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 70)
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]

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]

A picture of some mountains.
During the twelfth stage of the 1968 Giro d'Italia, Merckx caught the leading group, passed them, and rode solo to the stage finish atop the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (pictured) in poor weather to win the stage and take the race lead.

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 for the stage finish.[51] 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.[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 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.[55] He finished the season with 32 wins in the 129 races he entered.[56]

On 30 March 1969 Merckx earned his first major victory of the 1969 calendar with his win at the Tour of Flanders.[57] On a day that was marred by rainy conditions and strong winds.[57] 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.[58] 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.[58] The seventeen days after the Tour of Flanders saw Merckx win nine times.[59] He won the Vuelta a Levante and the Paris-Nice, winning stages in each of the races.[59] In addition, he won the Milan - San Remo after descending the Poggio at high speeds.[59] Merckx saw victory again in mid-April at the Liège–Bastogne–Liège after attacking in the pouring rain with seventy kilometers to go.[60]

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.[61] Merckx had won four of the race's stages and held the race lead going into the sixteenth day of racing.[62] 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.[63] On 14 June, the cycling governing body, the FICP, overturned the month long suspesion and cleared him due to the "benefit of the doubt."[64]

A green field with the words "Coupe du monde".
The Velodrome Eddy Merckx at Mourenx was named in honor of Merckx in 1999 due to his efforts during the seventeenth stage at the 1969 Tour de France.

Before starting the Tour, Merckx had spent a large amount of his time resting and training, racing only five times.[65] 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.[66] During the seventeenth stage, Merckx was riding at the head of the race with several general classification contenders on the Col du Tourmalet.[67] Merckx shifted into a large gear, attacked, and went on to cross the summit with a 45 second advantage.[68] Despite orders to wait for the chasing riders, Merckx increased his efforts.[69] He rode over the Col du Soulor and Col d'Aubisque, which saw the gap increase to eight minutes.[69] With close to fifty kilometers to go, Merckx began to suffer hypoglycemia and rode the rest of the stage in severe pain.[70] 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."[70] 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.[71]

His next major race was the two-day race, Paris-Luxembourg.[72] Merckx was down fifty-four seconds going into the second day and attacked eight kilometers from the finish, on the slopes of the Bereldange.[72] Merckx rode solo to catch the leading rider Jacques Anquetil, whom he dropped with a kilometer remaining.[73] Merckx won the stage and gained enough time on the race leader Gimondi to win the race.[74]

An illustration of a derny.
Fernand Wambst, who was regarded as a great derny driver, agreed to pace Merckx in the omnium events in Blois.[75]

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.[76][75] Fernand Wambst was Merckx's pacer for the contest.[75] 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.[77] Wambst wanted to pass everyone to provide a show for the crowd.[77] The duo then increased their pace and began to pass each other contestant;[77] however, as they passed the riders in first position, the leading derny lost control and crashed into the wall.[77] 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.[78] The two riders landed head first onto the track.[78]

Wambst died of a fractured skull as he was being transported to a hospital.[78] Merckx remained unconscious for 45 minutes and awoke in the operating room.[78] He sustained a concussion, whiplash, trapped nerves in his back, a displaced pelvis, and several other cuts and bruises.[79] He remained at the hospital for a week before returning to Belgium.[79] He spent six weeks in bed before beginning to race again in October.[79] Merckx later stated that he "was never the same again" after the crash.[79][80] He would constantly adjust his seat during races to help ease the pain.[81] Merckx stopped racing on 26 October to recuperate.[82]

Merckx entered the 1970 campaign nursing a case of mild tendonitis in his knee.[83] His first major victory came in the Paris-Nice where he won the general classification in addition to three stages.[83][80] 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.[84][80] In the Paris-Roubaix, Merckx was battling a cold as the race began in heavy rain.[83] 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.[83] 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.[85]

The summit of a mountain.
After winning the fourteenth stage to the summit of Mont Ventoux during the 1970 Tour de France, Merckx had to be given oxygen.

After the scandal at the previous year's Giro d'Italia, Merckx was weary of returning to the race in 1970.[85] 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.[85] He entered the race and won its second stage,[80] but four days later showed signs of weakness with his knee as he was dropped twice while in the mountains.[85] However the next day, Merckx attacked on the final climb into the city of Brentonico.[80] He took the race lead and won the stage.[80] He won the stage nine individual time trial by almost two minutes over the second place finisher, expanding his lead significantly.[80] Merckx didn't win another stage, but managed to expand his lead a little more before the race's conclusion.[80]

Before beginning the Tour, Merckx won the men's road race at the Belgian National Road Race Championships.[86] Merckx won the Tour's opening prologue to take the race's first race leader's yellow jersey.[86][87] After the second stage, he lost the lead to Italian Italo Zilioli.[86][87] He won the sixth stage after forming a breakaway with Lucien Van Impe, in addition to regaining the race lead.[88] 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.[86][88] 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.[89][90] 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.[86][90] The eight stage wins equaled the previous record for stage wins in a single Tour de France.[86][91] Merckx also became the third to accomplish the feat of winning the Giro and Tour in the same calendar year.[86][87]

1971–1976: Molteni[edit]

A picture of a cyclist in a jersey that reads "Bic."
Spaniard Luis Ocaña (pictured at the 1973 Tour de France) was one of Merckx's major rivals during the 1971 Tour de France.

