Eddy Merckx: Wikis

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Eddy Merckx
Merckx in 1973 {!}alt=A man holding a bicycle. The man's shirt says "Molteni Arcore".
Merckx in 1973
Personal information
Full name Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx
Nickname The Cannibal
Date of birth 17 June 1945 (1945-06-17) (age 64)
Country Belgium
Team information
Current team Retired
Discipline Road and track
Role Rider
Rider type All-rounder
Amateur team(s)1
1961–1964 Evere Kerkhoek Sportif
Professional team(s)1
1965
1966–1967
1968–1970
1971–1976
1977
1978
Solo-Superia
Peugeot-BP
Faema
Molteni
Fiat
C&A
Major wins
Tour de France
Jersey yellow.svg Overall Classification (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974)
Jersey green.svgPoints Classification (1969, 1971, 1972)
Mountain Classification (1969, 1970)
Jersey red number.svgCombativity Award (1969, 1970, 1974, 1975)
34 Individual Stages (1969–1975)

Giro d'Italia

Jersey pink.svg Overall Classification (1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974)
Jersey violet.svg Points Classification (1968, 1973)
Jersey green.svg Mountain Classification (1968)
24 Individual Stages (1968–1974)

Vuelta a España

Jersey gold.svg Overall Classification (1973)
Jersey blue.svg Points Classification (1973)
Jersey white.svg Combined Classification (1973)
6 Individual Stages

MaillotMundial.PNG Road Race World Championships (1967, 1971, 1974)
Milan-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)
Super Prestige Pernod International (1969,
1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975)

Infobox last updated on:
16 January 2007

1 Team names given are those prevailing
at time of rider beginning association with that team.

Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Merckx (Flemish pronunciation: [ˈmerks]) (born 17 June 1945 in Meensel-Kiezegem, now part of Tielt-Winge, Flemish Brabant[1 ]), better known as Eddy Merckx, is a Belgian former professional cyclist. The French magazine Vélo called him "the most accomplished rider that cycling has ever known."[2 ] The American publication, VeloNews, called him the greatest and most successful cyclist of all time.[3] He won the Tour de France five times, won all the classics except Paris-Tours,[2 ] won the Giro d'Italia five times and the Vuelta a España, won the world championship as an amateur and a professional, and broke the world hour record.

Contents

Origins

Eddy Merckx was one of three children born to a couple who ran a grocery in the middle-class area of Sint-Pieters-Woluwe. His brother and sister are twins.[4] The family moved to the suburb when he was young. He said:

I had a beautiful childhood. I had loving, very sensible parents. We weren't rich, but my younger brother and sister... and myself never wanted for anything. My father was a man of great character and my mother very warm and kind. Both of them were wonderful examples to me. Like everyone, I am a mixture of both of them. My determination and willingness to work hard came from my father. He worked tirelessly to build up his grocery business. He was strict on discipline, but he was also a bit of a philosopher. I have kept some of his sayings in my head for the whole of my life. From my mother I get my softer side. An example of that is the fact that I often find it difficult to say no to people. They maybe don't mean to, but people can use you up if you let them.[4]

He acquired his first racing bike, second-hand, when he was eight. His hero was Stan Ockers, who died in a fall on Antwerp track in 1956.

"[He was my hero] because of the Tour de France. Ockers had won stages in it, won the green jersey twice, finished second overall twice. He was always in the news during the Tour de France, and the Tour was everything to me. The race. I didn't even know much about the classics because they were held on a Sunday, and on that day we used to visit my grandmother at her farm in Meensel-Kiezegem, where I was born."[4]

Merckx said:

"I hated school, I loved doing all the sports, but I hated to be inside. I left as soon as I could. It caused friction at home, especially with my father. But it was typical of him that he supported my decision, especially when he saw that I loved the thing I had chosen, cycling, and was doing well at it."[4]

Racing career

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Early career

Merckx rode his first race at Laeken[5] on 16 July 1961,[6 ] riding for the Evere Kerkhoek Sportif club.[7] He rode 12 races before winning his first, at Petit-Enghien, on 1 October 1961.[2 ] The French magazine, Vélo, said:

Eddy Merckx was a spoiled child of the post-war generation. Very spoiled, in fact. To see that, you have only to look at photos of his youth: Eddy dressed as a page boy, as an injured soldier (his sister played the role of nurse), as a cowboy, the Merckx family on winter sports holidays, Eddy and his father's Plymouth car. So many memories of a happy childhood far, very far, from those of a van Looy or a Coppi. He was often reproached for it, but was it his fault if God gave him so much? From his win at Hal [the year after his first victory], he started to live the life of a proper professional. Félicien Vervaecke, an excellent rider from the 1930s, king of the mountains in the Tours de France of 1935 and 1937, second to Gino Bartali in 1938, drove him to the track at Schaerbeek every Tuesday. Then Guillaume Michiels, another celebrity, took over.[2 ]

Merckx moved from the youth to the senior amateur class two months early.[8 ] At the time, riders had to wait until their 18th birthday. Merckx said:

"I was winning races, but it wasn't easy. I wasn't dominating anything back then."[8 ]

Patrick Sercu rode with him in newcomers' and junior races on the track at the Palais des Sports in Brussels. Merckx could not beat him on the track but Sercu said that when he saw Merckx on the road he believed he was looking at a future winner of the Tour de France.[9]

Olympic Games and world championship

In 1964, he rode the road race at the 1964 Summer Olympics and finished 12th.[n 1] In the same year, he became world amateur champion at Sallanches, France. He said his victory was tainted by the long list of riders who had won the amateur championship and done nothing afterwards.[8 ] Merckx said of the race:

Yes, I remember it, [winning the world championship] but winning the Tour de France for the first time was more important to me. The world championship can be won by any good rider who has the right form on the right day, but to win the Tour you have to be good every day. I was in the break after the first few laps, but when the bunch started coming back to us, I broke away on the last climb to win by 27 seconds from Walter Planckaert, with Gösta Pettersson of Sweden third. Planckaert hadn't realised I was away and he thought that he had won.[10]

Turning professional

A man on a bicycle, with a car behind him.
Merckx at the 1966 World championship
"The atmosphere at Peugeot was totally different [from Solo-Superia]. All I got from van Looy and his cronies was ridicule, not one piece of help or advice. They were very unfair, I was still just a naïve young boy really. With Peugeot, and especially with Tom [Simpson], it was completely different,"
—Eddy Merckx,[4]

He turned professional on 29 April 1965,[1 ] after 80 wins as an amateur.[6 ] He joined Solo-Superia under Rik van Looy. One of the other riders was Jean van Buggenhout, who became his manager.[2 ] His first win was at Vilvoorde on 11 May. He came second to Walter Godefroot in the national championship and was picked for the national team for the world championship near San Sebastian, Spain. The race was won by Tom Simpson. Simpson rode normally for Peugeot and Merckx moved there the following year after nine wins with Solo.[1 ] There he won the first of seven editions of Milan-San Remo[11] still aged 20.

In 1967 he repeated his 1966 Milan-San Remo success and also won La Fleche Wallonne. His first grand tour was the 1967 Giro d'Italia, in which he won two stages and finished ninth. Later that year he out-sprinted Jan Janssen and the Spaniard Ramon Saez to become world professional champion at Heerlen, The Netherlands.[11][12 ] Cycling 's reporter, said:

A gamble which paid off won the world professional title for Eddy Merckx, three years after his amateur victory, the quickest 'conversion' in history, and justification of a policy of careful preparation rather than opportunism. The tall Belgian, who with his countryman Jean Aerts (now a radio commentator) is the only road-man to have done the double, had led the race from the first lap... So they came to the sprint, which was as clean as one could have hoped, the five men giving one another no mercy, yet sprinting as straight as a die following a lead by the ever-aggressive Jos van der Vleuten, who blotted his copybook by refusing a dope-test after the finish. Merckx was flanked by Janssen on his left, Saez on his right, two redoubtable sprinters at the end of a long hard race, yet he left them no opportunity of getting by.[12 ]

Merckx was earning 125,000 Belgian francs a year when he won the championship (approx €2,000 at 2008 values). He didn't buy his first car until he had been a professional for three years.[8 ]

Move to Italy

At Peugeot, Merckx had had to pay for his wheels and tyres.[8 ] In 1968 he moved to the Italian Faema team.[1 ] [13] The Italian coffee machine company had returned to sponsorship, having backed teams led by van Looy and others in the past. [13] He said:

"It was a relief to ride in Italy. It wasn't by chance that all the big riders of the era wanted to ride there. There was a structure, organisation, medical supervision [accompagnement]."[8 ]

Faema, however, had no interest in the Tour de France, Merckx said.

"They even had to find a sponsor, Coca-Cola to be able to ride it. But I was 23 and I hadn't yet ridden it. I could see how it was going in France. I signed with Faema the day before the world championship at Heerlen, in 1967. I could earn three times as much with them than I would in the next two years with Peugeot."[8 ]

Coca-Cola offered Merckx a million Belgian francs to ride in 1968, van Buggenhout urged him to accept, but Merckx refused believing himself not strong enough to ride both the Giro - which was important to Faema- and the Tour - which wasn't. [14][n 2]

Merckx won Paris-Roubaix and started his domination of the grands tours by becoming the first Belgian to win the Giro d'Italia in 1968.[15] He did this another four times, equalling the record of five by Alfredo Binda and Fausto Coppi.

