Eddy Merckx Takes on the World Hour Record

One hour. Sixty minutes. Thirty-six hundred seconds. For most of us, this span of time represents the length of lunch or the duration of a favorite television show. But in cycling, one hour is the partition between being great and becoming the greatest. Eddy Merckx understood this. He knew he needed to break the world hour record.

So in 1972, during what was arguably his most successful year of racing, Merckx decided to make his run at cycling most hallowed mark. Like the previous record holder, Merckx settled on the velodrome in Mexico City as sight for his attempt. Because it was situated at high altitude (7,500 feet above the sea) there would be less air resistance, but also less air to breathe.

To prepare Merckx holed up in the air-tight bowels of a naval shipyard in western Belgium. The idea was to restrict the amount of available oxygen, thus training his body for the thin air of Mexico City.

“As word of the training spread, the record became a matter of national interest,” recounts Merckx 525. “Even Leopold III, former king of Belgium, would accompany Merckx to Mexico City.”

On October 25, Merckx strode out to the infield of the velodrome and mounted his fixed gear track bike. “Then he crosses himself. He knows that he is about to embark on a painful trip. What will be the outcome? Fame or failure.”

Afterwards, Merckx reflected on his sixty-minute ride. “Never before had I had such pain,” he said. “And I have never felt such pain again.”

As for the record, he smashed it.

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.

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