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Eddy Merckx – The Cannibal

You’ve probably heard of the Belgian Eddy Merckx already. But you might not know why he is such a legend. To summarise he is a former professional road and track racer and is generally regarded as the most successful cyclist in the history of the sport.

He competed as a professional for 17 years between 1961 to 1978 and has palty 525 wins to his name! That’s 30 wins a year on average. Not bad. Just looking at the bigs ones… He won 11 Grand Tours and this is how it breaks down: Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia five times each and the Vuelta a España once. Add to that the Milan–San Remo 7 times, Liège–Bastogne–Liège 5 times, Paris–Roubaix 3 times, 3 wins of Paris–Nice, the Tour of Flanders and Giro di Lombardia twice each and just managed to squeeze in a win of the National Road Race Championships to get the rainbow jersey.

Through his illustrious career he gained the nickname The Cannibal. You don’t give yourself a nickname like that. The peloton gave it to him and I think a few of the below quotes give us a great insight into his mind. He wanted to decimate the field by bringing as much damage as possible. If he was hurting - he wanted everyone else to hurt too.

“In my time it was different. When I knew the wind was strong, I attacked myself to make the race as hard as possible.”

“Cyclists live with pain. If you can't handle it you will win nothing”

Along with quotes like that you read about stories like this one. During the six-hour, 213km, 12th stage to ‘Tre Cime di Laveredo’ in the 1968 Giro Merckx put his first stamp on a Grand Tour. He started the race sitting 2nd on general classification but was content to let a 12 man break go early in the stage. When the break had a nine-minute gap he decided to act.

After a mechanical forced a bike change, Merckx had to ride through freezing rain to try to catch the break. The rain turned to sleet, and Merckx was still behind the bunch as they started the climb of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo – a brutal climb with some steep sections well over 12%. At this stage Merckx was still nearly 9 minutes behind.

Still in a short sleeve jersey but wearing a pair of gloves, Merckx chased Motta and Gimondi up the climb. Merckx said years later that this was his best ever day in the mountains. He went on alone to win at the top of Tre Cime di Lavaredo by 40 seconds, Motta was four minutes behind, a tearful Gimondi a further six minutes back.

If you want to read some more about The Cannibal I can recommend grabbing a book or two.

english cyclist - eddy merckx book 1

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english cyclist - eddy merckx book 2

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