Starting 1969, he won Paris-Nice. In the time trial, he overtook the five-time Tour de France winner, Jacques Anquetil,[16] who for 15 years had been the world's best time-triallist. Merckx won Milan-San Remo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

During the 1969 Giro d'Italia, he was found to have used drugs and was disqualified[6 ] (See below - Giro d'Italia).

Tour de France

Christian Raymond was a rider in the Peugeot team in 1969. When he explained to his 12-year-old daughter how the race had gone, she said:
"That Belgian, he doesn't even leave you the crumbs... he's a cannibal."
The nickname stuck.
—Christian Raymond, Geoffrey Nicholson[17] Bill Strickland[18][19]

1969 Tour de France

The 1969 Tour de France was the first which Merckx.[11] won, even though he was almost deprived of it by a doctor in Lille who found abnormalities in his heart rhythm[20] Merckx was cleared to start after medical colleagues said the hearts of endurance athletes were often unusual.

The French historian Jean-Paul Ollivier said:

"Faema had become practically a Belgian team through its riders. The crafty Guillaume Driessens had become directeur sportif and performed a psychological exercise of the highest importance, not hiding from anyone that he intended to construct a monolithic block: everyone for Merckx.",[16]

Faema drew number one in the draw for places in the opening prologue, a time-trial over 10.4 km at Roubaix. Driessens chose Merckx, a decision which surprised because the first rider has no other performances by which to pace his ride.[16] He lost six seconds to Rudi Altig because of a headwind in the outward stretch that dropped for later starters. But he took his first yellow jersey in his home of Woluwe-St-Pierre at the end of a 15.6 km team time trial.[16] In stage two, ending in Maastricht, Merckx allowed his teammate Julien Stevens to take over the yellow jersey because it is difficult for a favorite to lead the race from the early stages and withstand his rival's attacks for so many days [16]. Merckx reclaimed the lead in stage six on Ballon d'Alsace, in the Vosges of eastern France where he attacked Roger De Vlaeminck, Altig, Rini Wagtmans and Manuel Galera. Pierre Chany wrote:

At the approach to the Ballon, Merckx came out of the bunch like a bullet... From the first slopes, he pushed the pace harder and dropped those who'd gone with him, judged a nuisance and of no use. At the summit, Altig had lost two minutes, the main challengers for victory were at 4m 30s, and Désiré Letort, who was wearing the yellow jersey, was relegated by more than seven minutes.[20]

A green field with the words "Coupe du monde".
Velodrome Eddy Merckx at Mourenx. Named in his honour in 1999.

Merckx won the 17th stage, over four cols from Luchon to Mourenx[n 3] by eight minutes after riding alone for 140 km.[11] He climbed the col du Tourmalet in a small group including Roger Pingeon and Raymond Poulidor, having dropped Felice Gimondi. On the final bend to the summit, Merckx attacked and opened a few seconds. By the foot of the col d'Aubisque he had more than a minute and by the top eight minutes. He maintained the pace for the remaining 70 km to Mourenx, an industrial town near Pau. Antoine Blondin wrote of la planète Merckx.[21] In L'Équipe Jacques Goddet wrote simply

Merckxissimo.[21]

He won the general classification (yellow jersey), points classification (green jersey) and the mountains classification. No other rider has achieved this triple in the Tour de France, and only Tony Rominger and Laurent Jalabert have matched it in any grand tour[n 4] Merckx also won the combination classification and the combativity award. Merckx led the race from stage six to twenty-two. His 17 minute 54 second margin of victory over second-placed Roger Pingeon has never been matched since. It was the first time a Belgian had won the Tour since Sylvère Maes 30 years earlier, and Merckx became a national hero.

Absolutely triumphant, Eddy Merckx entered Paris in imperial dominance [achèvement], admired but wrapped in a curious and somehow indefinable halo of genius. It is hard to hold back from eulogising a champion of this exceptional quality, possessing all the gifts of his speciality, straightforward and above all a rider who commits himself to the race [surtout un coureur de responsabilité], reaching all his objectives through his own personal attacking.
—Jacques Goddet, 1970[22]

1970 Tour de France

In the 1970 Tour de France, Merckx took the yellow jersey in the prologue, thrashing his bike. Jean-Paul Ollivier said:

"At the peak of effort he looks on his bike as though he is fighting an imaginary enemy. He is a pedaller of violence, but the violence is carefully directed, balanced, transformed into efficient energy. He already sees himself [est déjà entré dans la peau de] the winner of the Tour."[21]

As the previous year he let the yellow jersey pass to a team-mate, this time Italo Zilioli, taking it back after seven stages at Valenciennes. He won the prologue, in road stages, the final time trial and on Mont Ventoux. There he pushed himself so hard that he collapsed while talking to journalists, saying "No, it's impossible!"[23] He was carried to an ambulance for oxygen.[11] His eight stages equalled the record set in 1930 by Charles Pélissier.[24] He won the mountains classification and finished second in the sprinter's classification. He won by 12m 41s over Joop Zoetemelk.

1971 Tour de France

The only rider of the period to shake Merckx was the Spaniard, Luis Ocaña, who lived near Mont-de-Marsan in south-west France. Ocaña cared little for Merckx's reputation and attacked him on the Puy-de-Dôme, dropping him but not taking the yellow jersey. Three days later, Ocaña attacked when the race reached the Alps. By Orcières-Merlette he had taken 8m 41s out of the Belgian. By then resentment had built at the way Merckx was winning everything.[25] Chany wrote that

There was a feeling that it would be good for cycling if he lost.[26]

The title on the front page of Paris-Match was: "Is Merckx going to kill the Tour?" A rider at the Grand Prix du Midi Libre was quoted as saying: "When you know how much Merckx is earning, you sometimes lose the will to make an effort if you're paid in loose change [rabais]."[26] The resentment left Merckx to chase Ocaña without help. One rider, Celestino Vercelli, said:

Merckx never let anybody break away. But that day... we don't know.... The start was on an upgrade and he wasn't that brilliant in the beginning. Maybe he was still warming up and his adversaries, Luis Ocaña, Joaquim Agostinho, Joop Zoetemelk, noticed that and decided to break away immediately. It cost him dearly because the stage was long and very hard and there were four or five climbs. He took it badly, because it had never happened to him to be behind and lose so much time. Usually he was the one who was nine minutes in front the others![27]

A rest day followed and then a stage from Orcières-Merlette to Marseille. It started with 20 km downhill, followed by 280 km along a valley. Merckx and his team attacked from the start, led by Rini Wagtmans, immediately gaining several minutes. But the speed downhill and the heavier braking needed for bends led rims to overheat, melting the glue that held tyres to the rim. It happened to several riders and Merckx lost some of his team-mates as a result.[27] Vercelli said:

Merckx needed to recover the nine minutes he lost and he meant to do so by arriving in the valley with several minutes' lead with a good group of about eight riders. This way it would have been very difficult for the rest of the peloton behind to catch them in the 280km of the valley. In the 280km of flat road he personally pulled the group for 250km on his own! And of course the peloton behind him went very fast. There were all Merckx's adversaries and they were all interested in catching him. They all worked together for that. It was basically Merckx alone against all the others.[27]

Merckx got to Marseille half an hour faster than the fastest expected time. The entire Kas team finished outside the time limit but were reinstated.[28] Only 1,000 spectators were at the finish early enough. Among those too late was the mayor of the city, Gaston Deferre,[n 5] who decided to see the finish at the last moment but arrived after the riders had left for the showers and the officials for their hotels. He forbade the Tour to return to the city for the rest of his career.[25] It next stopped in Marseille in 1989, three years after his death.

Despite a stage that averaged 45.4kmh, Merckx cut Ocaña's lead only to 7m 32s. He waited for the Pyrenees. There, on the col de Mente, hail and rain flooded the road. Pierre Chany said:

... [Merckx] attacked in a rage several times, out of the saddle and bent over his bars, Ocaña in his wake. He multiplied the attacks, changed from one side of the road to the other ceaselessly to get Ocaña off his wheel, but in vain.[28]

Unable to shake off Ocaña on the way up, Merckx tried to do so on the way down. The storm broke at the summit. Pierre Chany said:

... worse than a storm, ... a cataclysm. ... "hail fell, visibility was zero, brakes no longer worked; riders were taking the descent with their feet on the road to slow them."[28]

Merckx missed a bend, hit a low wall and fell. He got up straight away but two spectators had gone to help him. Ocaña ran into them, crashed heavily and was hit by Zoetemelk and then two other riders who had been following by a few seconds. The fall put Ocaña out of the race and gave the yellow jersey to Merckx, although he declined to wear it next morning in respect for the Spaniard.[25][29] Merckx won the Tour by 9m 51s over Zoetemelk and 11m 6s over Lucien van Impe. The same year he became world champion again.

