Posts Tagged ‘eddy merckx’

Merckx: Photographs from a Family Album

August 23, 2013

Words: Paul Fournel

We know that this album belonged to a Monsieur Lecouf, but that is all we know. Who was this Lecouf?

He was Belgian, it seems. But was it him who took the pictures… or did he just collect them? Was he close to Eddy?

Or was he simply another race fan, one of those devoted Tour lovers who runs across fields and climbs mountains just to snatch a photo or grab a racer’s cap still damp with sweat?

And like Monsieur Lecouf, how many children, teenagers and grown-ups glued pictures of Eddy into scrapbooks like this one?

These photos seem to have been taken with a Kodak Instamatic, a very popular camera in 1971. They are shot on colour film, which is lucky because 1971 was a brightly coloured year for Eddy.

At the start of the season, he shed the red jersey of Faema for the rusty merino of Molteni, his new home.

Molteni is a family of amateur racing cyclists that found fortune and glory in the world of fine Italian meat products and who sponsored one of the finest and most successful professional cycling teams of the era.

Their jersey, made by Vittore Gianni, was simple and elegant: a rare tan colour with black stripes and cuffs.

“Molteni’s jersey was brown and black, dour and intense,” writes Kadir Guirey. “Far more representative of Merckx’s introspective and enigmatic racing nature.” And it cut through the peloton screaming.

At the end of a long journey, and through a chance buy at an auction, the album is now in the hands of cyclist and collector Guirey, who keeps it safe in London.

It is a small part of many passions: the passion for Merckx of course, but also the passion for both iconic and candid mages of Merckx, a passion for the many Merckx fanatics, the simple passion for bicycle racing and the history of the bicycle… a passion for cycling culture.

This is not just a collection of photographs, it is a collection of memories.

L’Album d’Eddy goes on sale today in the Rouleur shop. You can buy it here.








Extract from L’Album d’Eddy; photos extracted from issue 8

The Gift

December 12, 2012

“Inside the package, Waldo quivered with excitement as he listened to the muffled voices. Sheila ran her fingernail over the masking tape that ran down the centre of the carton. ‘Why don’t you look at the return address and see who it’s from?’ Waldo felt his heart beating. He could feel the vibrating footsteps. It would be soon…”


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Images from Andrews, Brown, Ciaberta, Darling, Sharp, Smit, Unverzart, Waugh and Worland. Writing by Barry, Cleverly, Fife, Greenwood, O’Brien, McRae, Southam, Stout, Sykes and Williams. The very best of Rouleur.


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Herbie Sykes’s Coppi is a beautiful, unique evocation of global cycling legend Fausto Coppi. Built around an extraordinary collection of hand-picked, never before seen images, the book also features testimony from those who knew him intimately.

Screen shot 2012-12-11 at 16.33.102013 CALENDAR Twelve photos (how very traditional) and a fine cover illustration by Jo Burt adds up to a whole year of loveliness for your wall.

RICH MITCH MUGS Marco, Greg, Bernard, Eddy or Tom? Cav, Swifty, Bernie or Froomey? Hoy, Trott, Clancy or Pendleton? Tough call…

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Screen shot 2012-12-11 at 15.30.57PEACE RACE POSTERS The 1965 Peace Race image by Maciej Urbaniec from the cover of issue 30 is a beauty, as are all four of these gems of graphic design.


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EDDY A small plastic bloke in a box, wearing Molteni kit. Who could it be? Richard Mitchelson’s inimitable take on the greatest.


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Amid the bling, the controversy, the glamour and the television images each July, it’s easy to forget the daily, monthly, yearly grind of training, competition and travel. For Barry and company, it is truly all about the bike. The Guardian

Screen shot 2012-12-11 at 15.46.00ROULEUR TEE Black is the new black. ‘Rouleur’ printed on the front. Enough said.

iPAD CASE These new-fangled iPads are rather popular, we hear. Having our fingers on the pulse of all things new and shiny, we designed this fabulous leather case to keep yours safe and snug.

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GIFT SUBSCRIPTION WITH CARDS Give a little Rouleur (or Privateer for that matter) and receive five greetings cards for your own use. That’s a win/win situation right there.

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On the Shelf

July 4, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photo: Jordan Gibbons

Firstly, an apology. I have been seriously slacking these past few weeks. The cycling books that have been arriving on my desk at the rate of three or four a week for the last couple of months have largely gone unread.

So apologies to the authors, to the publishers, and to you. Your prospective holiday reads gather dust, while plans for hours of lazing around the pool, book in one hand, beer in the other, are in tatters because this lazy-arse deputy ed can’t be done with actually reading and digesting each and every increasingly weighty tome that arrives in the post. Again, sorry. You know how it is: magazine to write and organise. Piffling, side-tracking matters. Waiting for a detailed analysis of the new releases to accompany your attempt at evening out a ridiculous cycling tan on the beach? Read no further. This is, most certainly, not it.

