Born on June 17, 1945, Merckx rode for thirteen seasons, but thoroughly dominated cycling for a full ten years like no one else has before or since. Merckx won the Amateur World Championship Road Race in 1964 then turned pro in 1965.
His first major victory came in the 1966 Milan-San Remo at age 20. His last major victory was in that same race, ten years later. In his peak years, 1969 through 1975, Merckx won an astounding 35% of races entered.
He won the Tour de France five times, the Giro d'Italia five times and the Vuelta a Espana once for a total of eleven Grand Tour victories.
He won each of cycling’s five monuments (Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Tour of Lombardy) more than twice, for a record of nineteen victories in these races.
Of those races, he won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege a record five times and the Milan-San Remo a record seven times. His record of 525 victories, including 445 as a professional, is untouchable.
Between 1968 and 1974, he won a record eleven Grand Tours. He is the only rider to win all of the classifications (overall, mountains and points jerseys) in a single year at the Tour de France (1969) and the Giro d’Italia (1968).
He won the Tour de France - Giro d'Italia double in 1970, 1972, and 1974. He won the Giro d'Italia - Vuelta a Espana double in 1973.
He has 34 Tour de France stage wins (the record) including six stages in 1969 and 1972, and eight stages in 1970 and 1974.
In 1974, he won the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the World Championship Road Race to achieve the “Triple Crown” in cycling. That feat has only been repeated one other time: by Stephen Roche in 1987.
Despite his successes, Merckx was not immune to injury and accident as this race in 1969 illustrates. Merckx was in a derny-paced exhibition race toward the end of the season. These are races in which cyclists each follow their own motorcycle pacer around an oval track.
A pacer and cyclist fell in front of Merckx forcing Merckx and his pacer to fall. Merckx’s pacer was killed instantly. Merckx was knocked unconscious and was bleeding heavily from a head wound.
Merckx suffered a concussion and required stitches to close the gaping wound. The worst lingering effect from the accident was that Merckx cracked one of his vertebrae and twisted his pelvis. This made climbing painful and, despite his amazing victory record, may have limited his winning to some extent.
Merckx experienced other injuries, but was determined to carry on his winning ways. In the 1975 Tour de France on the climb up the Puy-de-Dome, a French spectator viciously punched Merckx in the stomach. A few days later, Merckx crashed and fractured his cheek bone, but still did not abandon the race. In the end, he lost the Tour to Bernard Thevenet: but by under three minutes.
Merckx’s demanding schedule took its toll on him. He won his last Grand Tour in 1974 at the age of 29 and his last major classic in the spring of 1976, at the age of 30. He retired two years later on May 17, 1978, at the age of 32.
Text courtesy of: Cycling Hall of Fame
Photo coutesy of: Museo del Ciclismo