Rouleur Classic

Weekly Wibble: Return of the Cannibal

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Photographs: Offside-LeEquipe

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or training for a rather important bicycle race in the deepest, highest wilds of Colombia, you’ll be aware that the Cannibal turns 70 today.

Forty-one – count ’em – years have passed since Axel’s rather more successful father won the last of his Grand Tours, in the era of cotton jerseys, Look Mum No Helmets, and Frenchmen occasionally winning their own race.

What, though, would happen if Eddy in his prime woke up in 2015? Imagine this year’s Tour de France with Merckx facing off against Froome, Contador, Nibali and Quintana. The mind boggles…

He would have to deal with internet speculation, of course. Imagine if the ‘forum’ had existed as a concept in 1966 outside of Roman history books, when Merckx, in his second year as a professional, caught and passed Rik van Looy in the Paris-Nice time-trial, having begun two minutes behind:

“He was putting out 350 watts, because there was a tailwind.”

“No, he was putting out 450 – I saw a Walloon flag blowing back into his face.”

“Merckx is suspicious, going on mutant, going on the alien inside John Hurt’s chest.”

There are rivalries with compatriots, too. Instead of being a permanent slight disappointment, Jurgen van den Broeck is a slight disappointment in the shadow of the greatest cyclist who ever lived. Greg van Avermaet spends his entire career crying at finishing third instead of second.

Philippe Gilbert, meanwhile, is that guy who finished runner-up at Amstel Gold three times and sulked at being a domestique for the 2012 World Championships. The phrase ‘Don’t do a Vandenbroucke’ is tattooed onto Merckx’s ears. Lotto-Soudal and Lampre get involved in a vicious and unseemly bidding war, while Michele Ferrari confuses everyone by revealing Merckx recommended him to his unborn son.

Claudine Acou and Michelle Cound exchange furious Twitter barbs, after Sir Dave Brailsford and Merckx are seen arm-in-arm at a motorhome show in Birmingham. Van Avermaet finds teary consolation in his 2011 Paris-Tours victory – the only race that the 21st century Merckx never wins.

As for the Hour? Merckx breaks Sir Brad’s record by two kilometres on a steel frame, sending our Mod hero into a career tailspin as a Paul Weller tribute act in the pubs of south London.


Eddy giving the rollers a good thrashing

“The greatest roadman in the history of cycling.” Merckx’s fight to win the 1974 Giro.

“They always say cakes are bad for cyclists. Not true: it’s the climbs that are bad for you.”

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