There is also the small matter of the non-stop perusal of cycling-related matter leading to brain atrophy or, at the very least, the impression that pain, suffering, drugs and untimely death are what makes the world go round. I try and fit a non-sport book between each two-wheeled tale – currently Patti Smith’s excellent autobiography Just Kids – to keep a balanced perspective. That Smith’s story should contain more than its fair share of pain, suffering, drugs and untimely death is an unfortunate coincidence. Back to the cycling books, then.

If you have read Jeff Connor’s Wide Eyed and Legless chronicling the sorry tale of ANC Halfords’ attempt at the 1987 Tour, you may consider re-visiting the story 25 years later superfluous. How wrong. Field of Fire is every bit as well written, funny and insightful as its predecessor. The author’s admittedly sketchy knowledge of the sport in 1987 has increased considerably and his recent interviews with team members and management show a greater understanding on all sides of the scale of what ANC were trying to undertake. Connor’s take on the sad descent into the gutter of Fleet Street’s red tops plays a big part in proceedings and the whole works perfectly. Highly recommended.

Merkcx: Half Man Half Bike by William Fotheringham I had high hopes for, but struggled to connect with. William has written some fine books, notably the Tom Simpson story Put me Back on my Bike and Roule Britannia, but falls short. It feels rushed and under-researched. Merckx is a notoriously difficult subject to get under the skin of and I am not convinced William has pulled it off. But then it topped the Times Bestseller’s List, so what do I know? Daniel Friebe’s The Cannibal awaits, but I’m all Merckxed-out for the moment.

So two Merckx’s arrive at once and, before you know it, there are also two Fotheringhams in the pile. The latest addition is from brother Alasdair, his first book. It makes you wonder what kept him. The Eagle of Toledo – The Life and Times of Federico Bahamontes, is not only a terrific tale but is very well handled by Hispanophile Alasdair. Accounts of cycle racing’s early years invariably contain suffering on a scale unimaginable to the modern professional, but post-Civil War Spain was another level altogether. Riding hundreds of miles between races, surviving on watermelons filched from fields, winning prize money was a necessity for the starving Bahamontes. The maverick climber comes across as a man difficult to like but, once you know the background, impossible not to admire. Alasdair’s book deserves a wider readership than I suspect it will get in this avalanche of summer cycling reading. Do seek it out.

As for the great unread, some appeal more than others. Nicholas Roche (too young), Stephen Roche (maybe…), Bill Strickland’s Tour de Lance (Bill is great, not so interested in the subject matter), Bjarne Riis (ditto on the subject matter), and Reg Harris (could be good).

Bike! compiled by experienced hands Daniel Benson and Richard Moore is a big handsome beast, a tribute to manufacturers, big and small, that have shaped the evolution of the racing bike through the 20th century and beyond. It looks mighty fine and I look forward to settling down on the sofa with it soon – this is no beach read, but the release date is September, so no worries there.

On the lighter side, Ned Boulting’s tremendous How I Won the Yellow Jumper has a Mark Cavendish green jumper update which should be equally good fun. Simon Warren’s demon little pocket book of fiendish ascents has a new brother, Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs – “Longer! Higher! Steeper!” You get the picture.

Around Ireland on a Bike by Paul Benjaminse got my attention, purely because it has been an awful long time since I did an anti-clockwise tour of the country and it is high time to re-visit. The scenery appears as dramatic as ever. Does every person you pass on the roads still say hello? Do the road surfaces remain rough as old boots? Probably, and long may it last.

Eddy and me

March 21, 2012

Being the youngest of four children, hand-me-downs were a fact of life – not that any of my siblings ever got a new bike either. Uncle Ted would scour the local tip for abandoned frames and wheels, take them back to his workshop and somehow fashion usable machines from piles of junk. Scrapheap Challenge had nothing on Uncle Ted. His creations were invariably painted in the same disgusting shade of green paint liberated from his workplace, sported Sturmey Archer three-speed hubs and weighed more than dad’s Mini, but they did the job.

Until I joined a cycling club, that is. Then it became abundantly clear that Uncle Ted’s clunker would have to go and be replaced by something racier. Much parental badgering ensued – threats issued, tantrums thrown – until they relented and allowed the princely sum of £50 to be withdrawn from my savings. Cash in pocket, I headed for the nearest decent cycle emporium in the glittering metropolis that is Swindon.

A host of gleaming lightweights awaited, mostly too big or too costly for a 13-year-old, but the smattering of machines within my price range looked adequate. Falcons, Raleighs and Carltons vied for my attention. They were all distinct possibilities. And then the Swindon Cycle Centre came up trumps. The moment I saw it, I knew it was the one.

The shade of Molteni orange paint used for its 19-inch frame is a colour that remains deep in my affections. Steel-rimmed 26-inch wheels didn’t so much spin as grind their way round, but Weinmann centre-pulls were a step up from the stopping capabilities of my old clunker. It had those curious ‘mudguards’ – lengths of dull silver metal extending a few inches either side of the brakes that deflected no road muck but rattled incessantly. Five gears, courtesy of French company Huret, seemed plenty to me.

