An interview with Eddy Merckx, October 1, 2005
While at the 2005 Interbike, Cyclingnews' North American Editor, Mark Zalewski, found the legendary Eddy Merckx signing autographs for a long line of fans at his booth. The Cannibal took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to sit down a catch up on what he has been up to and what he thinks about the current cycling world.
Cyclingnews: First off, what did you think of that world championships? Finally another win for Belgium!
EM: It was a very good ride! This year, winning Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix - for one day races, the best one is Boonen. It's a very good thing for Belgian cycling, absolutely. And he's still a young rider. It was good to see him growing.
"The ProTour is OK, but there are too many races. Also, the good riders do not do all the good races because there is too much racing." - Eddy Merckx tells Cyclingnews
CN: Being as young as he is, do you think that one day he might be able to transform into a GC rider for the grand tours?
EM: No... I think he can win every one day race - maybe not a Lombardy for a few years still, but Milan-San Remo, Amstel Gold Race or any one that has a difficult finish. I think he is a strong and complete rider. He is more than just a sprinter.
CN: What are your thoughts on the latest in the EPO allegations, particularly involving Lance Armstrong?
EM: I cannot understand it. How can you attack somebody that cannot defend himself? It's not normal too... the testing [procedure.] If you have something, you go to the UCI or WADA - but not after five or six years. That is not correct. It's a bad thing for cycling. It's not true and not just - attacking someone who cannot defend.
CN: What do you think needs to be done about the continued use of drugs in cycling?
EM: It's not just cycling, it's in all sports. There must be more testing. But all the products on the list are too much. You have to allow some vitamins too to aid recovery, but there must be more testing, that is for sure.
CN: There was some brief talk about a return for Lance. Do you think that will happen?
EM: He has had his career - it's not necessary.
CN: With Lance retired, do you think the U.S. can maintain a strong foothold in European cycling?
EM: I think so because you have good riders like Hincapie, Julich, Leipheimer, Landis and the young rider who had a good ride winning Georgia... Danielson. And you have young riders doing well in the Tour of Spain so I think the U.S. cycling will remain [a presence in Europe]. For sure, Lance was the best one. But you have to retire sometime.
CN: What are your thoughts on the ProTour? Has it worked?
EM: I don't know. Maybe it was a success for the teams and the UCI, but not so much for the organizations and promoters. Because you have to pay a lot of money to get teams to start. Like in the Tour de France and Lampre who were there without their best two riders.
The ProTour is OK, but there are too many races. Also, the good riders do not do all the good races because there is too much racing.
CN: Do you think the changes in the leadership of the UCI will result in positive changes, particularly for the ProTour?
EM: Let us hope it will be good now. I think they need to cancel some races from the ProTour. But for the rest, the ProTour is good for races like the Tour de France and for the teams. But there are too many teams in the ProTour. A small organization like the Tour of Poland has to take 20 ProTour teams and maybe four or five small teams in Poland cannot ride - that's no good. So if you have 15 ProTour teams that would be enough, and then a promoter can take five wildcards instead of two.
CN: What about the changes in the structure for the world championships? Does the number of riders a country can have really affect the outcome?
EM: This year it changed nothing. But you have countries like Norway with only one rider allowed to start and other countries without any professionals with five or six riders, and that is not correct, too. Like Hushovd was not able to start and they [Norway] were at a big disadvantage.
CN: You are looking very fit. Have you been riding much? And how is your family?
EM: I ride as much as I can - I try to ride a few times a week. Axel is doing well. He is happy to go to Phonak next year. I hope it will be a good move for him.
CN: How is the company? I see that you are also moving into more carbon, instead of the scandium direction.
EM: Everybody wants carbon these days, but scandium is good, too. Also, you can better make custom frames with scandium - it's not as light but it is stiff. It's not as popular, but all people want carbon, carbon, carbon!
The company is going well - we have 30 employees now in our factory. I'd like [the company] to stay this size so we have good control over quality and things like that.
CN: What about team sponsorships for 2006?
EM: We are still staying by Chocolade Jaques. The ProTour is too expensive for us. We are not a big company and cannot do all of the promotions that go along with a ProTour team. But Chocolade Jaques won 17 races this year! We have some new young riders and some riders coming from Quick.Step - [Dimitri] De Fauw is coming, a sprinter.
CN: Do you enjoy coming to Sin City every year for Interbike?
EM: Las Vegas is a nice place. I've been coming to the shows in the States since 1980 when we started the company.
CN: Who is your pick to replace Lance on top of the podium in Paris next year?
EM: We'll have to see the beginning of the season next year first! But Basso is a good, young rider. Maybe Danielson, Landis or Leipheimer... Popovych did not have a good end of season, so I don't know.