with ninety kilometers left in the Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Merckx caught the leaders on the road, passed them, and rode solo until around three kilometers to go when Georges Pintens caught Merckx, who had been slowing since twenty kilometers before the finish. Merckx and Pintens rode to the finish together, where it came down to a sprint finish won by Merckx. Instead of racing the Giro d'Italia, Merckx elected to enter two shorter stages races in France, the Grand Prix du Midi Libre and the Critérium du Dauphiné, both of which he was victorious in.
The Tour de France began with a team time trial, which Molteni came first in, giving Merckx the lead. The next day consisted of three split stages, where Merckx lost the lead after stage 1b, but regained it after stage 1c after winning an intermediate sprint that awarded time bonuses. The second stage of the race saw a major break with the major race contenders, including Merckx, form with over a hundred kilometers to go. The group finished nine minutes ahead of the peloton, with the stage win coming down to a sprint between Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck. Merckx came around from behind de Vlaeminck to take the victory. After a week of racing, Merckx held a lead of around a minute over the main contenders. The eighth stage saw a mountain top finish to Puy de Dome. Bernard Thévenet attacked on the lower slopes and Merckx was unable to counter. Joop Zoetemelk and Luis Ocaña went with Thévenet and wound up gaining fifteen seconds on Merckx who still maintained the race lead.
On the descent of the Col du Cucheron during the race's ninth leg, Merckx's tire puncture, prompting Ocaña to attack, along with Zoetemelk, Thévenet, and Gösta Pettersson. The group of four finished a minute and a half ahead of Merckx, which saw Zoetemelk take the lead. The following day Merckx lost eight minutes to Ocaña after a poor showing due to stomach pains and indigestion. At the start of the eleventh stage, Merckx, three teammates, and couple others formed a breakaway. Merckx's group finished two minutes in front of the peloton that was led by Ocaña's Bic team. After winning the ensuing time trial, Merckx took back eleven more seconds on Ocaña. The race then entered the Pyrenees with the first stage leading into Luchon being plagued by heavy thunderstorms that severely handicapped vision. On the descent of the Col de Menté, Merckx crashed on a left bend. Ocaña, who was trailing, crashed into the same bend and Zoetemelk collided with him, along with a few other riders. Merckx fell another time on the descent and took the race lead as Ocaña was forced to retire from the race due to injuries from the crash. Merckx declined to wear the yellow jersey the following day out of respect for Ocaña. He would go on to win two more stages and the general, points, and combination classifications when the race finished in Paris.
Seven weeks following the Tour, Merckx entered the men's road race at the UCI Road World Championships that were held in Mendrisio, Switzerland. The route for the day was rather hilly and consisted of several circuits of it. Merckx managed to be a part of a five man breakaway as the race reached five laps to go. After attacking on the second to last stage, Merckx and Gimondi sped into the finish, where Merckx managed to win the race by four bike lengths. He closed out the 1971 calendar with his first victory in the Giro di Lombardia. Merckx made the winning move when he attacked on the descent of the Intelvi Pass. During the off-season, Merckx had his displaced pelvis tended to by a doctor.
Due to his non-participation in track racing over the winter, Merckx entered the 1972 campaign in poorer form than in previous years. In the Paris–Nice, Merckx broke a vertebrae in a crash that occurred as the peloton was in the midst of a bunch sprint. Against the advice of a physician, he started the next day being barely able to ride out of the saddle. He was attacked several times by Ocaña, but each time Ocaña was caught. In the race's fifth stage, Merckx sprinted away from Ocaña with 150 meters to go to take the stage win. Merckx lost the race lead in the final stage to Raymond Poulidor and finished in second place overall. Two removed from Paris–Nice, Merckx was victorious for the fifth time at the Milan–San Remo after he managed to establish a gap on the descent of the Poggio.
