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An icon of his sport, equal to the likes of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Pele, he set several as yet unsurpassed records.
Eddie Merckx started competing in 1961. Three years later he became world champion in the amateur category, before turning professional in 1965. In 1966 he won the first of seven editions of Milan-San Remo. A year later he became world champion in the professional category in Heerlen, The Netherlands. He would win this title twice more.
In 1968 Merckx started his domination of the Grand Tours by becoming the first Belgian to win the Giro d'Italia. He would repeat this four times.
In his Tour de France debut in 1969, Merckx immediately won the yellow jersey, the green jersey and the red polka-dotted jersey. No other cyclist has achieved this trifecta in the Tour de France, and only Laurent Jalabert has been able to match this feat at the Grand Tour level, in the 1995 Vuelta. If the young riders' white jersey had existed at that time, Merckx would have won that one as well, as he had only just turned 24. It was the first time a Belgian won the Tour de France since Sylv"re Maes thirty years earlier, and because of this Merckx became a national hero. Like the Giro, he would win this contest also four more times: in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974, equalling Frenchman Jacques Anquetil. Over the next 25 years, only Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain were able to equal the five victories. Then Lance Armstrong broke the record and went on winning the Tour for a sixth and a seventh time. Merckx still holds the records for stage wins (34) and number of days in the Yellow Jersey.
That same year, during the Giro d'Italia, he was confronted with accusations of drug use. Because of this, he was forced to leave the contest. Merckx cried in front of the press and to this day keeps repeating people cheated with the doping test. He claims that there were no counter-experts nor counter-analysis available and that some foreign supporters hated him. Further, he claimed that the stage during which he was allegedly using drugs was an easy one for everybody, so there was no need to use any drugs. The Belgian prince sent a plane to bring him back to Belgium. This incident was one of the reasons why Merckx would consider his first Tour de France victory, later that year, as his best ever.
The end of his great Tour-career came in 1975. At that year's Tour de France, he attempted to win his sixth, but became a victim of violence. Many Frenchmen were upset that a Belgian might beat the record of five wins set by Frenchman Jacques Anquetil. Merckx held the yellow jersey for eight days of the race, which raised his record to 96 total days, but during stage 14 a French spectator leapt from the crowd and punched him in the liver area. On top of this, a collision with Danish rider Ole Ritter resulted in a broken jaw at a later stage. Despite the fact that he could not eat solid food, and was barely able to talk, Merckx did not retire from the race. During the very last stage, he even attacked leader Bernard Thevenet. Later, Merckx would consider his refusal to quit after the injury as the biggest mistake in his career, since it permanently undermined his physical strength.
The bicycle Merckx used during his hour speed record attempt. In addition to his achievements in regular professional cycling, Merckx also set the bicycle hour speed record in 1972. On October 25, he covered 49.431 km at high altitude in Mexico City. The record would remain untouched until 1984, when Francesco Moser broke it using a specially designed bicycle and meticulously studied improvements in streamlining. Over the next 15 years, various racers would keep improving the record, up 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 to this, the UCI went back to basics and introduced the UCI Hour Record in 2000, requiring a "traditional" bike to be used. When Boardman subsequently had another go at Merckx's reinstated record 28 years later, he bested it by slightly more than 10 meters.
Assigning someone the title of the greatest cyclist of all time will always be an intrinsically controversial issue. On one hand, career statistics can be considered an objective measurement. On the other hand, they should not be separated from their context: the times, the training methods, and the opponents have changed.
Despite this early incident, Merckx may be considered a perfect ambassador to Belgium. This, together with his achievements in sports, pushed him to high rankings in both the Flemish and Walloon editions of the "Greatest Belgian" contest, held in 2005.
In 1996 the Belgian king gave him the lifelong title of baron. In 2000 he was chosen Belgian "Sports Figure of the Century".
Merckx has strongly condemned doping, a hot topic in the world of professional cycling. At the same time he has been quick to point out that cycling is often unfairly treated when compared to other sports. In the 90's, he became a good personal friend of Lance Armstrong, and supported him when he was accused of drug use, often stating that he rather "believed what Lance told him than what appeared in newspapers".
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NOPACTalent acts as a Celebrity Speakers Bureau and Athlete Booking agency for corporate functions, appearances, private events and speaking engagements. NOPACTalent does not claim or represent itself as Eddie Merckx’s speakers bureau, agent, manager or management company for Eddie Merckx or any celebrity on this website. NOPACTalent represents organizations seeking to hire motivational speakers, athletes, celebrities and entertainers for private corporate events, celebrity endorsements, personal appearances, and speaking engagements.