“Nothing can ever compare to this; there will only ever be one Eddy Merckx in history”
on Merckx Jacques Goddet, “Never again will we be able to say that the Tour is not won until Paris.” Merckx pursued, “the destiny prescribed by the natural play of his uncommon gifts,” typed Antoine Blondin. While for Pierre Chany the Belgian was, “like those matadors thirsty for blood who provoke the bull simply to feel the thrill of excitement.”
Five days later Merckx stood in Paris in yellow. The first Belgian to do so for 30 years. He also won the points jersey and the king of the mountains, something that had never been done before nor repeated since. He would go on to stand on the top step in Paris on another four occasions.
Merckx first announced himself as a grand tour rider at the Giro in 1967. There he won a legendary stage on Blockhaus ahead of Italian climber Italo Zilioli, much to a nation’s shock. The next year he opened his grand tour account at the same race, taking three stages on his way to a five-minute win overall. The Giro was a race he would win again in 1970 before claiming three in a row between 1972 and 1974. He also took the Vuelta in 1973, completing a clean sweep of all three grand tours.
If Merckx dominated three-week stage racing, one- day Classics were no different. Milano-Sanremo was his favoured hunting ground, first winning the race in 1966, taking an 11-man sprint to the line. In total he claimed the race seven times in the space of 11 years. Over the course of his career he added five Liège-Bastogne-Liège titles, three ParisRoubaix wins, and Flanders and Lombardy twice each, to become the most successful Classics rider of all.
Nor was he a stranger to the rainbow jersey. He won the World Championships three times, a record he shares with three other riders.
Stories of Merckx’s daring escapes and solo escapades are legion. For him, normal tactics didn’t matter, if his heart and legs told him to go, he went. One of his most legendary wins came in the 1969 Ronde van Vlaanderen when, in gales and downpours, he destroyed the peloton on the Grammont and, with 70km still to go, disobeyed his team director’s orders to wait and soloed into a headwind to win by over five minutes.
“I thought to myself that if I was going to do all the work on the front, I may just as well ride off alone,” he reflected in later years.
Eddy Merckx. The Cannibal. The best there ever was. The best there ever will be. Tour de France: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974 Giro d’Italia: 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974 Vuelta a España: 1973 Milano-Sanremo: 1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1976 Ronde van Vlaanderen: 1969, 1975 Paris-Roubaix: 1968, 1970, 1973 Liège-Bastogne-Liège: 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975 Giro di Lombardia: 1971, 1972 World Championships: 1967, 1971, 1974 Gent-Wevelgem: 1967, 1970, 1973 La Flèche Wallonne: 1967, 1970, 1972 Paris-Nice: 1969, 1970, 1971 Dauphiné Libéré: 1971