In the Paris–Roubaix, he crashed again, further aggravating the injury he sustained from Paris–Nice. He won the Liège–Bastogne–Liège by attacking on his own forty-six kilometers from the finish. Three days later, in La Flèche Wallonne, Merckx was a part of a six man leading group as the race neared its conclusion. Several attacks occurred in the closing kilometers before the uphill finish. Merckx won the race despite his sprocket shifted him to the wrong gear, forcing him to ride in a larger gear than anticipated. He became the third rider to win La Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège in the same weekend. Despite a monetary offer from race organizers for Merckx to participate in the Vuelta a España, he chose to take part in the Giro d'Italia.
Merckx lost four minutes over two and a half minutes to Spanish climber José Manuel Fuente after the Giro's fourth stage that contained a summit finish to Blockhaus. In the seventh stage, Fuente had attacked on the first climb of the day, the Valico di Monte Scuro. However, Fuente cracked near the top of the climb, allowing for Merckx and Pettersson to catch and pass Fuente. Merckx gained over four minutes on Fuente, becoming the new race leader as Pettersson took the stage win. He expanded his by two minutes through the stage 12a and 12b time trials, winning the former. Fuente managed to get Merckx on his own as the two climbed together during the fourteenth stage. He and teammate Francisco Galdós attacked, leaving Merckx behind. Merckx eventually reconnected with the two on the stage's final climb. He then proceeded to attack from there and went on to win the stage by forty-seven seconds. He lost two minutes to Fuente in the seventeenth that finished atop the Passo dello Stelvio while suffering from stomach trouble. He would go on to win one more stage en route to his third victory at the Giro d'Italia.
Merckx entered the Tour de France in July where a battle between him and Ocaña was expected by many. He took the opening prologue and expanded his advantage over all the other general classification contenders, save Ocaña, by at least three minutes. Going into the Pyrenees, Merckx led Ocaña by fifty-one seconds. The general classification favorites were riding together as the race hit the Col d'Aubisque in the seventh leg. Ocaña punctured on the climb, allowing for the other riders to attack. Ocaña chased after the group but crashed into a wall on the descent and went on to lose almost two minutes to Merckx. Merckx was criticized for attacking while Ocaña had a flat, but Merckx cited that the year before Ocaña had done the same thing while the race was in the Alps. Merckx won the following stage, regaining the lead in the process. During the next two major mountain stages, one to Mont Ventoux and the other to Orcières, he merely followed Ocaña's wheel. He won three more stages before crossing the finish line in Paris as the race's winner, thus completing his second Giro-Tour double in the process.
After initially planning to attempt to break the hour record in August, Merckx decided to attempt in October after taking a ten day hiatus from criterium racing to heal and prepare. The attempt took place on 25 October in Mexico City, Mexico at the outdoor track Agustin Melgar. Mexico was chosen due to the higher altitude which conferred less air resistance. He arrived in Mexico on the 21st to prepare for his attempt, but two days were lost due to rain. His attempt started at 8:46 am local time and saw him finish the first ten kilometers twenty-eight seconds faster than the record pace. However, Merckx started off too fast and began to fade as the attempt wore on. He eventually was able to recover and managed to post a distance of 49.431 km (31 mi), breaking the world record. After finishing he was carried off and was quoted saying the pain was "very, very, very significant."
An illness prevented Merckx from taking part in the Milan–San Remo at the start of the 1973 calendar. During a span of nineteen days, Merckx won four classics including Omloop Het Volt, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and Paris–Roubaix. He decided to race the Vuelta a España and the Giro d'Italia, instead of racing the Tour de France. He won the opening prologue of the Vuelta to take an early lead. Despite Ocaña's best efforts, Merckx won a total of six stages on his way to his only Vuelta a España title. In addition to the general classification, Merckx won the race's points classification and combination classifications.