1972 Tour de France

In 1972, there was anticipation of a rematch between Merckx and Ocaña.[30] The Spaniard insisted that Merckx would never have won but for the crash. Merckx replied:

"Ocaña talks too much. I've won the Tour three times. He's never taken the yellow jersey to Paris. I've done the sums: in three rides, he's dropped out twice. With a record like that he should keep his voice down."[31]

Merckx won the prologue at Angers but lost the yellow jersey when Cyrille Guimard won the following day at St-Brieuc. Guimard held the lead for seven stages, despite growing knee pain. Merckx won the stage at Luchon on day eight and with it the lead. He kept the yellow jersey to the end, winning the sprint competition and coming second to van Impe in the mountains. The battle with Ocaña fizzled out when the Spaniard crashed in the Pyrenees again,[30] falling on the Aubisque, and dropping out with a lung infection on the 15th day.[32]

With four wins, Merckx was approaching Jacques Anquetil's record of five, and the French public was becoming hostile. He had already been whistled at the finish in Vincennes after winning in 1970.[22] For that reason, the Tour organisers asked Merckx not to start in 1973; instead he won the Vuelta a Espana, where he beat Luis Ocaña and Bernard Thévenet, and he won the Giro.

1974 Tour de France

I was in form in the Tour, but I had to cope with [the 'terrible' consequences of] an operation that I had before the start. The wound hadn't had time to heal properly. I finished the prologue with blood in my shorts, and I suffered like a martyr these three last weeks. Without saying anything. Above all in the mountains where, to lessen the pain, I tried to climb out of the saddle, which cost me a lot more energy. That's why I was so ill at ease on the Mont du Chat. I was trying to find the least uncomfortable position, whereas Poulidor was superb.
—Eddy Merckx, [33]

By 1974, "the wear and tear was beginning to show," Merckx acknowledged.[34] Yet he still won the Giro, the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France, including its closing stage in Paris, within eight weeks. Far from challenging Merckx, Ocaña rode the Vuelta with bronchitis, started the Midi-Libre but dropped out, then broke a bone in the Tour de 'Aude. His sponsor, the pen and lighter company, Bic, fired him.[35][n 6]

The novelty of the Tour was its first excursion to England, for a criterium up and down an unopened bypass near Plymouth. By the ninth stage, the race looked over. Patrick Sercu had the sprinters' jersey after winning three stages, and Merckx was in yellow. The Dutchman, Gerben Karstens, challenged both by collecting repeated bonuses in the intermediate sprints each day but lost his chance in a war of words as well as wheels[36] when Sercu and Merckx joined forces as rivals against a common enemy. The race then settled in to ride round France in a heatwave. And then, said Chany, came a remarkable attack on the Mont du Chat, above Lac du Bourget.

Gonzalo Aja[n 7] had broken away on this very modest second-category climb and Jos Bruyère and Merckx were at the front of the rest of the race as it rode slowly towards the summit, when Louis Caput drove up through the group with a blast on his klaxon. He drew Poulidor's attention and gestured to him to attack. Imagine the surprise to see the Limousin, almost 40 years old, obey instantly. He attacked and, just as surprising, Merckx stayed where he was. The crowd couldn't believe their eyes, seeing Poulidor riding past them a hundred metres ahead of the maillot jaune. The contrast of styles showed the contrast of their powers. The Limousin took the climb as much out of the saddle as in it, his cap askew, without weakening. The Belgian was back-bent on his bicycle, sweat trickling down his face, pushing heavily on the pedals, losing time and showing his new limits in the mountains.[37]

Poulidor's tentative attack didn't succeed and next day he lost five minutes. But he twice more bettered Merckx in the Pyrenees, at St-Lary and on the Tourmalet. Merckx won the Tour 8m 4s ahead of Poulidor and a further three in front of Vicente Lopez-Carril. It left journalists divided about whether they had seen a remarkable comeback by Poulidor or the first signs of vulnerability in Merckx.[38] Michel Pollentier, "at the price of unbelievable contortions [on his bike]",[35] beat Merckx by 10 seconds in the time trial at Orléans just before Paris.

Victory gave Merckx five wins in the Tour, equalling Anquetil. Over the next 25 years, only Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain were able to equal him. Then Lance Armstrong won the Tour a sixth (2004) and a seventh (2005) time.

1975 Tour de France

Merckx's domination in the grands tours ended in 1975. The race started well - he held the yellow jersey for eight days, raising his total to 96 - but ended in disappointment. L'Équipe said:

The millions of television spectators who saw him ride away on the descent of the col d'Allos, on 13 July that year, were persuaded that the Tour was decided. The Belgian outdistanced all his rivals, first Zoetemelk, then Gimondi and van Impe, finally Thévenet, the last to resist. At the bottom of the descent, he led by a minute and his rivals seemed resigned. They had been under his thumb [subissent sa férule] so long that defeat had become, for them, a habit. But this time there was a climate of open hostility: the public who spat at him; the organisers who hoped secretly that he would lose; the journalists who had run out of stories. [And then] something never seen happened on the Puy de Dôme, where Thévenet and Ocaña had distanced him by about 20 seconds. At 150m before the line, a man, a sort of Dupont-Lajoie[n 8] came out of the crowd and punched Merckx in the kidney, with a blow loaded with hate. The act of a fanatic, an opponent [mécreant], symptomatic of the anti-Merckxism that reigned. [14][39]

Thévenet attacked Merckx on the col d'Izoard on 14 July, France's national day. Merckx, who was suffering back pain and from the punch, fought back but lost the lead and never regained it. Pierre Chany wrote:

Those who were there will be slow to forget Bernard Thévenet's six successive attacks in the never-ending climb of the col des Champs, Eddy Merckx's immediate and superb response, the alarming chase by the Frenchman after a puncture delayed him on the descent of the col, the Belgian's attack on the way to the summit of the Allos, his breath-taking plunge towards the Pra-Loup valley, his sudden weakening four kilometres from the top and, to finish, Thévenet's furious push. The end of the race was frenetic. Has Eddy Merckx's long reign in the Tour de France come to an end on the Pra-Loup. Some think so; others believe that it will happen tomorrow.[40]

A British writer, Graeme Fife, wrote:

Thévenet caught Merckx, by now almost delirious, 3km from the finish and rode by. The pictures show Merckx's face torn with anguish, eyes hollow, body slumped, arms locked shut on the bars, shoulders a clenched ridge of exertion and distress. Thévenet, mouth gaping to gulp more oxygen, looks pretty well at the limit, too, but his effort is gaining; he's out of the saddle, eyes fixed on the road. He said he could see that one side of the road had turned to liquid tar in the baking heat and Merckx was tyre-deep in it.[41]

Beside the road, a woman in a bikini waved a sign that said: "Merckx is beaten. The Bastille has fallen."[42] Thévenet had taken the climb on the larger chain-ring.[42] A collision with the Danish rider Ole Ritter broke Merckx's cheekbone. He could not eat solid food and was barely able to talk. During the last stage, he attacked Thévenet but was caught by the peloton. Merckx finished second to Thévenet, second in the mountains and second best sprinter. He said riding the 1975 Tour didn't itself shorten his career, but...

...the fact that I continued in the 1975 Tour de France after I crashed definitely did shorten it. My build-up to that race had already been problematical, and actually I wasn't in the best of health when I started it. But after the crash, in which I fractured my cheekbone, I suffered like you cannot imagine possible. I could not take in anything but liquids. I had to race on empty. I had to continue for the sake of the race, for honour and for my team-mates. They depended on my prize money. Remember that I still finished second. What I should have done, looking back, was pay my riders what I would have earned out of my own pocket and left the race. Then maybe with my strength rebuilt I could have been competitive in 1976.[4]

1976 Tour de France

Merckx began 1976 by winning his seventh Milan-San Remo[43] but missed winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen after falling on the Koppenberg and walking to the top because it was too steep to get back in the saddle.[43] A saddle sore still troubled him and his doctor told him not to ride the Tour.[44]

1977 Tour de France

"It was no different until the [1977] season got into full swing. I prepared well and actually won my first big race, the Tour of the Mediterranean, but as soon as more racing came along my body failed. I kept catching colds and other minor illnesses, where before I rarely did. I started to get little niggling strains and injuries too. Still, I was sixth in the Tour de France that year, and won 17 races. Wouldn't Belgium like to have someone who could finish sixth in the Tour now?
But deep down I knew it was gone."
—Eddy Merckx [4]

The 1977 Tour was one too many for Merckx.[43] He suffered on the col de la Madeleine and lost 13 seconds to Hennie Kuiper on Alpe d'Huez. Didi Thurau, a 22-year-old German, beat him in the Pyrenees and bettered him by 50 seconds in the time trial. With Géminiani, his manager in the Fiat team, he had agreed to ride a light start to the season with the aim of a sixth win.[45] But having been outridden by both Thurau and Thévenet, he fell ill. Chany wrote:

In the Alps, Dietrich Thurau paid the bill for his inexperience and his incapacity above 1,500m altitude. He lost the yellow jersey, which passed to Thévenet, in the climb to Avoriaz, where Zoetemelk pulled off a highly athletic performance. Tenth at two minutes to the Dutchman, Eddy Merckx was suffering a little. Forty-eight hours later, between Chamonix and the Alpe d'Huez, the Belgian, ill but determined to defend his reputation, suffered a very long Calvary and finished in a highly pronounced fatigue, a quarter of an hour behind the leaders.[46]

By St-Étienne, Merckx had risen to sixth place and began talking of riding the Tour again in 1978, "stupifying those who heard him and splitting his team," according to Chany. The 1977 Tour collapsed into a doping scandal when Zoetemelk was found guilty. Rumours abounded about others. Thévenet won for the second time and four months later said he had succeeded by taking cortisone.[47] Merckx finished sixth, 12m 38s behind. He never did ride in 1978, the year which produced the first victory by Bernard Hinault, the next to win five Tours de France.

