Eddy Merckx, Belgian, 1945 -
Eddy Merckx won the Tour de France 5 times (in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974), the Giro 5 times (in 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973 and 1974) and the Vuelta a mere once - in 1973. In his career he won a staggering 34 Tour stages, 24 Giro stages and 6 stages of the Vuelta. He was amateur World Road Race Champion in 1964, and won the professional Road Race World Championships in 1967, 1971 and 1974. In 1972 he set an hour record on the track that stood until 1984 when it was broken by Francesco Moser riding an extreme aero bike. It was not broken on a conventional bike until 2000. Eddy Merckx won the Milan-San Remo 7 times, the Paris-Roubaix 3 times etc. etc... There is no one in the history of cycling with palmares that even come close. He was nicknamed ‘the Cannibal’ - because he greedily devoured everything cycle racing had to offer.
His racing style could be typified as relentless, intelligent, attacking. His personal style was a charismatic blend of almost aristocratic elegance and street-wise wide-boy, all topped off with a generous helping of hair gel. In his prime, there was more than a little of a Belgian Elvis about him. His technical style was to fuss over the details, relevant or not. There is a fascinating set of sequences in ‘A Sunday in Hell’ in which he endlessly adjusts and readjusts the clamp on his seat post.
He was not universally popular. Eddy Merckx failed drugs tests on three occasions and, in 1975, was viciously punched by an aggrieved French spectator.
But perhaps he was universally revered. He was made a ‘Baron’ by the King Albert II of Belgium (a motorcycle afficionado), was made a ‘Cavaliere’ by the (cycling mad) Republic of Italy, was awarded the title of ‘Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur’ by Nicolas Sarkozy (who likes to be photographed on his full-carbon Look) and was blessed by Pope John Paul II (who owned, and seemingly actually used, a custom-made Colnago).
More than anyone, Eddy Merckx established Campagnolo’s domination of the peleton. He was closely associated with Tullio Campagnolo himself and, after an initial, brief, daliance with Simplex, from 1968 onwards he always rode Campagnolo equipment. During, and shortly after his reign as the unquestioned World’s Leading Cyclist it was difficult to find a serious racing cyclist , whether amateur or professional, who was not riding with a Nuovo Record or, later, a Super Record groupset.
This image of Merckx comes from a cigar band dating from 1971. Various folk have, not entirely ironically, commented that it shows Eddy granting an audience to King Baudouin of Belgium.