When I was in France last Summer, Andy Hampsten was going on and on and on about what a great book Slaying the Badger is, so I thought I’d get a copy and read it.
As it turns out, Andy was right. It was an awesome book, about an extraordinary race. And in a couple months — when VeloPress releases the book to the U.S., we’re going to do a book clubbish thing, where we all read it, and then have the author, Richard Moore, join us for a live discussion.
But that’s not the main topic for today’s post. No, that’s just the tangentially-related teaser. Because when I read Slaying the Badger, it occurred to me that I really had no knowledge whatsoever of the early days of cycling, much less the glory days of cycling.
In fact, I wasn’t even sure what the difference is.
I started feeling a little big guilty about the fact that — because it’s expected of me — whenever asked, I state with what I hope passes for conviction that Eddy Merckx is the greatest cyclist of all time, and that nobody has or even could ever surpass him, and that anyone who even tried should not even be allowed to call himself a “cyclist,” but would have to henceforth call himself a “bicycle rider.”
But even as I said these things, I knew in my heart that I really had no idea why Eddy Merckx was such a big deal.
So I decided it was time to educate myself in the matter.
And since I am a professional research analyst, my investigation into the life and time of Eddy Merckx was as thorough as it was exhaustive. After countless hours spent reading, collating, interpreting, interviewing, and — as a last resort — utilizing internet search engines.
And now I am happy to report that I am an Eddy Merckx expert. And as such, I have uncovered a number of truly astonishing facts and anecdotes about this man’s life and accomplishments.
And since it is possible that I am not the only cyclist who has lacked detailed knowledge of this great man’s life, I will now share my newfound knowledge with you.
Interesting Name Facts
Eddy Merckx’s full name is Edouard Lous Joseph, Baron Merckx. I am not sure what the comma is for, but it is widely known that while Eddy tolerates common misspellings of his name (“Eddie” or “Ed”), he becomes furious if the comma is neglected.
Less-well-known is the fact that Eddy’s last name was originally spelled “Mergckxstp.” Eddy had his surname shortened to make it easier to spell, and started going by “Eddy” because sports announcers frequently passsed out while trying to get Eddy’s full name out in a single breath.
Interesting Life Facts
Eddy grew up in Belgium, but cannot tolerate the taste of Belgian waffles. “I am sick and tired of people always serving waffles when they have me over for breakfast,” Merckx once said. “Could we please just have pancakes instead?”
Surprising First Bicycle Facts
Eddy had a pleasant childhood, growing up in a suburb near Brussels. In many ways, he had a typical childhood, with some notable exceptions. For example, many people know that Merckx got his first racing bike at the age of eight. What many people do not know, however, is that it was the age of eight months.
Further, Eddy paid for the this first bike with funds he had earned himself at his job as an ice crusher, where he would take 50-pound blocks of ice and squeeze them between his thighs.
Perhaps most interestingly of all, Eddy won his first bike race the first time he ever rode a bike, and won it by accident. Evidently, he climbed upon his bike at home, began riding it, wound up at a local race and decided to join in the fun.
He eventually bridged to a breakaway and won in a hard-fought sprint at the finish. Years later, the person who took second would claim he let Eddy win because he was only eight months old, but photographic evidence suggests otherwise.
Tragically, Eddy would not receive the trophy due to him, nor the cash prize, because he had poached the race. Disheartened, Merckx would not race again until later that afternoon.
Surprising Racing Career Facts
The racing exploits of Eddy Merckx are as legendary as they are fascinating. A few lesser-known facts about his racing career are as follows:
- Eddy is the only person to have ever the Tour de France twice in a single year.
- Merckx is fluent in 18 languages and has preternaturally sharp hearing. Combined, these two attributes ensured that Eddy always knew everything everyone was talking about in the peloton.
- The limiting factor in his speed on a bicycle was actually the strength of the chain. If Eddy actually exerted the full force of his legs at any given moment, the bike chain would invariably break.
- Merckx’s bike actually weighed over 250 pounds, a joke the team mechanic played on Eddy for the duration of his career. “We built his bike out of lead, just to see if it would slow him down,” said Frank Frorchxtcxts (also a Belgian). “It did not.”
- Eddy had 10,009 career wins. This is interesting because 10,009 is a prime number.
- If the bike chain had not been the limiting factor in Merckx’s bike speed, the tires would have been, because they start to melt at speeds greater than 212 mph.
- Merckx actually won his first Tour de France in 1960 under the pseudonym Gastone Nancini. Merckx raced under a pseudonym because he was 15 at the time.
- Also, Eddy raced — and, naturally won — the 1980 Tour de France as Joop Zoetemelk. He did this for no other reason than to break Hinault’s winning streak.
- When Eddy Merckx set the hour record in 1972, he wasn’t even trying. He was just out on a recovery ride.
- Eddy was known as “The Cannibal” during his racing career, but maintains he has never in actuality eaten human flesh.
After retiring for the pro peloton, Eddy Merckx formed a successful bike company.
He also embarked on a career of fighting crime, with an emphasis on catching criminals by, well, catching them. And also with a side-specialty of kicking doors in.
Or in the absence of doors, kicking down walls.
Eddy Merckx has earned seven doctoral degrees. His hobby is astronomy and he is currently building engaged in what will be the first lunar lander ever built, launched, landed on the moon, and returned to earth, by a single individual, using nothing but his own leg power.
Merckx says he started the project last week and expects to finish it by Saturday.
Belgium has recently honored Merckx by retiring the letter X from its alphabet; no words apart from “Merckx” shall use the letter from this point forward.
Notably, Eddy Merckx has never heard of Chuck Norris, but is widely reported to likely find such a poseur laughable.