Four days after the conclusion of the Vuelta, Merckx lined up to start the Giro d'Italia. He won the opening two-man time trial with Roger Swerts and the next day's leg as well. Merckx's primary competitor, Fuente, lost a significant amount of time during the second stage. He won eighth stage that featured a summit finish to Monte Carpegna despite Fuente attacking several times on the ascent. Fuente tried attacking throughout the race of the race, but was only able to make time gains on the race's penultimate stage. Merckx won the race after leading from start to finish, a feat only done by Alfredo Binda and Costante Girardengo previously. He had also become the first rider to win the Giro and Vuelta in the same calendar year.
The UCI Road World Championships were held in in Barcelona, Spain in 1973 and contested on the Montjuich circuit. During the road race, Merckx attacked with around one hundred kilometers left. His move was marked by Freddy Maertens, Gimondi, and Ocaña. Merckx had attacked on the final lap, but was reeled in by the three riders. It came down to a sprint between the four, of which Merckx came in last and Gimondi in first. Following the road race, Merckx won his first Paris–Brussels and Grand Prix des Nations. He won both legs of A travers Lausanne, as well as the Giro di Lombardia, but a doping positive disqualified him. He closed the season with over fifty victories to his credit.
The 1974 season saw Merckx fail to win a spring classic for the first time in his career, in part due to him suffering from various illnesses during the early months. Pneumonia forced him to quit racing for a month and forced him to enter the Giro d'Italia in poor form. He lost time early in the race to Fuente, who managed to the race's first mountainous stage. Merckx time on Fuente in the race's only time trial. Merckx attacked from two hundred kilometers out two days later in a stage that was plagued by horrendous weather. Fuente lost ten minutes to Merckx who became the race leader. The twentieth stage had a summit finish to Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Fuente and Gianbattista Baronchelli attacked on the climb, while Merckx was unable to match their accelerations. He managed to finish the stage only to see his lead shrink to twelve seconds over Baronchelli. He held on to that lead until the race's conclusion, winning his fifth Giro d'Italia.
Three days following his victory at the Giro, Merckx started the Tour de Suisse. He won the race's prologue and rode conservatively for the rest of the race. He took the final leg, an individual time trial, to seal his overall victory. After finishing the race, Merckx had a sebaceous cyst removed on 22 June. Five days following the surgery, he was scheduled to begin the Tour de France. The wound was still slightly open when he began the Grand Tour and it bled throughout the race.
At the Tour, Merckx won the race's prologue, giving him the first race leader's maillot jaune (English: yellow jersey), which he lost the next day to teammate Joseph Bruyère. He won the seventh stage of the race, and regained the lead, through attacking in the closing kilometers and staving off the chasing peloton. He put five minutes into his main rival Poulidor after dropping him on the Col du Galibier. The next day, on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, Merckx rode to limit his losses after suffering several attacks from contenders. He managed to expand his lead through several stage victories after, including one where he attacked with ten kilometers to go in a flat stage and held off the peloton to reach the finish in Orléans almost a minute and a half before the peloton. Merckx finished the Tour with eight stage wins and his fifth Tour de France victory, equaling the record of Anquetil.
Going into the men's road race at the UCI Road World Championships, Merckx anchored a squad that included Van Springel, Maertens, and De Vlaeminck. The route featured twenty-one laps of a circuit that contained two climbs. Merckx and Poulidor attacked with around seven kilometers to go, after catching the leading breakaway. The two rode to the finish together where Merckx won the sprint to the line, establishing a two-second gap between himself and Poulidor. By winning the road race, Merckx became the first rider to win the Triple Crown of Cycling, which consists of winning the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, and men's road race at the World Championships in one calendar year. It was also his third world title, becoming the third rider to ever win the race three times, after Binda and Rik Van Steenbergen.