Giro d'Italia

Merckx won the Giro d'Italia in 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973 and 1974. Following his 1968 win, he said he knew he could win the Tour de France. He won 24 Giro stages in his career. His final victory came in a battle with the Italians Gianbattista Baronchelli, who he beat by 12 seconds, and Felice Gimondi, who lost by 33 seconds.[48]

World championship 1974

A few men riding on racing bicycles with a lot of spectators cheering.
Merckx at the 1974 world road championship in Montreal.

Merckx also won the world championship in 1974 for the third time, which only Alfredo Binda and Rik van Steenbergen had done before him, and only Óscar Freire would do after him. Because of his victories in the three most important races of the year, the 1974 Tour de France, the 1974 Giro d'Italia and the 1974 world championship, Merckx won the Triple Crown of Cycling. Since then, only Stephen Roche has been able to do that, in 1987.

Classics victories

Merckx had an impressive list of victories in one-day races, the Classic cycle races, (See Significant victories by race). Among highlights are a record seven victories in Milan-San Remo (absolute record in one classic), two in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, three in Paris-Roubaix, five in Liège-Bastogne-Liège (record), and two in the Giro di Lombardia, a total of 19 victories. He also won the world road championship a record three times in 1967, 1971 and 1974, and every classic except Paris-Tours.

The only rider to have won all the classics is Rik van Looy, Merckx having missed Paris-Tours. A lesser Belgian rider, Noël van Tyghem, won Paris-Tours in 1972[49] and said:

Between us, I and Eddy Merckx have won every classic that can be won. I won Paris–Tours, Merckx won all the rest.[50]

Merckx also won 17 six-day track races, often with Patrick Sercu.

Win rate

In his best year, Merckx won almost every other race he rode. Merckx won the equivalent of a race a week for six years.[50] This table shows his strike rate of wins as a percentage of races undertaken.

  • 1965: 13%
  • 1966: 21%
  • 1967: 23%
  • 1968: 24%
  • 1969: 33%
  • 1970: 37%
  • 1971: 45%
  • 1972: 39%
  • 1973: 37%
  • 1974: 27%
  • 1975: 25%
  • 1976: 13%
  • 1977: 14%
  • 1978: 0%

Hour record

An orange bicycle behind glass.
The bicycle Merckx used during his hour speed record attempt. On display at the Eddy Merckx metro station on the Brussels Metro.

Merckx set the hour record in 1972. On 25 October, after he had raced a full road season winning the Tour, Giro and four classics, Merckx covered 49.431 km at high altitude in Mexico City. The American writer, Owen Mulholland, wrote:

At 8:56 exactly, Eddy Merckx began his great ride. A bell was sounded each lap. If he were on schedule he should be crossing the start line as it sounded. After the first two laps Eddy was a quarter lap up! Giogi Albani, who had the job of standing where Merckx actually was when the bell was rung, had a hard time keeping up! Merckx's first kilometer passed in 1m 10s and five kilometres in 5m 55.7. Already Eddy was 14 seconds up on Ole Ritter's record to this point. Onlookers couldn't believe their eyes. A second five kilometres in 5m 58s obliterated Ritter's 10km time by five seconds. Ritter's 20km time was eclipsed by 11 seconds. And remember, Ritter had set his records on a special ride separate from his hour attempt. Compared to Ritter's hour pace, Merckx was 35s ahead at 20km. Albani urged Merckx to slow a bit, and he did, dropping to a 6m 7s per 5km pace for the next seven five-kilometre segments. Around 35km Merckx showed signs of being human. He fidgeted on his seat and the grimace on his face revealed the superhuman effort he was making. There was never a question of his taking the record; the only question was by how much. Far from fading, his last two kilometres were reeled off in 1m 13s and 1m 12s. Still, he could barely speak when he first dismounted. Pictures of the moment show his face a mask of pain. It wasn't long, though, before Eddy regained his normal composure and was able to answer questions.[51]

Merckx said:

But for the back injury, yes I would have done many more metres. Regarding specialised training, I did all that I could. I consulted sports doctors, who had experience with sport at altitude, because I did my record in Mexico City. I trained on the home trainer with an oxygen mask, breathing the same mixture of air that I would find at altitude. I also used all of the best equipment that was available to me. Speaking as a bike enthusiast I would have liked to have had a go on the equipment they used for the record in later years, though. Also I would have gone further on a modern indoor track. In Mexico it was outdoors, where the wind is always a problem. You wait for the best conditions, but in the end you have to take what there is.[4]

The record remained untouched until 1984, when Francesco Moser broke it using a specially designed bicycle and meticulous improvements in streamlining. Over 15 years, various racers improved the record to more than 56 km. However, because of the increasingly exotic design of the bikes and position of the rider, these performances were no longer reasonably comparable to Merckx's achievement. In response, the UCI in 2000 required a "traditional" bike to be used. When time trial specialist Chris Boardman, who had retired from road racing and had prepared himself specifically for beating the record, had another go at Merckx's distance 28 years later, he beat it by slightly more than 10 meters (at sea level).

Records

The other records Merckx set:

  • Most career victories by a professional cyclist: 525.
  • Most victories in one season: 54.
  • 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 Pélissier 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).
  • Most victories in classics: 28.
  • Most victories in one single classic: 7 (in Milan-San Remo).
  • Most Grand Tour Victories 11

Track crash

In 1969 Merckx crashed in a derny race in Blois towards the end of the season. A pacer and a cyclist fell in front of Merckx's pacer, Fernand Wambst. Wambst died instantly, and Merckx was knocked unconscious. He cracked a vertebra and twisted his pelvis. He said his riding was never the same after the injuries.[6 ] He frequently adjusted his saddle while riding - including coming down the col de la Faucille on the way to Divonne-les-Bains - and was often in pain, especially while climbing. He said:

The crash in Blois was terrible for me. From that day cycling became suffering. I had stitches in my head and was scraped and bruised all over, but those injuries healed. I was lucky in a way in that I could have been killed, but the problem that crash gave me was the damage it did to my back. What happened was that my hips were knocked out of line with my body. It meant that my legs were also out of line with the rest of my body. After that day I could never sit comfortably on my bike again. I tinkered with my position and changed my frame angles. I would keep many bikes, all subtly different, all ready to race on, but I never found comfort. Before Blois I cannot say that I suffered in a bike race. The Tour de France even. I just pressed on the pedals when I wanted to, that was all I had to do. After the crash it was never the same. The pain changed from day to day, some days I would weep on my bike, on others it was OK. One time, towards the end of my career, it was so bad that I was riding up the Alsemberg hill in Brussels, and I wondered if I was going to get to the top. I thought that I might have to get off and walk, and it isn't a very steep or a very long hill. My back became my weakness. It still affects me today. I cannot jog to keep fit because of my back.[4]

Doping

Merckx has condemned doping but he tested positive three times.[5] The first time was in the 1969 Giro d'Italia[6 ] where he tested positive for the stimulant Reactivan at Savona, after leading the race through 16 stages. He was expelled from the Giro. The controversy began to swirl when his test results were not handled in the correct manner, they were released to the press before all parties (Merckx and team officials) involved were notified.[52] Merckx was very upset, and to this day, protests his innocence.[6 ] He argued there were no counter-experts nor counter-analysis. He said the stage during which he was allegedly using drugs was easy so there was no need. He said:

At the time, the controls weren't reliable and I wasn't able to defend myself. They had started on the analysis and the counter-analysis during the night, without anyone from my team's being present. They had, they said, tried to get my manager, Vincenzo Giacotto, by phone, but he hadn't left his room all evening. The following morning, I was in my racing clothes, ready to leave, when they came to tell me I was positive and therefore excluded from the Giro.[6 ]

"I've never seen sporting opinion so inflamed," wrote Marcel De Leener from Belgium. "Even members of parliament have got themselves involved in the affair; the Opposition has questioned the minister of public health in the Lower Chamber, the Cabinet is in an uproar, the Foreign Minister has questioned his opposite number in Italy. In the streets, in factories, in offices, in public transport, they talk of little else."[53] The Italian federation stuck by its findings but the Belgians refused to agree and it took four hours of debate in Brussels for the professional section of the Union Cycliste Internationale to quash his sentence. The president of the Fédération Internationale du Cyclisme Professional was Félix Lévitan, organiser of the Tour de France. It was diplomacy and, "let us be frank, hypocrisy too", reported Cycling.[54] The hearing praised the Italians and accepted their evidence, however Merckx was cleared to ride the Tour. De Leener said:

If on the one hand they have recognised the skill and competence of the doctors in charge of the controls in the Giro, they also took into account the fact that Eddy Merckx had never been found guilty of this before. In other words, they judged the affair sentimentally, with their hearts, instead of considering all the dry facts. If this were not Merckx, would all these artifices have been resorted to? No, without any shadow of doubt, no."[54]

Prince Albert of Belgium sent a plane to bring him to Belgium.

