Friday, January 26, 2007

This Just In: Eddy Merckx Was Good

Most fans will argue about the "Best Ever" in many sports, naming any number of great athletes as deserving of the title. This is not the case in bicycle racing. There is only one name that ever crosses the lips of an educated cycling fan when discussing the best ever. Eddy Merckx and Eddy Merckx alone is the only answer. And it's really not even remotely close. Most pro racers would be happy with any one of Merckx's record 525 career professional victories as the pinnacle of their entire career. I am reading a book on Merckx and I have to keep reminding myself that it is not fiction. Considering the fact that most pros are happy winning a handful of times in their lives, the FACT that Merckx won 54 races in a single season is borderline comical. No wonder they called him the "Cannibal."

For reference, Tom Boonen led all Pro Tour riders in 2006 with an impressive 21 victories. McEwen and Petacchi were next with 13. And that was without challenging for any kind of Grand Tour results. Merckx would have had those totals by the end of April. Honestly, Merckx's numbers are so gaudy that I really can't fully comprehend them right now. I hope to have more to say after I finish the book but I think the following woefully incomplete summary of his palmares is just about everything you need to know:

World Championship: (3) '67, '71, '74
Belgian Championship: (1) '70
Milan-San Remo: (7) '66, '67, '69, '71, '72, '75, '76
Tour of Flanders: (2) '69, '75
Paris-Roubaix: (3) '68, '70, '73
Liege-Bastogne-Liege: (5) '69, '71, '72, '73, '75
Amstel Gold Race: (2) '73, '75
Tour of Lombardy: (2) '71, '72

Het Volk: (2) '71, '73
Ghent-Wevelgem: (3) '67, '70, '73
Fleche-Wallonne: (3) '67, '70, '72
Paris-Brussels: (1) '73
Scheldt GP: (1) '72
Henninger Turm: (1) '71

Tour de France: (5) '69, '70, '71, '72, '74
Giro d' Italia: (5) '68, '70, '72, '73, '74
Tour of Switzerland: (1) '74
Vuelta a Espana: (1) '73
Tour of Belgium: (2) '70, '71

Dauphine Libere: (1) '71
Midi-Libre: (1) '71
Paris-Nice: (3) '69, '70, '71
Mediterranean Tour: (1) '77

  • Most career victories by a professional cyclist : 525.
  • Most victories in one season : 54.
  • hour speed record (1972): 49,432 km.
  • Most stage victories in the Tour de France : 34.
  • Most stage victories in one Tour de France : 8, in 1970 and 1974 (shared with Charles Pelissier in 1930 and Freddy Maertens in 1976).
  • Most days with the yellow jersey in the Tour de France : 96.
  • The only cyclist to have won the yellow, green and red polka-dotted jersey in the same Tour de France (1969).
Any Questions?


Bradley said...

What's the book?

J.T.A. said...

It's called:
Eddy Merckx; The Greatest Cyclist of the 20th Century. The title kind of gives the plot away but it's pretty good. Translated from Dutch; the author is Rik Vanwalleghem. Good insight on EM's enigmatic personality. Got it used at the Boulder Bookstore...yeah Boulder.

Anonymous said...

Brent the Tank says:
It's a really good book. I was lucky enough to have King Eddy sign my copy at Interbike 2001.

sebastian said...

Because it's never to late to leave a comment . . .

The Merckx stat that kills me is the fact that he actually set the 10k, 20k, and Hour records DURING THE SAME RIDE. That's like some Olympic track star establishing world records in the 800, the 1600, and the Marathon all in one go. Unbef#%kinglievable. I think that in fact his 1 k split is still the fastest of any Hour Record attempt -- faster than Indurain, Rominger, Boardman. His Hour mark probably would have outlasted Moser if he'd just been sensible and tackled one record at a time.

By the way, no die-hard fan should miss La Course en Tete -- Merckx's 1973 season set improbably to medieval music. Somehow, it works!