With victories at Milan–San Remo and Amstel Gold Race, Merckx opened the season in good form, also winning the Setmana Catalana de Ciclisme. In the Catalan Week, Merckx lost his super domestique Bruyère, who had helped Merckx to victory in years past many times, to a broken leg. Two days following the Catalan Week, Merckx participated in the Tour of Flanders. He launched an attacked with eighty kilometers to go, with only Frans Verbeeck being able to match his acceleration. Verbeeck was dropped as the race reached five kilometers remaining, allowing Merckx to take his third Tour of Flanders victory. In the Paris–Roubaix, Merckx suffered a flat tire with around eighty kilometers left when a part of a leading group of four. He managed to catch the three riders who rode ahead after chasing for three kilometers. The group rode into the finish together, but De Vlaeminck won the day. He won his fifth Liège–Bastogne–Liège by attacking several times in the closing portions of the race.
Merckx's attitude while racing had changed, riders expected him to chase down attacks, which angered him. Notably, in the Tour de Romandie he was riding with race leader Zoetemelk as an attack occurred. Merckx refused to chase the break down, and the two lost fourteen minutes. Merckx contracted a cold and, later, tonsilitis while racing in the spring campaign. This caused him to be in poor form, forcing him to not participate in the Giro d'Italia. He then rode in the Dauphine Libere and was not on par with Thevenet who won the race. At the Tour de Suisse, De Vlaeminck won the race as a whole, while Merckx finished second overall.
He placed second in the Tour de France's prologue. The following morning's split stage saw Merckx put time on Thevenet by attacking with Francesco Moser, Van Impe, and Zoetemelk. In day's second leg, Merckx managed to gain time on Zoetemelk. He won the stage six individual time trial and gaining more time on Thevenet and Zoetemelk. He won the next time trial into Auch as well. During the race's eleventh stage, Merckx sent his team to set the pace early on in the stage. Reaching the final climb of the day, Merckx was on his own as his team had been used to set the pace throughout the day. On the day's final climb to Pla d'Adet, he matched an acceleration by Zoetemelk. Thevenet then launched an attack, to which Merckx could not follow and saw him lose over two minutes. After the stage Merckx switched decided to mark Thevenet for the rest of the race and make an attack on the Puy de Dome.
While climbing the Puy de Dome, Thevenet and Van Impe attacked. Merckx followed at his own pace and kept the two riders within a hundred meters of himself. With about 150 m remaining, Merckx was prepared to sprint to the line, but was punched in the back by a spectator, Nello Breton. He crossed the line thirty-four seconds behind Thevenet and proceeded to vomit after catching his breath. The punch left him with a large bruise. During the rest day he was found to have an inflamed liver for which he was prescribed blood thinners for.
The stage following the rest day featured five climbs, Merckx felt a pain on the third climb in the area of the punch and had the teammate go get an analgesic. Thevenet attacked several times on the climb of the Col des Champs, all of which Merckx countered. Merckx retaliated by speeding away on the descent. On the start of the next climb, Merckx had his Molteni teammates set the pace and he distanced himself from his competitors before the start of the final climb. However, as Merckx began the final climb he cracked. Thevenet caught and passed Merckx with four kilometers left. Gimondi, Van Impe, and Zoetemelk passed Merckx, who finished fifth and one minute and twenty-six seconds down. The following day, Merckx caught up with the leading breakaway and wanted to push ahead, but the riders chose not to chose not to participate in the pace making, leading Merckx to sit up and get caught. He lost two more minutes to Thevenet, who attacked on the Col du Izoard. He crashed in the next leg, breaking a cheekbone, and managed to gain some time on Thevenet before the finish in Paris. He finished in second place, the first time he had lost a Tour in his six starts.
He opened his 1976 season with his record seventh victory in Milan–San Remo. He followed with a victory in the Catalan Week, but suffered a crash in the final stage when a spectator's bag caught his handlebars, injuring his elbow. This injury plagued his performance throughout the spring classic season. He entered the Giro d'Italia but failed to win a stage; something he hadn't done before in his career. He finished the race in eighth overall while battling a saddle boil throughout the race. Following the Giro's conclusion Merckx announced that he and his team Molteni would not take part in the Tour de France. He took part in the men's road race at the UCI Road World Championships and finished in fifth position. He ended his season in October after racing for most of August. He failed to win the Super Prestige Pernod International, a competition where riders were awarded points for their placements in certain professional races, for the first time since 1968. In the first two months of his off-season, Merckx spent the majority of his time lying down. Molteni ended their sponsorship at the end of the season.
