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Eddy Merckx: "The Cannibal"
Baron Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx is without doubt Belgium's most famous sportsman. He is among the top 100 greatest sportsmen of all time.
The baron, alias Eddy Merckx was born in Meensel-Kiezegem, at the end of the Second World War, in June 1945, in a small town east of Leuven. During his career, he earned the nickname "the cannibal" due to his ferocious appetite for victories.
His childhood in Brussels
His father, Jules Merckx, was a joiner. He moved to Woluwe-Saint-Pierre and became a grocer in the Brussels suburb. Eddy, therefore, grew up in Woluwe.
Little Eddy got his first bike aged 4. A lover of sport, he played basketball, tennis and football. Then at 12, he bought his first racing bike with the tips he earned working in his father's shop. In fact, it was his father, a great cycling fan, who took him to six-day races and the finishing line of Paris-Bruxelles. Young Eddy's hero was Belgian cyclist Stan Ockers, who was World Champion in 1955.
Eddy Merckx's cycling career began in 1961, as a debutant. He registered his first victory at his 14th race, winning Petit-Enghien and the following year, 1962, he won his first title: Champion de Belgique des débutants (Belgian Debutant Champion) in Libramont. Three years later, he was crowned amateur World Champion. He turned professional later that year.
Nothing could stop the champion anymore. It was the start of the long series of 525 victories and successes for the Belgian champion. His insatiable appetite for victory earned him the nicknames "Cannibal" or "Ogre of Tervuren". His honours undoubtedly contributed to his presence in a list of the 100 greatest sportsmen and women of all time and his lasting notoriety.
The most memorable images of Eddy may be of him finishing the Tour de France on the Champs-Elysées in Paris in the yellow jersey, but he had numerous race wins in our regions. He competed in Liège-Bastogne-Liège 1à times between 1966 and 1977, winning 5 times. He took part in the Flèche wallonne 8 times, winning 3 times. He also raced in the Flèche Brabançonne, the Belgian Road Championships, the Tour du Condroz, Paris-Bruxelles (which has since become the Brussels Cycling Classic) and the Tour of Belgium. Corwds were enthusiastic and came in great numbers to cheer on "their" champion.
Eddy Merckx's career is international. For a long time he held the record number of Tour de France victories: 5 consecutive victories between 1969 and 1974. He also won the Giro d'Italia 5 times, the Vuelta a España once and he was World Road Champion 3 times (1967, 1971, 1974). In 1972, he beat the World Hour Record in Mexico City.
His long career was not continuous, nor was it without failures or injuries and in 1978, Eddy Merckx retired from competitive cycling, but not the world of bikes altogether.
Merckx and bikes after his professional career
Eddy Merckx stayed in the world of cycling once his professional career had finished. Today he's still riding bikes for pleasure, notably since 2013, with the creation of the "Gran Fondo Eddy Merckx", a classic cyclotourism trek. It is a 155km route, led off by Eddy Merckx himself, in the magnificent setting of the . From 1980 to 2004, he organised the "Grand prix Eddy Merckx" a time trial race, first individual, then in pairs, which took place in August around Brussels and gathered some of the discipline's best riders.
In 1980, Eddy Merckx the professional cyclist became Eddy Merckx the entrepreneur. He built bikes that bore his name and stood out for their quality. In 2014, he left the company, but remained involved in terms of research and development.
If you take in Brussels, you'll find the Eddy Merckx station (since 2003), in Woluwé, where Eddy grew up. The bike exhibited is the one on which he beat the World Hour Record in 1972. The showcase shows photographs of the champion during his exploit. The record can only be validated if the person attempting to beat it uses the same bike. The centre scolaire Eddy Merckx (school) also lies in Woluwé.
In 1996, he was given the title of Baron by King Albert II of Belgium.
In 2000, while celebrating its centenary, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) awarded him the prize of " Rider of the Century". He was also elected "sportif belge du siècle" (Belgian Sports Personality of the Century) by the Belgian Olympic and Interfederal Commitee and the Blegian Professional Sports Journalists Association.
They are but some of the numerous titles which have been bestowed upon him.