Édouard Louis Joseph, baron Merckx, famous by his professional name Eddy Merckx, is widely regarded as the most successful rider in the history of competitive cycling. With 525 victories over his eighteen-year career, he is one of only three riders to have won all five “Monuments of Cycling.” Here are some facts about the former Belgian bicycle racer:
Eddy Merckx is the greatest rider of all time, who dominated the field in ten of his thirteen cyclerace career. He was called ‘The Cannibal’ for his insatiable appetite for victories.
The nickname was given him by the daughter of Christian Raymond, his teammate. She said ‘This guy won’t let us win anything-he wants everything for himself, so he’s a cannibal.’
He has to his credit unequalled eleven Grand Tour victories, five Monuments, three World Championships and the Hour Record.
He was born Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx, on June 17, 1945, in Meensel-Kiezegem, Brabant, Belgium. He is the eldest of three children to Jenny and Jules Merckx. He has younger brother Michel and younger sister Micheline.
As a child he was hyperactive and was involved in variety of sports such as table tennis, boxing, football, tennis and basketball. But he wanted to be cyclist and his passion for cycle started from the age of four.
He obtained his racing license in 1961 and won his first race on October 01, followed by victory in Kermis race on March 11, 1962.He came under the tutelage of former racer, Felicien Vervaecke.
He dropped out of school to concentrate on cycling. He competed in 55 races in 1962 and won 23 of those.
In 1964, he competed in the Tokyo Olympics and finished twelfth on the Men’s individual road race. In the same year he won the men’s amateur division of Union Cyclist Internationale Road World Championship in Sallanches, France.
On April 29, 1965 Merckx turned professional and signed up with Belgian professional cycling team ‘Solo-Superia’ and won his first race in Vilvoorde. He followed this with second place finish in the Belgian National Championships, on August 01.
He moved his base to France and joined Peugeot-BP-Michelin cycling team, for 20,000 francs a month. His move was forced by his Solo-Superia teammate’s behavior apart from financial benefits.
In March 1966, Merckx made his presence felt in the major stage at the ‘Paris-Nice’ professional cycling stage race, finishing fourth overall. He followed this with a win at ‘Milan-San Remo’ on March 20, for his first of seven victories at the 298 km, one-day race.
On September 02, 1967, he signed a ten year contract with Faemino-Faema worth 400,000 Belgian francs, to have complete control over his career. A day later he won the 1967 UCI Road World Championships in Heerlen, Netherland, to become the third racer to win both amateur and professional titles.
As a part of Faema tem he won the 2.1 rated Giro-di-Sardegna stage road races at the start of 1968 and followed it up with victory at Paris-Roubaix, where he overcame Herman Van Springel and poor weather.
As per his team’s instructions, he skipped the Tour de France and participated in the Girod’Italia, in May 1968. He went on to win the 22 stage covering a distance of 3,917 kms along with points and mountain classifications.
The year 1969 saw Merckx ascendency in the cycling circuit with victory at ‘Vuelta a Levante,’ ‘Paris-Nice’ and the ‘Tour of Flanders’ in Belgium. He had success rate of 33% in the year.
At the ‘Girod’Italia,’ he was leading the race going into sixteenth day, when the race director informed him of his failed doping test and subsequently was disqualified and suspended for a month. However the suspension was overturned by FICP, on June 14, as a benefit of doubt.
Merckx had real life death experience on September 09, 1969, at the Blois outdoor velodrome in central France. He was racing behind his pacer on a motorbike, when he crashed and Merckx hit him at full speed. He landed on his head, injuring his hip and back.
Battling the cold in the heavy rain, Merckx, won the Paris-Roubaix one-day road race in 1970, with a lead of five minutes and twenty-one seconds, for a record margin of victory in the history of race.
With doping scandal in the previous year and partially due to physical weakness, he started the ‘Girod’Italia, reluctantly and went on to win the race.He also won the ‘Belgian National Road Race Championship, including the mountains and combination classifications. He finished the tour with eight stages victories which equaled the previous record.
At the start of 1971 season he was forced to join the Italian based team, Molteni. He won the Giro d Sardegna for his first major victory of the season and capped it with victory at Paris-Nice, Milan-San Remo, Tour of Belgium, Tour de France, Omloop Het Volk and the World Road Championship.
In the beginning of 1972 season he broke his vertebra in the Paris-Nice race and still managed to finish second overall. After becoming the third rider to win ‘La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastongne-Liege in the same weekend, he completed his second Giro-Tour double in the season.
In August 1972, He set a new ‘Hour Record’ at the altitude of 2,300m in Mexico City. He recorded 49,431 km, which according to him ‘the hardest ride I have ever done.’ The record stood for 12 years.
In 1973, he won the four classics in nineteen days and went on to win the VueltaaEspana and the Girod’Italia, to become the first rider to win it the same calendar year.
At the start of 1974 season he was plagued by various illnesses including Pneumonia which forced him out of race for about a month. For the first time he failed to win a spring classic, but returned to win his fifth Girod’Italia.
After winning the Tour de Suisse, he had a surgery to remove sebaceous cyst on June 22, 1974. He still started the Tour de France, with wound slightly open and bleeding. He weathered all difficulties to win his fifth Tour de France with eight stage wins and equaled record of Anquetil.
On August 25, 1974, he won the UCI Road World Championships, in Montreal, Canada, for his third world title. In the process he became the first rider to win the Triple Crown of Cycling in a season.
During the Tour de France race in 1975, while at the Puy-de-Dome leg of tour with about 150 meter remaining, he was punched in the back by a spectator, Nello Breton. After the race he vomited and with inflamed liver he was prescribed blood thinners.
On May 18, 1978, he announced his retirement from sport as per doctor’s advice. Following his retirement, he opened ‘Eddy Merckx Cycles’ on March 28, 1980, in Brussels. Although he stepped down as its CEO in 2008, he still tests the bikes.
In 1996, Merckx was honored with the title of ‘Baron’ by the king of Belgium, Albert II and the title of ‘Cavaliere’ title by the Italian. In 2011, he was named ‘Commander de la Legion d’honneur’ by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In 1585 races as a professional, Merckx won 445 races battling against great riders, some of whom rank among the greatest athletes. At his peak he had a winning percentage of 45%. In term of sheer physical effort, Merckx achievements exceeds around 500,000 km of riding.