Eddy Merckx on Lance, doping and a healthy life

A very lean looking Eddy Merckx was a guest on the Belgian VRT program Sportweekend on Sunday, February 13. The cycling legend, bronzed by the sun in Qatar, clearly re-energised and definitely looking a lot healthier than a couple of years ago, expressed his hope for Lance Armstrong to ride another Tour de France this year.

"It's not something we have discussed recently but I'd like to see Lance being present again this year at the start of the Tour de France," said Merckx. "It would be a real pity if the winner of six Tours wouldn't go for a seventh victory. But I understand that his contract with Discovery holds a clause which allows him to skip this year and then contest the Tour again in 2006. If we don't see him this year, we will next season."

Asked if he would ride were he in Lance's shoes, Merckx added, "Yes, I would. But then, I was a different rider, I would have raced a lot more during the year too."

Does Merckx have a favourite for the first big Classic of the year, La Primavera/Milan-San Remo? "I hope a Belgian wins. And yes, why not Tom Boonen. He's that year older now, he's up to it."

Merckx also commented on his disagreement with IOC's Jacques Rogge statement that "a zero-tolerance" concerning doping has to be established. "What I mean by that is that it is not possible at this moment to apply zero-tolerance politics. There are too many riders who have medical certificates for medication which they then are allowed to take while racing. Zero-tolerance means that those riders shouldn't be racing at all; it's not fair to the rest of the peloton. You have to make the rules the same for all. If you apply a zero-tolerance policy, then a rider who isn't 100 percent healthy needs to stay at home. It's not a matter of doping or drugs specifically, it's just a matter of making sure that the athletes are taking care of their health."

What about riders caught doping? "The rules are there to be applied. Riders that are caught have to be sanctioned. There can't be exceptions, whether they are big names in the sport or not, everyone has to be treated the same."

Johan Museeuw is one of the biggest names in Belgian cycling who has been sanctioned for drugs, and his case has made big headlines in Belgium and around the world. "I don't know the dossier, so I can't give any comments on that issue," said Merckx. "It strikes me as unjust that journalists were allowed to look into the court's dossier; such things shouldn't happen as the case has not been closed yet. But it appears to me that Museeuw should speak out, come clean. I can imagine how hard it would be for his family. Especially when you have children to think of. Kids at school can be hard for each other."

Merckx was then asked about his own health, and the secret of his sudden weight loss last year. "Ha, there's all those things people say. Some even say I got a stomach "ring" put in so I could lose this weight. What really happened is that I had an operation on the oesophagus because I had been troubled by serious heartburn for quite some time. This caused me to be awake for hours during the night and the situation also made me eat less and lose weight to start with. Simultaneously I was starting to get into an exercise routine and I watched my diet. After retiring from pro cycling, but liking great food and a beer, the weight stacked on easily. I weighed 113 kg at one stage; it had to come off, now I'm back down to 85 kg."

Unlike some of his retired peers, Eddy Merckx has no plans of taking up masters racing. "No, not at all. That time is over and done with," he said. "I've raced enough, I don't feel the need at all to go and compete, not at all! I've got about 1,000 km for 2005 already, and I could sit in the wheel from the younger riders out training in Qatar, but that's as far as it goes."

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