Merckx was also found positive after winning the Giro di Lombardia in 1973.[6 ] He had taken Mucantil (Iodinated glycerol).[55] He said in 2007 that he wanted the Union Cycliste Internationale to give him back his victory. He said:

"I was disqualified for taking a syrup which had been taken off the list of forbidden products.[n 9]
It was Dr Cavalli, of Molteni, who prescribed it to me a bit lightly [un peu légèrement]. And he admitted his error publicly. Looking back, I can't see why they could disqualify me for such a ridiculous and inoffensive product as norephedrine."[6 ]

The World Anti-Doping Agency removed norephedrine, phenylpropanolamine, from the list of banned drugs in 2004.[6 ]

Then he was caught after taking Stimul in the 1975 Flèche Wallonne. Merckx said:

"That, I can't deny. I was positive along with around 15 others. I was wrong to trust a doctor."[6 ]

In 1977 the Belgian doctor, Professor Michel Debackere, perfected a test for pémoline, an amphetamine-like drug, and caught three of the biggest names in Belgium: Merckx, Freddy Maertens and Michel Pollentier.[56]

Because of his doping record, the organisers of the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart asked Merckx to stay away. The decision was criticized in the press and by the UCI.[57] When he confirms his stance against doping, Merckx points out that cycling is unfairly treated compared to other sports.

In the 1990s, he became a friend of Lance Armstrong and supported him when he was accused of drug use, stating he rather "believed what Lance told him than what appeared in newspapers".

Retirement

Building.
The Eddy Merckx bicycle factory in Meise.

Merckx's last victory was a criterium at Kluisbergen on 17 July 1977. His last race was the Omloop van het Waasland, at Kemzeke on 19 March 1978. He finished 12th. He had already abandoned the Omloop Het Volk, exhausted. His sponsor, the clothing chain, C&A, had supported his team only after long and difficult negotiations [58] and did not intend to continue next season. Merckx told his soigneur, Pierrot De Wit, during their journey home that he had ridden his last race. De Wit argued but Merckx announced his decision at a press conference in Brussels on 18 May 1978. Merckx said:

I am living the most difficult day of my life. I can no longer prepare myself for the Tour de France, which I wanted to ride for a final time as a farewell [apothéose]. After consulting my doctors, I've decided to stop racing. [58]

Having retired, Merckx has a bicycle factory[59] which carries his name. He said:

I am certain that the bicycle will once more fill a social role and again become a means of transport and not just an object of leisure. Once cars had chased it out of towns and, for several years, the concern of our leaders was to make it easier to drive cars by enlarging roads and leaving space for nobody else. Now they're in the process of undoing all that and, even if the change varies from country to country, I can see that there is a whole new way of political thinking. In Germany, Belgium and the countries of the north, the changes are already visible. In the Latin countries it's an idea that's making progress.[60]

Merckx is a race commentator on RTBF television.[5] He was coach of the Belgian national cycling team during the mid-90s, and part of the Belgian Olympic Committee. Merckx is still asked to comment as an authority. As such, he was advisor for the Tour of Qatar in 2002. He lives in Meise, Vlaams-Brabant.

Personal life

In December 1967 Merckx married Claudine Acou, a 21-year-old teacher, daughter of Lucien Acou, trainer of the national amateur team. [61][62] The couple married at the town hall in Anderlecht, a suburb of Brussels. The mayor said: "Sometimes I am envious of cycling champions. When they win, there is always a pretty girl to give them a kiss. For my part, no one kisses me when I have a good win, so I'm going to profit from this occasion by kissing the bride now." [61] The witnesses to the marriage were Merckx's manager, Jean van Buggenhout, and a cabinet-maker from Etterbeek, who taught Merckx to ride a bike. The religious service which followed was in Merckx's local church rather than his bride's. Merckx's mother asked the priest, Father Fabien, to celebrate the ceremony in French, a choice that ended up being a contentious issue in Belgium.[n 10] The priest said: "You are now started on a tandem race; believe me, it will not be easy." [61] The couple have two children: a daughter (Sabrina) and a son, Axel, who also became a professional cyclist.[6 ]

In 1996 Albert II of Belgium King of the Belgians, gave him the title of baron.[5] In 2000 he was chosen Belgian "Sports Figure of the Century". In March 2000 he was received by the Pope in the Vatican.[34]

Merckx is known as a quiet and modest person. Three of his former riders have worked in his bicycle factory and join him during recreational bike tours.[4] When he finished third behind Father Damien and Paul Janssen in the Greatest Belgian contest, after being one of the favourites, he said that

"...[I] would have been outright ashamed to have ended up in front of [Father] Damien."[63]

Merckx has become an ambassador for the foundation, named after the Catholic priest, which battles leprosy and other diseases in development countries.

Merckx is an art lover. He said:

"I love fine art, my favourite artist is René Magritte, he is a Belgian surrealist. I once owned a Miro, which was stolen. Salvador Dali is another favourite of mine. I find that kind of art fascinating and very thought provoking."[4]

In May 2004, he had an esophagus operation to cure stomach ache suffered since he was young. He lost almost 30 kg and took up recreational cycling again.

Cultural references

Merckx was celebrated in many ways, including records called Eddy is de Kampioen by De Zanger Zonder Naam,[64] Eddy Neemt de Gele Trui[65] by Frankie, and Eddy Merckx by Cyriel[2 ][66]

  • When the United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Belgium in 2005, she met Merckx as a cultural representative of Belgium.[67]
  • The Eddy Merckx metro station on the Brussels metro is named in his honour.[5] It is on the western branch of line 5. It was opened on 15 September 2003. The bike on which he broke the hour record is displayed there.
  • In the comic strip Asterix Merckx makes a cameo as a "fast runner" in the album Asterix in Belgium.
  • In 2000, the Belgian magazine Knack declared him Belgian of the Century and, four years later, the magazine Humo called him the Greatest Belgian.
  • In the mid-seventies Merckx figured in television commercials for cigarettes, for which he was criticized and which he now regrets.[68]
  • Merckx cameoed himself in several movies, of which the 1985 film American Flyers, starring Kevin Costner, is the best known.[69] He was attending the Coors International Bicycle Classic in Colorado and fired the starting pistol in the movie which was being shot in and around the Classic. The fictional race in the film called Hell of the West, was based on the real Coors Classic.[5]

Career accomplishments

Notes

  1. ^ The British weekly, Cycling, had only his surname in a report about the 1964 Summer Olympics supplied by a news agency. Needing to add a name, the magazine gambled and referred to him as "Willi Merckx."
  2. ^ In 1968 Merckx decided he was not strong enough to ride both the Giro and the Tour, so declined the Tour. The Giro was more important to his team. Merckx has never regretted the decision, not least because that year's race - the "Tour of Health" as it was billed after the death of Tom Simpson the previous year - turned into a slow procession which led the organiser, Félix Lévitan, to accuse journalists who complained of reporting "with tired eyes", after which the journalists went on strike. The 1968 race was ridden by national rather than trade teams, which explains why Faema was less interested.
  3. ^ The "Eddy Merckx" velodrome at Mourenx was named in his honour on the 30th anniversary of his first Tour de France victory in 1969. Merckx was present for the ceremony.
  4. ^ Tony Rominger (1993) and Laurent Jalabert (1995) have won all 3 jerseys in the Vuelta a España
  5. ^ Gaston Deferre was mayor of the city of Marseille for more than 30 years. He was repeatedly linked to dubious business ventures and to the Mafia. The city became Europe's biggest drug-provider in the two decades after the war, culminating in the so-called French Connection. In 1983 he managed to be re-elected with fewer votes than his opponent, having changed the city's voting rules while also minister of the interior.
  6. ^ The Ocaña episode ended Bic's sponsorship. The team wasn't pleased that he had raced when he was ill, nor to read in the papers rather than hear from Ocaña that he wouldn't ride the Tour. On the other hand, Ocaña had complained publicly that he had not been paid. The Baron Marcel Bich, owner of Bic, said the money had left him. When he heard that it hadn't reached Ocaña, he dropped out of professional cycling. See Raphaël Géminiani.
  7. ^ Gonzalo Aja finished fifth overall in the 1974 Tour de France
  8. ^ Dupont Lajoie was a French film, made by Yves Boisset, in that same year, 1975. It is a tale of jealousy, violence and revenge. See Wikipedia France - Dupont Lajoie for details.
  9. ^ At the time, 1973, banned drugs were listed individually; they were later classed by category
  10. ^ Brussels is a largely French-speaking enclave in the Dutch-speaking, northern half of Belgium. History, changes in regional prosperity and different attitudes have long separated Belgium more than geographically. Merckx, who is bilingual, was born in one of the few regions of Brussels in which both languages were spoken but more Dutch than French. He then lived in one in which the languages were reversed His command of both languages and his residence in Brussels meant both communities claimed him. Even his name confuses the situation. Merckx, with its consonants, is a Dutch-sounding name. The contraction of Edouard to Eddy is French-speaking. Had he been a pure Fleming, it would probably have been shortened to Ward. Merckx has always resisted saying if he feels aligned to one community more than another. He finished high in both the Flemish (3rd) and Walloon (4th) editions of the Greatest Belgian contest in 2005.

