The Tour de France will pay tribute to five-time Tour winner Eddy Merckx this summer, with its two stages in Belgium. Stage one will go through his current hometown of Meise and the second stage will pass through his childhood home of Tervuren.
Christian Prudhomme, of the organising Amaury Sport Organisation, presented the two stages, to be held July 4 and 5, in Brussels on Monday.
"We really wanted to pay tribute to Eddy, who is celebrating his 65th birthday, hence the desire to go to Brussels," he said. "It is rare when the Tour de France asks a city to host a stage, and not the other way around."
Merckx, who turns 65 on June 17, won the Tour in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974. he also took the points jersey in 1969, 1971 and 1972, and the mountain ranking in 1969 and 1970. In addition, he had 34 Tour stage wins.
The Tour will open with a prologue in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Saturday, July 3. On Sunday, July 4, the first stage will run 224 km from Rotterdam to Brussels. It will pass by Merckx' hometown of Meise, and finishes in front of the King Badouin Stadium. The finale is tailor-made for a mass sprint, as it features a 1600-metre straight run-in to the finish.
The second stage on Monday, July 5, will start at the Royal Palace, home of King Albert, and run through the city's European Quarter on its way to Tervuren, where Merckx grew up. The stage will end after 192km in Spa.
"The organisers and the City of Brussels are giving me a great honour in passing by my home of Meise," Merckx said Monday at the presentation. "Brussels is my heart, my country. I feel like a true citizen of Brussels. Although I've never lived in the heart of Brussels, but always nearby.
"In Brussels itself, I never won a Tour stage," he continued, "but in the 1969 Tour, I took over the yellow jersey after a team time trial there."
"If I must be honest, the best birthday gift would be a Belgian stage victory in Brussels," he said.