June 18, 2005 – Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx celebrated his 60th birthday yesterday. For the very young, or those with short memories, or those who insist that it is impossible to compare great athletes across generations, it is a useful reminder to note that Merckx is the greatest cyclist who ever lived, by a significant margin.
His record at any of the major races would be enough to make an athlete legendary: 5 Tours de France, 7 wins at Milan-San Remo, 5 Tours of Italy (including 3 Giro/Tour doubles), 3 professional and 1 amateur world championship, and no less than 27 major classic wins.
His winning percentage, at a a time when the professional peloton was relatively comparable to today’s in terms of competitiveness, is mind boggling: 445 wins in 1,582 races – yes, he won close to a third of the races he entered as a professional.
And for those who only hold Tour de France wins as a gauge of success (a recent phenomenon), Merckx would certainly have won a sixth Tour in 1975 had he not been felled by a punch in the stomach by a spectator during a stage and crashed in another, fracturing a cheekbone: he lost by under 3 minutes to Bernard Thevenet.
Happy birthday, Cannibal!