Eddy Merckx, a Belgian former professional road and track bicycle racer, who is among the most successful riders in the history of competitive cycling, was born on the 17th June 1945, and this month; May 2018, is the 40th Anniversary of his retirement from competitive racing.
His victories include an unequalled eleven Grand Tours (five Tours de France, five Giros d ‘Italia, and a Vuelta a España), all five Monuments, setting the hour record, three World Championships, every major one-day race other than Paris–Tours, and extensive victories on the track.
Born in Meensel-Kiezegem, Brabant, Belgium, he grew up in Sint-Pieters-Woluwe where his parents ran a grocery store. He played several sports, but found his true passion in cycling. Merckx got his first bicycle at the age of three or four and competed in his first race in 1961, aged 16.
His first victory came at Petit-Enghien in October 1961.
After winning eighty races as an amateur racer, he turned professional on 29 April 1965 (20 years old) when he signed with Solo–Superia.
His first major victory came in the Milan–San Remo a year later, after switching to Peugeot–BP–Michelin. After the 1967 season, Merckx moved to Faema, and won the Giro d’Italia, his first Grand Tour victory.
Four times between 1970 and 1974 Merckx completed a Grand Tour double. His final double also coincided with winning the elite men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships to make him the first rider to accomplish cycling’s Triple Crown. Merckx broke the hour record in October 1972, extending the record by almost 800 metres.
Merckx achieved 525 victories over his eighteen-year career.
He is one of only three riders to have won all five ‘Monuments’ Milan–San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris–Roubaix, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and the Giro di Lombardia) and the only one to have won them all twice or more.
Merckx was successful on the road and on the track, as well as in the large stage races and one-day races. He is almost universally regarded as the greatest and most successful rider in the history of cycling. He is literally one of the Cycling Giants.
Since Merckx’s retirement from the sport on 18 May 1978, he has remained active in the cycling world. He began his own bicycle brand, Eddy Merckx Cycles, in 1980 and its bicycles were used by several professional teams in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s.
Merckx coached the Belgian national cycling team for eleven years, only stopping in 1996.
He helped start and organize the Tour of Qatar from its start in 2002 until its final edition in 2016. He also helped in running the Tour of Oman, before stepping away in 2017.
He was given the nickname “The Cannibal” by the daughter of Christian Raymond, a teammate of Merckx’s.
Raymond had commented on Merckx not allowing anyone else to win, to which his daughter referred to Merckx as a cannibal.
Dutch cyclist Joop Zoetemelk said “First there was Merckx, and then another classification began behind him.”
Cycling journalist and commentator Phil Liggett wrote that if Merckx started a race, many riders acknowledged that they likely would be competing for second place.
Ted Costantino wrote that Merckx was undoubtedly the number one cyclist of all time, whereas in other sports there are debates that go on about who is actually the greatest of all time.
Even after his retirement, many subsequent stars still feel overshadowed by his fame and race results.
When told that he won too much, Merckx stated that “The day when I start a race without intending to win it, I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror.”