1977–1978: FIAT & C&A
FIAT became the new sponsor for Merckx's team and Raphaël Géminiani, the new manager. He got his season's first victories in the Grand Prix d'Aix and Tour Méditerranéen. Merckx agreed to ride a light spring season in order to save himself for a chance at a sixth Tour victory. He took one stage at the Paris–Nice but had to withdraw from the race's final stage due to sinusitis. In the spring classics, Merckx came up win-less, with his best finish being a sixth place in the Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Before the Tour, Merckx raced the both the Dauphine Libere and Tour de Suisse, the latter of which he won a single stage at.
He admitted his poor form and anxiety about aggravating previous injuries going into the Tour de France. He managed to hold on to second place overall for two weeks. As the race entered the Alps, Merckx began to lose more time; he lost thirteen minutes on the stage to Alpe d'Huez alone. On the stage into Saint-Étienne, Merckx attacked and managed to gain enough time to move into sixth overall; he finished the Tour in same position. In the time following the Tour, Merckx raced twenty-two races in a span of forty days before coming in thirty-third at the UCI Road World Championships's men's road race. Merckx earned his final victory on the road on 17 September in a kermis race. In late December, FIAT chose to end their sponsorship of Merckx in favor of building a more French centered squad.
In January, the department store C&A announced that they would sponsor Merckx after their owner met Merckx at a football game. His plan for the season was to race one last Tour de France and then ride several smaller races for appearances. He raced a total of five races in the 1978 calendar. His last victory was in a track event, an omnium in Zürich, on 10 February 1978 with Patrick Sercu. His first road race came in the Grand Prix de Montauroux on 19 February. Merckx came to the front of the race and put in a large effort before swinging off and quitting the race. His best finish came in the Tour de Haut, where he managed fifth. He dropped out of Omloop Het Volt due to colitis and completed his final race on 19 March, a kermis in Kemzeke. Following the race, Merckx went on a vacation to go skiing. He returned from travel to train more, but by this point the team sponsor knew he was going to quit. Merckx announced his retirement from the sport on 18 May. He stated that the doctors advised him against racing.
Following his exit from racing, Merckx opened up Eddy Merckx Cycles on 28 March 1980 in Brussels, Belgium. The initial workers that were hired for the factory were trained by notable bike maker Ugo De Rosa before starting. The company almost went bankrupt at one point and was also caught up in a tax repayment controversy. Merckx would spend time giving input on the models as they were being produced. Despite this the brand became highly regarded and successful, being used by several top-level cycling teams in the 1980s and 1990s. Merckx stepped down as CEO in 2008 and sold most of his shares, but still tests the bikes that are created and has some input. Cycling journalist Sam Dansie believed that the fact that Eddy Merckx Cycles has maintained a presence as an elite bicycle due to its adoption of new methods over time. As of January 2015, the business is still based in Belgium and distributes to over twenty-five countries.
Merckx managed the Belgian national team world championships for eleven years, between 1986 and 1996. He acted as the race director for the Tour of Flanders for a brief period of time. He flirted with sponsoring a youth developmental team with CGER Bank, a team that featured his son Axel. He helped organize the Grand Prix Eddy Merckx, which started out as an invitation only individual time trial event, later becoming a two-man time trial event. The event folded after 2004 due to riders lack of interest.