Faema folded at the end of the 1970 season so Merckx and several of his teammates moved to another Italian team, Molteni.[92] 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.[92] He followed his victory in the stage race with third consecutive Paris-Nice victory, which he led from start to finish.[92] In the Milan-San Remo, Merckx worked with his teammates in a seven man breakaway to set up a final attack on the Poggio.[92] Merckx's attack succeeded and he won his fourth edition of the Milan-San Remo.[92] Six days later, he won the Omloop Het Volk.[92]

After winning the Tour of Belgium again, Merckx headed into the major spring classics.[93] 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.[93] On a day marred by cold and rainy weather, Merckx attacked with ninety kilometers left in the Liège–Bastogne–Liège.[93] 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.[93] Merckx and Pintens rode to the finish together, where it came down to a sprint finish won by Merckx.[94] 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.[94]

The Tour de France began with a team time trial, which Molteni came first in, giving Merckx the lead.[95] 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.[95] 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.[96] The group finished nine minutes ahead of the peloton, with the stage win coming down to a sprint between Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck.[96] Merckx came around from behind de Vlaeminck to take the victory.[96] After a week of racing, Merckx held a lead of around a minute over the main contenders.[96] The eighth stage saw a mountain top finish to Puy de Dome.[96] Bernard Thévenet attacked on the lower slopes and Merckx was unable to counter.[96] Joop Zoetemelk and Luis Ocaña went with Thévenet and wound up gaining fifteen seconds on Merckx who still maintained the race lead.[96]

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.[97] The group of four finished a minute and a half ahead of Merckx, which saw Zoetemelk take the lead.[98] The following day Merckx lost eight minutes to Ocaña after a poor showing due to stomach pains and indigestion.[99] At the start of the eleventh stage, Merckx, three teammates, and couple others formed a breakaway.[100] Merckx's group finished two minutes in front of the peloton that was led by Ocaña's Bic team.[101] After winning the ensuing time trial, Merckx took back eleven more seconds on Ocaña.[102] The race then entered the Pyrenees with the first stage leading into Luchon being plagued by heavy thunderstorms that severely handicapped vision.[103] On the descent of the Col de Menté, Merckx crashed on a left bend.[104] Ocaña, who was trailing, crashed into the same bend and Zoetemelk collided with him, along with a few other riders.[104] 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.[105] Merckx declined to wear the yellow jersey the following day out of respect for Ocaña.[105] He would go on to win two more stages and the general, points, and combination classifications when the race finished in Paris.[105][106]

Seven weeks following the Tour, Merckx entered the men's road race at the UCI Road World Championships that were held in Mendrisio, Switzerland.[107] The route for the day was rather hilly and consisted of several circuits of it.[107] Merckx managed to be a part of a five man breakaway as the race reached five laps to go.[107] 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.[107] He closed out the 1971 calendar with his first victory in the Giro di Lombardia.[107] Merckx made the winning move when he attacked on the descent of the Intelvi Pass.[107] During the off-season, Merckx had his displaced pelvis tended to by a doctor.[108]

Due to his non-participation in track racing over the winter, Merckx entered the 1972 campign in poorer form than in previous years.[108] In the Paris–Nice, Merckx broke a vertebrae in a crash that occurred as the peloton was in the midst of a bunch sprint.[108] Against the advice of a physician, he started the next day being barely able to ride out of the saddle.[108] He was attacked several times by Ocaña, but each time Ocaña was caught.[108] In the race's fifth stage, Merckx sprinted away from Ocaña with 150 meters to go to take the stage win.[109] Merckx lost the race lead in the final stage to Raymond Poulidor and finished in second place overall.[109] 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.[109]

In the Paris–Roubaix, he crashed again, further aggravating the injury he sustained from Paris–Nice.[110] He won the Liège–Bastogne–Liège by attacking on his own forty-six kilometers from the finish.[110] Three days later, in La Fleche Wallone, Merckx was a part of a six man leading group as the race neared its conclusion.[110] Several attacks occurred in the closing kilometers before the uphill finish.[111] Merckx won the race despite his sprocket shifted him to the wrong gear, forcing him to ride in a larger gear than anticipated.[111] He became the third rider to win La Fleche Wallone and Liège–Bastogne–Liège in the same weekend.[110] 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.[109]

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.[112] In the seventh stage, Fuente had attacked on the first climb of the day, the Valico di Monte Scuro.[112] However, Fuente cracked near the top of the climb, allowing for Merckx and Pettersson to catch and pass Fuente.[112] Merckx gained over four minutes on Fuente, becoming the new race leader as Pettersson took the stage win.[112] He expanded his by two minutes through the stage 12a and 12b time trials, winning the former.[113] Fuente managed to get Merckx on his own as the two climbed together during the fourteenth stage.[113] He and teammate Francisco Galdos attacked, leaving Merckx behind.[113] Merckx eventually reconnected with the two on the stage's final climb.[113] He then proceeded to attack from there and went on to win the stage by forty-seven seconds.[113] He lost two minutes to Fuente in the seventeenth that finished atop the Passo dello Stelvio while suffereing from stomach trouble.[113] He would go on to win one more stage en route to his third victory at the Giro d'Italia.[114]

