Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike
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Eddy Merckx is to cycling what Muhammad Ali is to boxing or Pelé to football: quite simply, the best there has ever been.Throughout his professional career Merckx amassed an astonishing 445 victories. Lance Armstrong, by comparison, managed fewer than 100.
Merckx was a machine. It wasn't just the number of victories; it was his remorseless domination that created the legend. In 1969 while already comfortably leading the Tour de France, Merckx hammered a further eight-and-a-half minutes out of his nearest rivals during an 85-mile solo break in the Pyrenees. He didn't just beat his opponents, he crushed them.
But his triumphs only tell half a story that includes horrific injury, a doping controversy and tragedy. He was nicknamed 'The Cannibal' for his insatiable appetite for victory, but the moniker did scant justice to a man who was handsome, sensitive and surprisingly anxious.
For Britain's leading cycling writer, William Fotheringham, the burning question remains, why? What made Eddy Merckx so invincible? In Half Man, Half Bike, Fotheringham goes back to speak to those who were there at the time and those who knew Merckx best. The result is this extraordinary and definitive story of a man whose fear of failure would drive him to reach the highest pinnacles before ultimately destroying him.
suddenness of the change, and only really re-emerged when he built his bike factory with the help of the Italian constructor Ugo de Rosa in 1980. De Rosa, who had built bikes for Merckx during his Italian years – as well as Colnago – taught him the basics and trained the staff at his factory in Italy. Even this was not without its difficulties: like many other ex-cyclists, he had trouble setting up in business – the bike company almost went bankrupt at one point, and he became embroiled in a tax
championship, 1971 178–9 world championship, 1973 216, 217 Girardengo, Costante 215 Giro d’Italia 6, 40, 52, 77, 97, 155, 220, 235, 278, 288 1962 103 1963 103 1966 103 1967 64–5, 90, 96, 103, 127–8, 241–2 1968 72–5, 103, 152 1969 100–11, 119, 127, 243 1970 141–2, 224 1971 163, 164, 197 1972 55–6, 182, 184, 186–9, 208 1973 214–16 1976 5, 269–70 1977 109 Giro del Piemonte 158–9 1972 197–8 Giro dell’Emilia, 1972 198 Giro di Lombardi 40, 77, 277 1966
professions right now.’ He took the trouble to inspect the course beforehand and won, of course, after riding a perfect race: holding back when the early move went and attacking to join the leaders. The win was not as simple as many of the others that would follow, but it underlined Merckx’s utter determination. He bridged first to the lead group, then to one lone rider, Daniel De Hertogh, who in turn could not stay with Merckx as he pushed hard around one corner. That left Merckx alone in the
crash. ‘You would be honoured to be near Merckx in a race. It was admiring a film star, reading about them, seeing the pictures, then meeting face-to-face. I didn’t dare speak to him. I was happy just to be next to him.’ Nanard moved gradually up the hierarchy through the early 1970s, improving a little every year: fourth in the Tour in 1971, second in 1973 behind Ocaña, half a dozen stage wins along the way. He was a dogged man, who didn’t have De Vlaeminck’s panache, Gimondi’s elegant
the mountains, but we were pretty much at the same level in the final week. I wasn’t that good at Pra-Loup, but over the Izoard, he had a not-so-good day, I had a good one.’ Merckx’s sufferings, however, were just beginning. The next morning came the crash with Ole Ritter, in the neutralised zone between the start in Valloire and the départ réel outside the ski station, as the peloton prepared for the brief climb up the Col du Télégraphe, followed by the far longer descent into the Maurienne