He played a pivotal role in getting the Tour of Qatar started in 2002. In 2001 Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the former Emir of Qatar, reached out to Merckx and told him of his interest in starting a bicycle race to show off his country. Merckx then contacted then Union Cycliste Internationale president Hein Verbruggen, who checked out Qatar's roads. Following a successful inspection, Merckx contacted the Amaury Sport Organisation about working with him planning the race, to which they agreed to in 2001. Merckx officially co-owns the race with Dirk De Pauw and still helps to organize the race. In addition, Merckx also helped Qatar secure the right to host the 2016 UCI Road World Championships, as well as designing the race route for the road race. Merckx also co-owns and helps organize the Tour of Oman. In 2015, Merckx said later that although he wasn't racing, he knew would still be involved with the sport as "as a bike builder, first in the factory and now as an ambassador."
Merckx officially began dating Claudine Acou in April 1965. Acou was a 21-year-old teacher and daughter of the trainer of the national amateur team. Merckx asked her father for permission to marry her between track races. On December 5, 1967 Merckx married Acou after four years of courtship. She would often handle the press over her husband, who was a shy person by nature. Claudine gave birth to their first child, Sabrina on 14 February 1970. Merckx skipped a team training camp to be with Claudine for Sabrina's birth. Claudine later gave birth to a son, Axel, who also became a professional cyclist. Merckx was brought up speaking in Flemish, but was taught French in school.
In 1996 Albert II of Belgium King of the Belgians, gave him the title of baron. In Italy, Merckx was given the title of Cavaliere. In 2011, he was named Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris. 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. He was blessed by Pope John Paul II in Brussels in the 1990s. Merckx is an art lover and stated that his favorite artist is Rene Magritte, a surrealist. Salvador Dali being another of his favorites.
Before starting the third stage of the 1968 Giro d'Italia, Merckx was found to have a heart condition. A cardiologist, Giancarlo Lavezzaro, found that Merckx non-obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that has killed several young athletes. In 2013, Merckx was given a pacemaker to help correct a heart rhythm issue. The surgery was performed in Genk on 21 March and done as a preventative procedure. Merckx stated that he never had any heart issues while racing, despite the fact that several males in his family died young of heart related problems. In May 2004, he had an esophagus operation to cure stomach ache suffered since he was young. In August he reported that he lost nearly 30 kg after the procedure.
Merckx has been regarded by many as the greatest and most successful cyclist of all-time. He rode well in the Grand Tours and in the one day classics. He was a very good time trialist and climber. In addition, Merckx showed great ability to race on the track. He was known for racing style that consisted of attacking constantly, which came to be known as "la course en tête".[N 1] Attacking for Merckx was the best form of defence. He would spend a day in a breakaway and then make another significant attack the following day. Despite his constant attacking, he would occasionally ride in a defensive mindset, particularly when racing the Giro and facing Fuente. Merckx won a total of 525 races out of the over 1,800 he entered during his career. Due to his dominance in the sport some cycling historians refer to the period in which he raced as the "Merckx Era." During his professional career, he won 445 of the 1585 races he entered. Between the years of 1967 and 1977 Merckx raced between 111 and 151 races each season. In 1971 he raced 120 times and won 54 of the events, the most races any cyclist has won in a season. Merckx admits that he was the best of his generation, but insists its not practical to compare across generations.
He is one of the three riders to win all five 'Monuments of Cycling' (i.e., Milan–San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris–Roubaix, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and the Giro di Lombardia), the other two being Rik Van Looy and Roger De Vlaeminck. He finished his career with nineteen victories across the monuments, which is the most all-time and eight more than the rider with the second most. He won twenty-eight classic races, with Paris–Tours being the only race he did not win. The closest he came to victory in the race was sixth in the 1973 race. A lesser Belgian rider, Noël van Tyghem, won Paris–Tours in 1972 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."