References

  1. ^ a b c d L'Equipe, Rider database, Eddie Merckx
  2. ^ a b c d e f Vélo, France, November 2000
  3. ^ Velonews.com (2005-06-17). "Happy Birthday, Eddy!". http://velonews.com/article/8224. Retrieved 2008-06-13.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Crazy about Belgium, Cycling Greats. Eddy Merckx
  5. ^ a b c d e f Eddy MERCKX : Biographie de Eddy MERCKX - Monsieur-Biographie.com
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l L'Équipe, France, 13 March 2007
  7. ^ Cycling Plus, UK, undated cutting
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Vélo, France, October, 2005
  9. ^ Vélo, France, October 2005
  10. ^ Cycling, UK, 7 December 1989
  11. ^ a b c d e L'Equipe, Cycling Portfolio - Eddy Merckx
  12. ^ a b Cycling, UK, 9 September 1967, p5
  13. ^ a b Cycling, UK, 23 September 1967, p19
  14. ^ a b L'Équipe, France, 3 July 2003
  15. ^ Thonon, Pierre (1970). Eddy Merckx du maillot arc en ciel au maillot jaune. De Schorpioen.  
  16. ^ a b c d e Ollivier, Jean-Paul (1999), Maillot Jaune, Sélection du Reader's Digest, France, ISBN 2-7098-1091-3, p14
  17. ^ Nicholson, Geoffrey (1991), Le Tour, Hodder and Stoughton, UK, ISBN 0-340-54268-3, p136
  18. ^ Sitting-In, Bicycling. April 04, 2008. A Legendary Lunch - A simple conversation over the midday meal illuminates one of the mysteries of Eddy Merckx. by Bill Strickland
  19. ^ ZeStory, Tour de France
  20. ^ a b Chany, Pierre (1988), La Fabuleuse Histoire de Tour de France, La Martinière, France, p592
  21. ^ a b c Ollivier, Jean-Paul (1999), Maillot Jaune, Sélection du Reader's Digest, France, ISBN 2-7098-1091-3, p17
  22. ^ a b L'Équipe, France, 24 July 1970
  23. ^ L'Équipe, France, 10 July 1970
  24. ^ "Historical results - Tour de France". Cycling hall of fame. http://www.cyclinghalloffame.com/races/results/results_tour_de_france.txt. Retrieved 2009-09-28.  
  25. ^ a b c Eurosport, Cyclisme, One day in the Tour.
  26. ^ a b Chany, Pierre (1997), La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France, La Martinière, France, p610
  27. ^ a b c BikeRaceInfo Oral History - Celestino Vercelli
  28. ^ a b c Chany, Pierre (1997), La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France, La Martinière, France, p616
  29. ^ Augendre, Jacques (1986), Le Tour de France, Panorama d'un Siècle, Société du Tour de France, France, p64
  30. ^ a b Memoire du Cyclisme 1972 Tour de France
  31. ^ Cited Chany, Pierre (1997), La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France, La Martinière, France, p620
  32. ^ Eddy Merckx and Marc Jeuniau (1972). Plus d'un Tour dans mon sac; mes carnets de route 1972. Editions arts et voyages Gamma diffusion.  
  33. ^ Cited Chany, Pierre (1997), La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France, La Martinière, France, p645
  34. ^ a b Procycling, UK, May 2000
  35. ^ a b Chany, Pierre (1997), La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France, La Martinière, France, p639
  36. ^ Ollivier, Jean-Paul (1999), Maillot Jaune, Sélection du Reader's Digest, France, ISBN 2-7098-1091-3, p21
  37. ^ Chany, Pierre (1997), La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France, La Martinière, France, p642
  38. ^ Augendre, Jacques (1986), Le Tour de France, Panorama d'un Siècle, Société du Tour de France, France, p67
  39. ^ L'Équipe, France, 30 June 2004
  40. ^ Chany, Pierre, L'Équipe, France, 1975, cited L'Équipe Magazine 16 July 2005
  41. ^ Fife, Graeme (1999), Tour de France, Mainstream, UK, p45
  42. ^ a b Cycle Sport, UK, May 2000
  43. ^ a b c Memoire du Cyclisme - Eddy Merckx (6)
  44. ^ Le Net du Cyclisme - 1976
  45. ^ Chany, Pierre (1997), La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France, La Martinière, France, p664
  46. ^ Chany, Pierre (1997), La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France, La Martinière, France, p666
  47. ^ Chany, Pierre (1997), La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France, La Martinière, France, p672
  48. ^ van Walleghem, Rik (1993). Eddy Merckx:the greatest cyclist of the 20th century. Pinguin Productions. ISBN 1884737722.  
  49. ^ wedstrijdfichestatscdet.php?wedstrijdid=1102&landid=17 Cykelsiderne. Database. Sejre/Etaper pr. land Paris - Tours Belgien
  50. ^ a b The Independent, Friday 6th July, 2007, Tour de France: Alternative view of the ultimate road race
  51. ^ Bike Race Info - Merckx Hour record
  52. ^ Cycling Revealed, Timeline, 1969, 52nd Giro d'Italia 1969 By Barry Boyce, Merckx DQ'd
  53. ^ Cycling, UK, 14 June 1969, p21
  54. ^ a b Cycling, UK, 21 June 1969, p14
  55. ^ Encyclopedia.com Iodinated glycerol
  56. ^ MedLibrary, Doping at the Tour de France, Steroids and allied drugs
  57. ^ Cyclingnews.com (2007-09-26). "Eddy Merckx joins list of unwelcome people in Stuttgart". http://autobus.cyclingnews.com/news.php?id=news/2007/sep07/sep26news2. Retrieved 2007-09-28.  
  58. ^ a b L'Équipe, France, undated cutting
  59. ^ website of Eddy Merckx bicycle factory
  60. ^ Vélo, France, October 2006
  61. ^ a b c Cycling, UK, 16 December 1967, p22
  62. ^ Lucien Acou at Dutch Wikipedia
  63. ^ "Eddy Merckx ambassador of the Father Damien foundation", Gazet van Antwerpen, 19 January 2008
  64. ^ "The singer with no name"; Superstar Records 101
  65. ^ Eddy takes the yellow jersey, Monopole S.028
  66. ^ Life Records, 10,010
  67. ^ Glenn Kessler (2007-01-15). "Rice's Packed Schedule Leaves Little Room for Cultural Visits". http://blog.washingtonpost.com/on-the-plane/rice-in-middle-east-january-2007/rices_packed_schedule_leaves_l.html. Retrieved 2007-08-25.  
  68. ^ "Duo interview Tom Boonen - Eddy Merckx", Gazet van Antwerpen, 3 February 2007
  69. ^ "Internet Movie Database profile Eddy Merckx". 2007-06-19. http://imdb.com/name/nm0580472/. Retrieved 2007-06-19.  

Further reading

  • Vanwalleghem, Rik (1996). Eddy Merckx: The Greatest Cyclist of the 20th century. Boulder. ISBN 1-88473-722-6.  
  • Vanwalleghem, Rik (1989). Eddy Merckx, mijn levensverhaal : de ware selfmade man als wielrenner en als zakenman (Dutch). Helios. ISBN 90-289-1465-X.  
  • Rosier, Erik (1973). Eddy Merckx (Dutch). Franco-Suisse. OCLC 57423874.  
  • Cornand, Jan and Blancke, Andre (1975). Hoe Merckx de tour verloor / wielerseizoen 1975 van A tot Z (Dutch). Het Volk.  
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Jan Janssen
Winner of Paris-Roubaix
1968
Succeeded by
Walter Godefroot
Preceded by
Walter Godefroot
Winner of Paris-Roubaix
1970
Succeeded by
Roger Rosiers
Preceded by
Roger De Vlaeminck
Winner of Paris-Roubaix
1973
Succeeded by
Roger De Vlaeminck
Awards
Preceded by
Serge Reding
Belgian Sportsman of the Year
1969–1974
Succeeded by
Bruno Brokken
Records
Preceded by
Ole Ritter
UCI hour record (49.431 km)
25 October 1972-27 October 2000
Succeeded by
Chris Boardman

Simple English

Eddy Merckx
in 1972]]
Personal information
Full name Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx
Nickname The Cannibal
Date of birth June 17, 1945 (1945-06-17) (age 65)
Country
Team information
Current team Retired
Discipline Road and track
Role Rider
Rider type All-rounder
Professional team(s)
1966–1967
1968–1970
1971–1976
1977
1978
Peugeot-BP
Faema
Molteni
Fiat
C&A
Major wins
Tour de France, 5 overall, 34 stage wins
Giro d'Italia, 5 overall, 24 stage wins
Vuelta a España, 1 overall, 6 stage wins
World Cycling Champion, 3 times
Super Prestige Pernod International, 7 wins
Giro di Lombardia, 2 wins
Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 5 wins
Milan-Sanremo, 7 wins
Paris-Roubaix, 3 wins
Ronde van Vlaanderen, 2 wins
Infobox last updated on:
July 30, 2007
Medal record
World Championships
Gold 1967 Heerlen Professional Men's Road Race
Gold 1971 Mendrisio Professional Men's Road Race
Gold 1974 Montréal Professional Men's Road Race

Baron Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx (IPA: ['merks]) (born June 17 1945, Meensel-Kiezegem, Vlaams Brabant, Belgium) is a former Belgian professional cyclist. Merckx, regarded as the greatest and most successful cyclist of all time, established several world cycling records, some of which remain unbroken to this day.

