The greatest Belgian cyclist of all times - if not the greatest cyclist in the world - is celebrating his 65th birthday today. Eddy Merckx, also know as 'the Cannibal', can look back on a rich palmarès of victories, all achieved during 13 years of pro racing between 1965 and 1978.
Merckx took part in 1,800 competitions and won 525 of them. He won 11 Grand Tours: five times the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia, once the Vuelta. He became Wold Champion four times and won 19 major Classics, including seven times Milano-Sanremo and five time Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
No wonder the Belgian can proudly say, "I was simply the best of my generation. I was an allrounder. I wasn't much of a sprinter, but I won some sprints. Solo breakaways and time trials were my strongest points. I could also climb, but never better than in the Tour 1969."
His first Tour de France overall win will be forever remembered. "That was without a doubt my most beautiful victory," he told Sporza. "As a child, I dreamed of the Tour. We listened to the radio and then played racing. When I finished in Paris with the yellow jersey, a child's dream came true. The Tour is the greatest cycling race on earth."
In stage 17 of that Tour, between Luchon and Mourenx in the Pyrenees, Merckx was already certain of the overall win but topped it off in unprecedented style. "I raced 120 kilometres in the lead. That was uncommon for the yellow jersey. I hadn't planned on it. It was pretty extraordinary. You don't see this sort of thing anymore now.
"We used to race just by feeling. There were never any meeting before the races. You had to attack if your rival was vulnerable, make the difference when you could."
These days, Merckx is still involved in the sport through organising the Tours of Qatar and Oman. "I also have a chair in the Belgian Olympic Committee. But good health is now my first priority, which is why I sold my bike factory two years ago. Now, I follow my grandchildren, who are also into sports..."
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