Eddy Merckx and The Last Race of the Cannibal

Eddy Merckx in tears from the book Merckx 525

The photo on page 215 of Merckx 525 is among the most telling in this amazing tome. The setting is the 1977 Tour de France, a race the great Eddy Merckx did not win. Not even close.

It’s July 19, six days from the final stage in Paris, and Merckx is midway up the steep slopes of Alpe d’Huez. But instead of his trademark steely gaze and majestic power, the Belgian is struggling, the pain and suffering unmistakably painted on his face. His low-crouched torso is rocking to the right. His brow is furrowed.

There is a lone fan in the image, a middle-aged man sporting an Eddy Merckx cap. But instead of cheering for his hero as he’d surely done so many times before, this man is concerned. You can see it on his face, and in his eyes. He knows this is not the Eddy Merckx he grew up idolizing, the man who started 1,800 races and won an astounding 525 of them. This is Merckx on his last legs, a king near the end of his glorious reign.

Eddy Merck finished that Tour more than 12 minutes behind the eventual winner. He would never start the race again. The following offseason, Merckx struggled to secure a team sponsor. His training suffered. Things would never be the same.

Like so many great athletes before and after, the end was not glorious for Eddy Merckx. On March 19, 1978, he finished an anonymous 12th in the Tour of Waasland, and then stopped racing for good.

That day marked the conclusion of the greatest bike racing career the sport had ever known: 5 Tour de France titles, 5 Giro d’Italia crowns, 4 world championships, 15 classics triumphs, one world hour record, 525 total wins. Eddy Merckx was and remains the greatest of all time.

Merckx 525 book cover image M525_96dpi_500pw_photoMerckx 525 celebrates the unmatchable career of Eddy Merckx, the greatest cyclist ever and the most dominant athlete of the 20th century. Merckx 525 is the first book authorized by Eddy Merckx and the only book he says offers a truly complete record of his bike-racing career. In its pages, you’ll find photographs never published outside France, Italy, and Belgium.