Merckx entered the Tour de France in July where a battle between him and Ocaña was expected by many.[114] He took the opening prologue and expanded his advantage over all the other general classification contenders, save Ocaña, by at least three minutes.[115] Going into the Pyrenees, Merckx led Ocaña by fifty-one seconds.[116] The general classification favorites were riding together as the race hit the Col d'Aubisque in the seventh leg.[116] Ocaña punctured on the climb, allowing for the other riders to attack.[116] Ocaña chased after the the group but crashed into a wall on the descent and went on to lose almost two minutes to Merckx.[116] 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.[116]

1972 Tour de France[edit]

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.[117] 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.[118][119]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”.[120]

1974 Tour de France[edit]

A few cyclists riding on racing bicycles with a lot of spectators cheering.
With his victory in the men's road race at the 1974 UCI Road World Championships and his victories in two Grand Tours, the Giro and Tour, Merckx became the first rider to win the Triple Crown of Cycling.

By 1974, "the wear and tear was beginning to show," Merckx acknowledged.[121] 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.[122][N 1]

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[123] 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.[124] Michel Pollentier, "at the price of unbelievable contortions [on his bike]",[122] 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 56s 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.[125]

1976 Tour de France[edit]

Merckx began 1976 by winning his seventh Milan – San Remo[126] 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.[126] A saddle sore still troubled him and his doctor told him not to ride the Tour.[127]

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[125]

The 1977 Tour was one too many for Merckx.[126] 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.[128] 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.[129] 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.


The Eddy Merckx bicycle factory in Meise.

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[130] 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.[130]


Merckx was leading the 1969 Giro d'Italia upon the conclusion of the sixteenth stage in Savona.[131][132][133] After the stage, Merckx traveled to the mobile lab that traveled with the race and conducted the drug tests.[134][N 2] Merckx’s first test came up positive for fencamfamine, an amphetamine.[131][132][134][133] A second test was conducted and also came up positive.[132][134][133] The word spread about Merckx's positive test while Merckx himself was still asleep.[133] The positive test meant Merckx was to be suspended for a month.[135] 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.[133] However, the president was not in his office and Torriani was forced to start the stage, disqualifying Merckx in the process.[133] In the succeeding days, the Union Cycliste Internationale removed the suspension put in place.[132][133]

From the start, Merckx claimed his innocence saying that "I am a clean rider, I do not need to take anything to win."[136] He maintains that his samples were mishandled.[132][133][137] After the incident, several conspiracy theories emerged including: the urine that tested positive wasn't Merckx's,[138] a move to give Italian Felice Gimondi a better chance at victory,[139][140] and Merckx's had been given a water bottle with the stimulant in it.[140]

On 8 November 1973, it was announced that Merckx had tested positive for norephedrine after winning the Giro di Lombardia a month earlier.[141][142] Upon learning of the first test being positive in later October, he had a counter-analysis performed that also turned up positive.[141] The drug was present in a cough medicine that the Molteni doctor, Dr. Cavalli, prescribed to him.[141] Merckx was disqualified from the race and the victory was awarded to second place finisher Gimondi.[141][142][143] In addition, Merckx was given a month suspension and fined 150,000 lira.[141][142] Merckx admitted his fault in taking the medicine but said that the name norephedrine was not on the bottle of cough syrup he used.[141]

On 8 May 1977, Merckx, along with several other riders, tested positive for pemoline, a stimulant in Stimul, at La Flèche Wallonne.[144][145][146][147][148] 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.[148] Initially Merckx, announced his intention to appeal the penalty, saying he only took substances that were not on the banned list.[148] 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.

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.[149] 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.[150] 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.[151]


Main article: Eddy Merckx Cycles
Eddy Merckx Cycles bike provided to the American 7-Eleven team throughout the 1989 season

On 28 March 1980, Merckx opened a bicycle factory in Brussels, Belgium, called Eddy Merckx Cycles.[152] It quickly gained prominence in the cycling world, and today still is considered one of the most prestigious brands in the world of cycling.[152][153]

Merckx is a race commentator on RTBF television.[154] 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.[155] Acou was a 21-year-old teacher and daughter of the trainer of the national amateur team.[156] On December 5, 1967 Merckx married Acou.[155][157] Claudine gave birth to their first child, Sabrina on 14 February, 1970.[83] Merckx skipped a team training camp to be with Claudine for Sophia's birth.[83]

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."[156] 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 3] The priest said: "You are now started on a tandem race; believe me, it will not be easy."[156] 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.[154] In 2000 he was chosen Belgian "Sports Figure of the Century". In March 2000 he was received by the Pope in the Vatican.[121]

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.[125] 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.[125]

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.[158]


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]

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[159] 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."[160]

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.[161]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ 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.[134]
  3. ^ 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.
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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]

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