Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Cannibal Turns 70

Few people can be said to have dominated their respective sports the way that Eddy Merckx dominated bicycle racing from the late 60s through most of the 70s.

A much younger Eddy Merckx, wearing yellow in the '69
Tour de France.
Born in Belgium on June 17, 1945, Merckx began racing in 1961 and eventually racked up some 80 wins as an amateur before turning pro in 1965. He spent that first year with the Solo/Superia team, then moved over to the Peugeot-BP-Michelin team through 1967. With Peugeot, Merckx competed in his first Giro d'Italia, and won two editions of Milan San-Remo.

From 1968 - 1970, Merckx rode with the Faema team - and during those years he won 4 Grand Tours and 8 Classics. He won his first Tour de France in 1969 with a performance so completely dominating that he got not only the Yellow Jersey for the General Classification, but he also won the Green Jersey for Points Leader, the Mountains Classification (which would later become the Polka Dot Jersey), the Combined Classification, and the Combativity Award. Had the "Best Young Rider" category existed in 1969, he'd have won that too. In addition the Faema team won the Team Classification. In that TdF appearance, Merckx earned the nickname "the Cannibal" for the way he devoured the competition.

An older Eddy - Still has that fierce stare, though.
From 1971 to 1976, he raced with the Molteni team and won 6 more grand tours, including a Triple Crown (Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, and World Championship in the same season) a bunch more classics, and set a new Hour Record. He had won the Tour de France 4 times in a row before being asked by TdF organizers not to compete in 1973. He came back and won it again in '74, tying the record with Jacques Anquetil. His 1972 Hour Record would stand unbeaten for 12 years (or longer if one considers various UCI rule changes that have happened in the intervening years). His performance started to decline after 1976 and he retired after the 1978 season. With some help from Ugo DeRosa, who built some of Merckx's racing bikes, Merckx opened his own bicycle company in 1980.

Merckx won 445 races out of 1585 that he entered in his professional career, plus the 80 he won as an amateur. His major wins include one Vuelta a EspaƱa, 5 Giro d'Italia, 5 Tour de France, and 3 World Championships as well as numerous other stage races. Among the Classics, he won the Tour of Flanders 2 times, Paris-Roubaix 3 times, Gent-Wevelgem 3 times, Liege-Bastogne-Liege 5 times, and the Milan-San Remo a record 7 times. In fact, the only race among the Classics he didn't win was Paris-Tours.

His records include: Most career victories (525); Most victories in one season (54); Most stage wins in the Tour de France (34); Most days in the yellow jersey (96); Most victories in the Classics (28); and Most victories in Grand Tours (11).

Think about great athletes in almost any professional sport and ask the fans "Who is the greatest?" and it is almost always a topic for discussion and debate. Ask any cyclist or racing fan the question, "Who is the greatest racer of all time" and it would be hard to find anybody who would give a different response than Eddy Merckx.

Happy Birthday, Eddy.


  1. How do we know that Eddy was the greatest? More than three decades after he retired, and after some of his records have been broken, today's riders still measure themselves against him.