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So THIS is Eddie Merckx
on 25 July 2012
Eddy Merckx. For people like me, whose knowledge or interest in road racing commences after the 70s, that name was something of a faceless, ubiquitous imprint all over the record books. Go to Wikipedia and look up the winners of Grand Tours and classics between 1968 and 1976; you will see 'Eddy Merckx' everywhere. Having got long accustomed to seeing and hearing the name without much actual appreciation of the owner, I thought it was time to find out more about the legendary cyclist.
William Fotheringham has put this biography together in a brilliant fashion. He gives some wonderful passage to Merckx's rise, and focusses on many rivals and team-mates/domestiques who were present during the great man's career. Fotheringham also does a brilliant job of putting Merckx's achievements into true perspective - particularly his one-hour record, and the fact that unlike today, there was no dedication to a single tour - Merckx, `The Cannibal', rode to win anywhere he could. When someone truly dominates their sport, such as Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Eddie Merckx, their resulting achievements can sometimes lose a bit of impact purely because there are so many statistics and high numbers to take in. Happily, the author manages to give weight and appropriate significance to many of Merckx's victories, and builds a picture of an unstoppable athlete, well ahead of his peers both physically and mentally during his dominant years - at a time when those self-same peers were often legends in their own right.
Now because I have no memories or recollections of Merckx during his career (because I wasn't around at the time), this book is the only personal insight into the man and his records that I have encountered - I therefore read this biography without prejudice. But I do think Fotheringham occasionally veers ever so slightly away from impartiality. As an example, Merckx's positive drug tests are covered; with his first, dubious result in 1969 given analysis, albeit with the impression that Merckx was more likely innocent than guilty. However, Merckx's second positive result is glossed over and his third - the one Merckx himself admits to - is not even mentioned. I would also have preferred Fotheringham to expand a bit more on Merckx's post-race years - the book does end fairly quickly after reaching his competitive retirement.
That said, these gripes are minor - this book is worthy of at least 4½ out of 5 stars - and is a thoroughly entertaining delve into the career of the definitive road legend. Merkxissimo!