Contents

Racing career

Early successes in stage racing and single day races

Merckx started competing in 1961. Three years later he became Amateur World Champion. He turned professional in 1965. In 1966 he won the first of seven editions of Milan-Sanremo. He started his first grand tour at the 1967 Giro d'Italia. He won his first stage here and finished seventh overall. Later that year he outsprinted Jan Janssen to become Professional World Champion at Heerlen, The Netherlands. He was world champion twice more.

In 1968 Merckx moved to the Italian Faema team. As world champion he wore the rainbow jersey and won the Paris-Roubaix race for the first time. He also won the Giro d'Italia .[1] He won the Giro three more times.

Starting the 1969 season, he won Paris-Nice stage race. In the time trial, he overtook the five-time Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil. Anquetil was so good at time trailing many people thought he was unbeatable. Merckx went on to win Milan-Sanremo and Ronde van Vlaanderen several weeks later.

In his Tour de France debut (first entry) in 1969, Merckx immediately won the yellow jersey (overall leader), the green jersey (best sprinter) and the red polka-dotted jersey ("King of the Mountains" - best climber in the mountain stages). No other cyclist has won the three jerseys in one Tour de France, and only Tony Romingerin 1993 and Laurent Jalabert in 1995 have been able to match this feat in any Grand Tour. Both were in the Tour of Spain. Merckx was only 24, so would have won the white jersey (for best rider under 25 years of age) but the Tour de France did not give a white jersey until the 1970s.

Eddy Merkx was the first Belgian to win the Tour de France since Sylvère Maes in 1939. Merckx became a national hero. He won the Tour four more times: in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974, equalling Jacques Anquetil. Over the next 25 years, only Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain were able to equal the five victories. Then Lance Armstrong won the Tour a sixth (2004) and a seventh (2005) time. Merckx still holds the records for stage wins (34) and number of days in the Yellow Jersey (96).

Challenges to Merckx's domination in the Grand Tours

The greatest challenge to Merckx was in the 1971 Tour de France. Luis Ocana attacked and won the maillot jaune by several minutes. Ocana held his lead until he crashed and had to abandon (leave) the tour. Many people hoped they would race against each other again.of a rematch between the two.

Before that could happen, Merckx raced in the 1972 edition of the Giro d'Italia and beat the mountain racing expert Jose Manuel Fuente in the mountain stages. In that year's Tour de France Ocana was sick and withdrew.[2]

In 1973 Merckx rode in the Vuelta a España where he beat Luis Ocana and Bernard Thévenet and then went on to win the Giro d'Italia. Merckx's final victory in the Giro d'Italia in the 1974 edition was a tight battle between Merckx and two Italians. In the end, Merckx won by the very narrow margin of twelve seconds over Gianbattista Baronchelli and 33 seconds over Felice Gimondi.[3]

Classics Victories

In addition to Grand Tour successes, Merckx has a long list of victories in one-day races. Among the highlights are

  • a record seven victories in Milan-Sanremo
  • two victories in the Ronde van Vlaanderen
  • three wins in Paris-Roubaix
  • a record five wins in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and
  • two in the Giro di Lombardia

That is a total of 19 victories in the Classics. He also won the World Road Racing Championship a record three times in 1967, 1971 and 1974, and every Classic except Paris-Tours. Finally, he won 17 six-day track races, often with Patrick Sercu.

Merckx retired from racing in 1978, at the age of 33.

Setbacks and lesser days

The blackest day in Merckx's career was in 1969, when he crashed in a derny race towards the end of the season. A pacer and a cyclist fell in front of Merckx's pacer, Fernand Wambst. Wambst and Merckx crashed. Wambst was killed instantly, and Merckx suffered concussion and fell unconscious. This accident cracked a vertebra and twisted his pelvis. Afterwards he said his riding was never the same, because he always be in pain, especially while climbing.

That same year, during the Giro d'Italia, was found to have used drugs and disqualified. He cried in front of reporters and still protests his innocence. He argued that there were no counter-experts nor counter-analysis and that foreign supporters hated him. Further, he stated that the stage during which he was allegedly using drugs was an easy one, so there was no need to use drugs. The Belgian prince sent a plane to bring him to Belgium. This incident was one of the reasons why Merckx thought his first Tour de France victory, later that year, his best ever win

The end of his Tour-career came in 1975 (although he did compete in 1977 he finished 6th that year). That year, he attempted to win his sixth but became a victim of violence. Many Frenchmen were upset that a Belgian might beat the record five wins set by Jacques Anquetil. Merckx held the yellow jersey for eight days, which raised his record to 96 days, but during stage 14 a French spectator punched him in the liver. A later collision with the Danish rider Ole Ritter broke his jaw. Although he could not eat solid food and was barely able to talk, Merckx did not retire. During the last stage, he attacked leader Bernard Thevenet (but was caught by the peloton).

Records

Merckx set these records during his career.

  • Most career victories by a professional cyclist: 525.
  • Most victories in one season: 54.
  • 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).
  • Most victories in the Classic cycle races: 28.
  • Most victories in one single Classic cycle race: 7 (in Milan-Sanremo).

Hour record

Merckx set the hour record in 25 October 1972. He covered 49.431 km at high altitude in Mexico City. The record was unbeaten until 1984, when Francesco Moser broke it using a specially designed bicycle. During the next 15 years, various racers improved the record to more than 56 km. However, because of the more and more strange designs of the bikes and position of the rider, in 2000 the UCI] said a "traditional" bike must be used. When Chris Boardman had another go at Merckx's reinstated record in 2000, he beat it by slightly more than 10 metres at sea level. But, Merckx had raced a full road season winning the Tour, Giro and four Classics, while Boardman was a time trial specialist who had retired from road racing and had prepared specially for the 2000 Hour Record.

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After retirement

Having retired, Merckx has a bicycle factory [1] and is a race commentator. He was coach of the Belgian national cycling team during the mid-90s, and part of the Belgian Olympic Committee. Merckx is still asked to comment as an authority on cycling. As such, he has also figured as special advisor for the recent UCI addition "Tour of Qatar" since 2002.

In May 2004, he underwent an oesophagus operation to cure the constant stomach ache which he suffered since he was a young man. He lost almost 30 kg in the process, and started cycling again, but only for leisure.

Personal life

In 1967 Merckx married Claudine Acou. Merckx's mother asked the priest to celebrate the ceremony in French, a choice that ended up being a contentious issue in Belgium. They had two children: a daughter (Sabrina) and a son (Axel, who was a professional cyclist for Team T-Mobile.

Despite this early incident, Merckx is a perfect ambassador to Belgium (because he does not support Flanders more than Wallonia, but supports the unity of the country). Because of this, he came 4th in the Walloon version of the "Greatest Belgian" contest in 2005, and third in the Flemish (3rd) version..

In 1996 the Belgian king gave him the title of baron. In 2000 he was chosen Belgian "Sports Figure of the Century".

Merckx is known as a quiet and modest person. Many of his former helpers have worked in his bicycle factory and join him during recreational bike tours.

Merckx has condemned doping (he tested positive twice in his career). At the same time he has been quick to point out that cycling is unfairly treated when compared to other sports. In the 1990s, he became a friend of Lance Armstrong and supported him when he was accused of drug use, stating he "believed what Lance told him than what appeared in newspapers". After Armstrong won his third Tour de France, Merckx predicted he would go on to win as many as seven.

