Between 1961 and 1977, Eddy Merckx totally dominated the sport of cycling. He is one of the few cyclists to earn lasting recognition as a great world athlete. He was nicknamed 'The Cannibal' for his aggressive attacking style, and it was said that if he took it into his head that he wanted to win a race - any race - nobody else stood a chance. Merckx was born in June, 1945, in Meensel-Kiezegem, part of the cycling-obsessed Flemish region of Belgium, where he enjoyed a typically spectacular amateur career by contributing to an unbroken world record number of non-professional wins as well as coming first in professional races.
He is best remembered for being a five-time winner of the Tour de France1, a record only equalled by Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Indurain, and exceeded by none. However, during his career, he also won the Giro d'Italia five times, and won 35 major One-day Classics, four World Championships, seven successive seasons of the Super Prestige series (predecessor to the modern World Cup), several one-week races, as well as various mountain-bike and track races, not just once, but numerous times. There is a cycling joke from the time when he was his most successful:
Today, Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali [the strongest competitors in the Tour] were all fined by the cycling authorities. Coppi and Bartali were caught hanging onto the back of a truck and allowing it to pull them up a mountain. Merckx was pulling the truck.
Although he is still considered a superstar in cycling, especially in his home country in Belgium, Merckx has never felt at ease in the limelight, and is in fact reasonably shy and self-effacing. He takes part in publicity and advertising events only infrequently, most notably for the Amaury Sport Organisation4 and the Ride For The Roses, which is fellow multiple Tour-winner and cancer-survivor Lance Armstrong's annual event in aid of cancer research. He does, however, run a self-named Bike Manufacturing Company, with which he supplies and partly sponsors several amateur and professional cycling teams.
Today, Eddy's son Axel Merckx is a professional rider5, and while he is nowhere near as talented as his father, he has been praised for his determination, workrate and ability to suffer in races, giving him a number of notable career wins including the Belgian national championships.
In 2001, new rules were introduced by the UCI6 on the types and measurements of bikes allowed in racing. As a result, Merckx's record for the longest distance covered in one hour on a bike (long considered a reasonable measure for the fastest man in the world) was reinstated, all subsequent records being disqualified. Until that point, British pro Chris Boardman had held the record, and in his final act as a professional, he broke the Merckx record on a low-tech, 'Merckx-style' bicycle at the Manchester Velodrome.