One of the most celebrated giants of the ‘echappee’ – the art of breaking-away, is Eddy Merckx. As a professional, he was unmistakably brilliant, yet brutal at his job. They called him The Cannibal.
Image posted by Blacksheep Cycling
The Man. The Legend. The Cannibal.
Eddy Merckx recently turned 70 and the widespread recognition of his achievements and contributions to cycling are still being felt today. From Melbourne, Australia, to New York City, and right back again to his home-town of Brabant, Belgium, Eddy Merckx continues to captivate an audience by his commanding presence and modern take on cycling. The popular hashtag on his birthday was #happy70eddy
Yes, that’s an astonishing number – 525 wins – that’s how many professional victories earned by the Cannibal. At the start of his professional career, Merckx was winning an average of 50 races a year. Impressive by anyones standards, but Merckx isn’t on the same racing standards as everyone else. Even after his horrific accident where he was concussed; suffering pelvis and back injuries that affect him to this day, he returned with 52 wins in 1970 – including the Giro and the Tour, and 54 wins in 1971. He is one of the few to win all 3 Grand Tours; is an unbeaten 7 times Milan San-Remo winner; 5 at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and 3 times World Champion – the list goes on.
As dominant Merckx was on the bike, he was not able to escape questions about his conduct, nor accusations of taking performance enhancement drugs. The latter he flatly denies any use of. In the video below, he describes how after being disqualified for testing positive at the Giro, he still pleads his innocence and thereafter claims to have insisted daily testing at the following GT in France.
Pro-cycling connoisseur INRNG pointed out to critics: “That’s what they said about Merckx, it could be boring. But some said “nobody complained about Mozart writing music” and the press did compare Merckx to a genius. Indeed it seems many did enjoy Merckx because he often won with outrageously bold riding, attacking with 50km or 100km to go. Or taking on the sprinters at their game and so on.”
“Your backside is too big. You’ll never be a champion”
So says the young professional, Guillaume Michels to an impressionable 12 year old Merckx. This should give many of us much comfort. Mercxk remarks, he was simply well proportioned!
Le Tour is only days away, yet still considered one of the greatest stages in it’s history, was the day Eddy climbed onto his bike and entered his first Tour de France. The acclaimed stage 17, from Luchon to Mourenx, on 15 July 1969. On that day Merckx breaks away, attacking on the Tourmalet, gaining a minute from his rivals. By the bottom of the decent, he was committing himself to a solo attack at 140KM to go, and wearing the Yellow Jersey. He wins.
By the end of the Tour, Merckx holds 6 stage wins and every classification available – General; Points; Mountain and Combined. This has never been happened again.
“I beat Eddy, but he was 17 and I was 21 and-a-half, and there is a big difference…I knew he had the head and the legs to be a champion” – Felice Gimondi
At 3.2o, in the video above of ‘Eddy Merckx – Sporting Greats’, we are introduced to Felice Gimondi – Known as the ‘Phoenix’, Gimondi speaks fondly of Merckx. Felice Gimondi has a personal insight into the life of the Cannibal. He is one of only 5 people to have won all 3 Grand Tours: The Giro d’Italia, the Vuelta Espana and the Tour de France – which he achieved on his first year as a pro in 65’. Felice is familiar to the dizzy heights of the Giro GC, by being present on the podium, no less than 9 times. In almost all of these instances, he has raced against the very best. He has raced against Merckx and won, and lost. In 2012, Eddy Merckx was inducted into the Giro’s Hall of Fame. The following year, Eddy’s friend and rival, the Phoenix earned his place. When asked how he felt he responded laughingly:
“I’m deeply moved by this important tribute, even if I have arrived second behind Merckx yet again!”
– Felice Gimondi
Merckx’s inspiration to new generations continues to this day. With the likes of fellow Belgian, Preben Van Hecke, who won this year’s Belgian Road Race Championships on a Merckx bike. As well as another fellow compatriot, Philippe Gilbert, who raced to victory on no less than two stages of the 2015 Giro d’Italia. Stage 12 was like a moment out of that golden-era: rainswept and breaking away, Gilbert threw caution to the wind and raced to victory. The greatest Echappee’s are often the riders who have both the head and the legs of a champion. Thank you for inspiring us all.
Happy Birthday Eddy!