Trivia and cultural references

  • Merckx was nicknamed "the cannibal" because he wanted to win every race he participated in, never "arranging" a race with another competitor. Other nicknames were "the Einstein of the two-wheelers", and, courtesy of Jacques Goddet, "Le Géant" (The Giant).
  • Eddy Merckx has a namesake who is a multiple Belgian Champion and world champion 2006 in three cushion billiards.
  • While climbing Mont Ventoux in 1970 to a stage win, he pushed himself so hard that oxygen had to be administered.
  • In the mid-seventies Merckx figured in some television commercials for cigarettes; an act for which he was criticized and which he now regrets.[4]
  • When the United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Belgium in 2005, she met Merckx as a cultural representative of Belgium. [5]
  • The Eddy Merckx metro station on the Brussels metro is named in his honour. His world record bike is at this station.
  • A cycling contest, The Eddy Merckx Grand Prix, is named in his honour.
  • In the French comedy Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob) (1973) with Louis de Funès, de Funès' character hears a conversation between a kidnapper and his victim, a revolutionary. When the revolutionary says: "The revolution is like a bike ( http://likeabikes.com ): When it doesn't move forward, it falls.", de Funès attributes the line to Eddy Merckx. One of the kidnappers corrects him and says Che Guevara once said this.
  • In the comic strip Asterix Merckx makes a cameo as a "fast runner" in the album Asterix in Belgium.
  • In 2000, the Belgian magazine Knack declared him to be "Belgian of the Century" and another four years later, the magazine Humo called him "the Greatest Belgian".
  • Paul Van Himst, another Belgian sport legend, is one of his closest friends.
  • Merckx cameoed as himself in several movies, of which the 1985 film American Flyers, starring Kevin Costner, is the best known.[6]

Significant victories by race

Grand Tours (11)

Eddy Merckx Grand tour results
1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977
Tour de France general classification --1111-12-6
Tour de France mountains classification --1132-22-?
Tour de France points classification --1211-22-5
Tour de France stages won --6846-82-0
Giro d'Italia general classification 91DSQ1-111-8-
Giro d'Italia mountains classification 31DSQ4-222-7-
Giro d'Italia points classification 21DSQ3-214-2-
Giro d'Italia stages won 2343-462-0-
Vuelta a España general classification ------1----
Vuelta a España mountains classification ------2----
Vuelta a España points classification ------1----
Vuelta a España stages won ------6----
  • 5× Tours de France, 34 stage wins
  • 5× Giro d'Italia, 24 stage wins
  • 1× Vuelta a España, 6 stage wins

Other stage races

  • 1× Tour de Suisse
  • 2× Tour of Belgium
  • 3× Paris-Nice
  • 1× Tour de Romandie
  • 1× Dauphiné Libéré
  • 1× Midi Libre
  • 4× Tour of Sardinia

Classic cycle races (28)

  • 7× Milan-Sanremo
  • 2× Ronde van Vlaanderen
  • Paris-Roubaix
  • 5× Liège-Bastogne-Liège
  • 2× Giro di Lombardia
  • 2× Amstel Gold Race
  • 3× La Flèche Wallonne
  • 1× Paris-Brussels
  • 3× Ghent-Wevelgem

World titles

  • World Championships
  • Amateur World Championships

Track races

  • 17 six-day races
  • 3× European Championships
  • 7× Belgian Madison Championships (with Patrick Sercu)

Significant victories by year

1964
World Amateur Road Race Champion
1965
Six Days of Gent (with Patrick Sercu)
1966 (Team Peugeot-BP)
Milan-Sanremo
Trofeo Angelo Baracchi, with Ferdi Bracke
Championship of Flanders
Tour de Morbihan
1967 (Team Peugeot-BP)
World Pro Road Race
Milan-Sanremo
La Flèche Wallonne
Gent-Wevelgem
Trofeo Angelo Baracchi, with Ferdi Bracke
2 stages, Giro d'Italia
Critérium des As
Six Days of Gent (with Patrick Sercu)
1968 (Team Faema)
Giro d'Italia, including
Mountains Classification
Points Classification
4 stages
Volta a Catalunya
Tour de Romandie
Paris-Roubaix
Tre Valli Varesine
Tour of Sardinia
G.P. Lugano
A travers Lausanne
1969 (Team Faema)
Tour de France
Overall classification
Mountains Classification
Points Classification
6 stages
Paris-Luxembourg
Milan-Sanremo
Ronde van Vlaanderen
Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Paris-Nice, including
4 stages
Super Prestige Pernod International
1970 (Team Faema-Faemino)
Tour de France
Overall classification
Mountains Classification
8 stages
Giro d'Italia, including
3 stages
Paris-Nice
Tour of Belgium
Paris-Roubaix
La Flèche Wallonne
Gent-Wevelgem
Critérium des As
National Cycling Championship Road Race
Super Prestige Pernod International
1971 (Team Molteni)
Tour de France
Overall classification
Points Classification
4 stages
World Pro Road Race
Milan-Sanremo
Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Giro di Lombardia
Rund um den Henninger Turm
Omloop "Het Volk"
Paris-Nice
Dauphiné Libéré
GP du Midi Libre
Tour of Belgium
Super Prestige Pernod International
1972 (Team Molteni)
Tour de France
Overall classification
Points Classification
6 stages
Giro d'Italia, including
4 stages
Milan-Sanremo
Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Giro di Lombardia
La Flèche Wallonne
Giro dell'Emilia
Giro del Piemonte
Grote Scheldeprijs
Trofeo Angelo Baracchi, with Roger Swerts
Hour Record - 49.431 km
Super Prestige Pernod International
1973 (Team Molteni)
Giro d'Italia, including
Points Classification
6 stages
Vuelta a España, including
Points Classification
Sprints Classification
Combined Classification
6 stages
Paris-Roubaix
Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Grand Prix des Nations
Amstel Gold Race
Gent-Wevelgem
Omloop "Het Volk"
Paris-Brussels
GP Fourmies
Super Prestige Pernod Trophy
1974 (Team Molteni)
Tour de France
Overall classification
8 stages
Giro d'Italia, including
2 stages
World Pro Road Race
Tour de Suisse, including
Points Classification
KoM
3 stages
Critérium des As
Super Prestige Pernod Trophy
1975 (Team Molteni)
Milan-Sanremo
Ronde van Vlaanderen
Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Amstel Gold Race
Catalan Week
2 stages, Tour de France
1 stage, Tour de Suisse
Super Prestige Pernod Trophy
Six Days of Gent (with Patrick Sercu)
1976 (Team Molteni)
Milan-Sanremo
Catalan Week
1977 (Team Fiat)
1 stage, Tour de Suisse
Tour Méditerranéen
Six Days of Munich (with Patrick Sercu)
Six Days of Zürich (with Patrick Sercu)
Six Days of Gent (with Patrick Sercu)

Doping

Merckx twice tested positive for doping in his career. Because he has admitted doing this publicly the city of Stuttgart, Germany did not want to invite him to the world cycling championships being held in the city in 2007

Other pages

  • Cycling records

Notes

  1. Thonon, Pierre (1970). Eddy Merckx du maillot arc en ciel au maillot jaune. De Schorpioen. 
  2. Eddy Merckx and Marc Jeuniau (1972). Plus d'un Tour dans mon sac; mes carnets de route 1972. Editions arts et voyages Gamma diffusion. 
  3. van Walleghem, Rik (1993). Eddy Merckx:the greatest cyclist of the 20th century. Pinguin Productions, Belgium. ISBN 1884737722. 
  4. "Duo interview Tom Boonen - Eddy Merckx", Gazet van Antwerpen, 3 February 2007
  5. Glenn Kessler (2007-01-15). "Rice's Packed Schedule Leaves Little Room for Cultural Visits". http://blog.washingtonpost.com/on-the-plane/rice-in-middle-east-january-2007/rices_packed_schedule_leaves_l.html. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
  6. "Internet Movie Database profile Eddy Merckx". 2007-06-19. http://imdb.com/name/nm0580472/. Retrieved 2007-06-19. 

References

  • Vanwalleghem, Rik (1996). Eddy Merckx: The Greatest Cyclist of the 20th Century. Boulder. ISBN 1-88473-722-6. 
  • Vanwalleghem, Rik (1989). Eddy Merckx, mijn levensverhaal : de ware selfmade man als wielrenner en als zakenman (Dutch). Helios. ISBN 90-289-1465-X. 
  • Rosier, Erik (1973). Eddy Merckx (Dutch). Franco-Suisse. OCLC 57423874. 
  • Cornand, Jan and Blancke, Andre (1975). Hoe Merckx de tour verloor / wielerseizoen 1975 van A tot Z (Dutch). Het Volk. 
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Rudi Altig
World Road Racing Champion
1967
Succeeded by
Vittorio Adorni
Preceded by
Jean-Pierre Monseré
World Road Racing Champion
1971
Succeeded by
Marino Basso
Preceded by
Felice Gimondi
World Road Racing Champion
1974
Succeeded by
Hennie Kuiper
Preceded by
Jan Janssen
Winner of the Tour de France
1969-72
Succeeded by
Luis Ocaña
Preceded by
Luis Ocaña
Winner of the Tour de France
1974
Succeeded by
Bernard Thévenet
Preceded by
Felice Gimondi
Winner of the Giro d'Italia
1968
Succeeded by
Felice Gimondi
Preceded by
Felice Gimondi
Winner of the Giro d'Italia
1970
Succeeded by
Gösta Pettersson
Preceded by
Gösta Pettersson
Winner of the Giro d'Italia
1972-74
Succeeded by
Fausto Bertoglio
Preceded by
José Manuel Fuente
Winner of the Vuelta a España
1973
Succeeded by
José Manuel Fuente
Preceded by
Franco Bitossi
Winner of the green jersey in the Tour de France
1969
Succeeded by
Walter Godefroot
Preceded by
Walter Godefroot
Winner of the green jersey in the Tour de France
1971-1972
Succeeded by
Herman Van Springel
Awards
Preceded by
Serge Reding
Belgian Sportsman of the Year
1969–1974
Succeeded by
Bruno Brokken
Records
Preceded by
Ole Ritter
UCI hour record (49.431 km)
25 October 1972-27 October 2000
Succeeded by
Chris Boardman


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