While racing, he became the third rider to win all three Grand Tours in his career, a feat that has since been accomplished by more riders. He holds the record for most Grand Tour victories with 11, along with the record for most stage wins across all three Grand Tours with 64. He has completed the most Giro-Tour doubles in history with three. He was the first rider to win cycling's Triple Crown which has only been accomplished one other time, by Stephen Roche in 1987. He was also the first rider to win all three major classifications – the general, points, and mountains classifications – in one Grand Tour at the 1968 Giro d'Italia, and again at the 1969 Tour de France. This has only been done twice since by Tony Rominger and Laurent Jalabert. He shares the record for most victories at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France with five a piece. In those races he also holds the records for days spent in the race leader's jersey at 78 and 96, respectively. For his career successes in the Giro d'Italia, Merckx became the first rider inducted into the race's Hall of Fame in 2012. When being inducted, Merckx was given the modern-day trophy with the winners engraved until 1974, the last year he won the race. At the Tour, he holds the record for most stage wins in its history, with thirty-four.
He was given the nickname "The Cannibal" by the daughter of Christian Raymond, a teammate of Merckx's. Raymond had commented on Merckx not allowing anyone, to which his daughter referred to Merckx as a cannibal. Raymond liked the nickname and then mentioned it to the press. In Italy, he was known as "il monstro" (English: the monster).
Dutch cycling great Joop Zoetemelk said there "First there was Merckx, and then another classification began behind him." Cycling journalist and commentator Phil Liggett wrote that if Merckx started a race, many riders acknowledged that they likely would be competing for second place. 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. 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. 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. He was criticized by opposing riders for his relentless pursuit of victory that prevented even lesser known riders from collecting a few victories. When told that he won too much, Merckx stated that "The day when I start a race without intending to win it, I won't be able to look at myself in the mirror."
Merckx was leading the 1969 Giro d'Italia upon the conclusion of the sixteenth stage in Savona. After the stage, Merckx traveled to the mobile lab that traveled with the race and conducted the drug tests.[N 2] Merckx’s first test came up positive for fencamfamine, an amphetamine. A second test was conducted and also came up positive. The word spread about Merckx's positive test while Merckx himself was still asleep. The positive test meant Merckx was to be suspended for a month. 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. However, the president was not in his office and Torriani was forced to start the stage, disqualifying Merckx in the process. In the succeeding days, the Union Cycliste Internationale removed the suspension put in place.
From the start, Merckx claimed his innocence saying that "I am a clean rider, I do not need to take anything to win." He maintains that his samples were mishandled. After the incident, several conspiracy theories emerged including: the urine that tested positive wasn't Merckx's, a move to give Italian Felice Gimondi a better chance at victory, and Merckx's had been given a water bottle with the stimulant in it.
On 8 November 1973, it was announced that Merckx had tested positive for norephedrine after winning the Giro di Lombardia a month earlier. Upon learning of the first test being positive in later October, he had a counter-analysis performed that also turned up positive. The drug was present in a cough medicine that the Molteni doctor, Dr. Cavalli, prescribed to him. Merckx was disqualified from the race and the victory was awarded to second place finisher Gimondi. In addition, Merckx was given a month suspension and fined 150,000 lira. Merckx admitted his fault in taking the medicine but said that the name norephedrine was not on the bottle of cough syrup he used.
On 8 May 1977, Merckx, along with several other riders, tested positive for pemoline, a stimulant in Stimul, at La Flèche Wallonne. The group of riders were charged by the Belgian cycling federation, the riders were each given a 24,000 pestas fine and a one month suspension. Initially Merckx, announced his intention to appeal the penalty, saying he only took substances that were not on the banned list. Merckx's eighth place finish in the race was voided. Years later, Merckx admitted he did take a banned substance citing that he was wrong to have trusted a doctor.
Due to Merckx's positive tests during his career, he was asked by the event organizers to stay away from the 2007 UCI Road World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. The organizers stated that "[they] had to be role models", while Merckx wrote them off claiming them to be crazy. Merckx was not alone, as several other riders were asked to keep their distance from the event.
- Cycling records
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- List of Belgians
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eddy Merckx.|
- Eddy Merckx profile at Cycling Archives
|UCI hour record (49.431 km)
25 October 1972 – 27 October 2000