Merckx 525 (2012)
An extraordinarily lavish celebration of the Cannibal
VeloPress 9781934030899. 336 mm x 241 mm, 224 pp., £42.00
Investing hope in sporting heroes becomes daily more difficult – particularly for cycling fans. As the reputation of the greatest Tour de France competitor crashes and burns, it comes as a relief to remember that the greatest ever cyclist comes from another age.
Eddy Merckx’ 525 professional victories amount to more than double the tally of his nearest rival for the crown. The Belgian remains the only person to have won all three jerseys in a single Tour de France and the emphatic style of many of his early victories was such that often the second-placed riders would reach the finishing line not realising that Merckx had preceded them.
Published to coincide with his 65th birthday, this is a breathtakingly sized celebration of Merckx’ cycling career – mostly in pictures and short essays by Ron Reuman, Stephan Vanfleteren, Jan Maes, Frederik Backelandt. And, an amazing collection of photographs it is – some, apparently rediscovered only recently. They range from family shots of Eddy the boy, to colour shots of domestic life with his wife in 1969, and hundreds of Merckx, on his bike, giving everything to win and win and win again.
The scale of the book allows for endlessly enjoyable presentations of the material – from the entire Molteni team riding, arm-in-arm across the road after the end of 1973’s Giro, printed to bleed over an entire spread, to post-card pictures of the star relaxing with other riders, such as that with Tom Simpson, Rudi Altig and Jacques Anquetil in 1967.
All the shots are presented on a scale and with a clarity that make them a rich source of enjoyment. Equipment, the clothes of spectators, and background racing detail is all visible. So too are cars, advertisements and street furniture. Rather like Nouvelle Vague films of a slightly earlier era, this collection is an opportunity to soak yourself in scenes of the recent past.
They also celebrate a hero whose triumphs can now be viewed at a safe distance. Cycle racing’s recent past has thrown up so many challenges that the seamier aspects of the sport in the 1960s and 1970s will probably remain hidden by a fog of rumour and half-truth. But while accepting that Eddy deserves his place atop the sport’s highest plinth, it is impossible not to remember his three failed drugs tests. It is even said that it was Merckx who introduced Lance Armstrong to sports scientist Michelle Ferrari.
Perhaps a moral example as well as race victories is too much to ask of sporting champions. But while in their hearts, the spectating public knows that professional sport is a branch of the entertainment industry, their interest will quickly wane, if they sense that they are being taken for fools.
TD Oct 12