For many fans and experts alike, Eddy Merckx is the greatest road cyclist ever. Nicknamed 'The Cannibal' for his insatiable appetite for victory, he thoroughly dominated cycling for a full ten years like no one else has before or since. During his distinguished career he notched up multiple victories in every major tour and race and he was, for a time, simply unbeatable.


Édouard Louis Joseph (Eddy) Merckx was born on 17th June 1945 in Belguim. He acquired his first second hand racing bike when he was eight and began racing in 1961 aged sixteen. After 80 wins as an amateur, including the World Championships, he turned professional in 1965.

In 1968, Merckx became the first Belgian in history to win the Tour of Italy, the Giro. He would go on to win the it a further four times.

First Tour de France Win

The 1969 Tour was the first of five which Merckx won. At stage 17, though comfortably in the yellow jersey with victory assured if he merely followed his rivals as modern champions do, Merckx risked blowing up and losing the Tour. He attacked over the top of the Tourmalet then continued to ride solo for the next 140 kilometers. He won the stage by nearly eight minutes. Merckx led the race from stage 6 to 22 and his 17 minute 54 second margin of victory over the rider in second place has never been matched.

By the end of the Tour, he held not only the yellow jersey for the General Classification, but also the green jersey for the Points Classification and the polka dot jersey for the Mountain classification. Had the white jersey for best young rider (under 25) existed at that time, he would have won that as well. No other rider has ever achieved this incredible feat in the Tour de France.

Injury

Late in 1969, Merckx took a bad fall, cracking a vertebra and twisting his pelvis. Forever after he was constantly adjusting the position of his saddle, and despite his success, there are questions as to whether the injury may have limited him to some extent.

Hour Record

In October 1972, after he had raced a full road season winning the Tour, Giro and four classics, Merckx set the hour record covering 49.431 kilometers at high altitude in Mexico City.

The record stood until 1984, when Italian Francesco Moser broke it on a specially designed bicycle with meticulous improvements in streamlining. Over the next 15 years, the record extended to more than 56 kilometers, but the increasingly exotic design of the bikes and position of the rider meant these performances were no longer reasonably comparable to Merckx’s achievement.

In 2000, the regulations were finally modified, restoring Merckx’s 28 year-old record and mandating use of a traditional racing bicycle. Britain’s Chris Boardman made an attempt at the Hour Record using this new ruling and succeeded, racing at sea level and riding just 10 metres further than Merckx.

Please Don’t Race

After Merckx dominated and won his fourth straight Tour de France in 1972, the organizers asked him to not enter the following year in an attempt to reintroduce some uncertainty into the race and placate increasingly resentful French cycling fans.

Merckx obliged and instead captured his lone Vuelta a España title, and his fourth of five Giro d’Italia crowns. To this day, he ridicules the request, “How can you be criticized for doing what is the object of your chosen work?”

" I CHOSE TO RACE, SO I CHOSE TO WIN "


Triple Crown

The following year, 1974, Merckx was back and won not only the Tour de France but the Giro d’Italia and the World Championship Road Race aswell, to achieve the ‘Triple Crown’ in cycling, a feat which has been repeated only once since then.

Greatness is more than Winning

During the 1975 Tour, Merckx was punched in the stomach by a crazed French fan, then suffered a broken jaw after crashing into another rider. Doctors urged him to drop out of the race, but he pushed on, despite being unable to eat solid food and finished in second place by a margin of less than three minutes. This toughness in the face of adversity and the absence of victory won over even the critics who’d labelled his reign boring. He said, “I had to continue for the sake of the race, for honour and for my team.

" EDDY MERCKX IS TO CYCLING,
  WHAT PÉLE IS TO FOOTBALL "


The End of an Era

In 1978, Merckx decided to withdraw from competitive cycling. He declared, “I am living the most difficult day of my life...I’ve decided to stop racing.”

Eddy Merckx raced for thirteen seasons during which time the cycling record books were simply rewritten. Some of those records still appear to be untouchable. All the other riders of his era could do nothing but watch as their hopes, ambitions and earnings were swallowed up by the insatiable cannibal.
The Cannibal