But none of these things informed my choice. What counted – more than the wheels, more than the gears, more than those infernal chrome guards – was the picture on the headtube: a diamond-shaped sticker, framed by World Championship bands, containing a portrait of the greatest rider in the World, the impossibly handsome Eddy Merckx. The sticker repeated on the downtube for good measure.

It was hardly what you would describe as ‘lightweight’, but Eddy and me travelled far and wide on increasingly lengthy club runs, into the hills of Somerset or the Cotswolds, and we got on just fine. Youth Hostelling excursions into Wales or Dorset were a regular feature once proper mudguards, rack and saddle-bag were added. We tackled five-mile time trials every Wednesday evening, recording PB’s week after week. Come the winter, the gears were stripped off and a donated fixed wheel with 40 spokes and no chrome whatsoever (it appeared to have spent several years at the bottom of the River Avon) was fitted. Not once were we defeated by a climb, although one snowy descent at Easter saw us flying into the hedgerow at speed due to my inability to stop.

But Eddy was with me. We were fine.

My legs were growing ever longer and skinnier. The seat post had reached its limit before long. Me and Eddy would have to part company. It was years later I discovered my bike was made under licence by Falcon Cycles in England and had no input whatsoever from the great Belgian, apart from his picture on the frame. Not that the news clouded my feelings about my first racing bike. Me and Eddy had something special.

But it was over. The next machine would have be a step up: self- assembled, one piece at a time, with every component hand-picked by me. No walking into a shop and picking some factory-built, mass-produced mount. The next time would be different…

Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham, is published by Yellow Jersey. Bespoked Bristol, the handmade bike show, runs from Friday, March 23 to Sunday, March 25. 

The Phenomenon

January 26, 2012

Words: Graeme Fife Photos: Gerard Brown

He greets us by the open door into the lower floor of his condominium (he also has the upstairs apartment) and shows us into a spacious, light-filled room, the end wall panelled in glossy maple wood, a flat-screen television, family photographs. A balcony overlooks the garden; at the other end of the room are shelves lined with trophies, a dining table. Photographer clicks his inbuilt light meter into action and sets off back to get the gear; Hasselblad will get the nod. I sit on an armchair, Sercu on the settee. He remembers me from Bremen, when we spoke in French, and from a brief encounter at Ghent when he was so busy he had no time to say much more than hello in any language. Now we speak in English.

Where to start?

Where Patrick Sercu started, here in Izegem, a few kilometres from where we sit, on the track built by Odile Defraye in 1912, the year he became the first Belgian to win the Tour de France. He’d bought a restaurant with his winnings and built the 166 metre cement track in the garden. By 1959, when Sercu was 15 and ready to start riding, the surface was cracked and pitted. Albert repaired it and, in the photograph which shows his son riding it for the first time, the patches and ribbons of new cement grouting show white on the grey surface. His father organised a programme of competitions on the track for local teenagers.

“Did he teach you?” I ask.

“He was my first trainer, my first promoter. I got on well with him. He’d finished racing, mostly on the road, but he did the Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels Sixes – I think he rode around sixteen altogether.”

Between 1964 and 1983, Sercu Junior rode 233 Sixes and won 88. But he also raced through the road season. His palmarès are quite simply dazzling. I ask how he managed a full winter programme as well as the long calendar of classics and stage races over what was an exceptionally long career.

He smiles. “I couldn’t stay at home. I felt a bicycle rider should always be in competition, on the track and the road. Maybe it was just how I was and I was lucky I could do it.” Moreover, by his own admission, he never took any more than two weeks off and even then only twice a year. The driving imperative for him at the time, as for everyone else, was money. The Six-Days might have paid well in the ‘blue train’ – that elite cadre of some sixteen riders who star on the bill – but otherwise track racing delivered only slim pickings. When riders were paid very little on contract, earnings had to come from prize and appearance money. Reputation fuelled pay rises. There was not the specialisation then as there is now. All riders faced a much longer season than today’s well paid pros.

As an amateur, Sercu routinely raced on the track on Sunday and then on the road on Wednesday; kermesses through the summer, the hard, tight-cornered, cobbled local circuits where the intensity of the crowd’s enthusiasm both reflects and spikes the fury of the competition. It must have been the experience of those short-lap town and village circuits which toughened him, early on, for the dizzy circling on the indoor wooden tracks.

Extract from Rouleur issue 28, coming soon

You Win Again

May 19, 2011

“That Belgian, he doesn’t even leave you the crumbs, he’s a cannibal!”

Christian Raymond.

In cycle racing there have been some amazing feats; stories of comeback and of daring-do, of great victories and of great tragedy, of personal sacrifice and bad luck – and then there is the story of the greatest cyclist ever: Eddy Merckx.

This extraordinary Belgian notched his unrivalled palmares in a career that spanned a little over 13 years. No surprise then, that even his teammates nicknamed him ‘The Cannibal’. Merckx was from a different time: a time when professional cyclists raced all year round, from the cold, early season Classics, through to the hot summer Grand Tours, and on. Merckx raced long into the winter too: the indoor six-day circuit on the track and the hour record… The astonishing thing about Merckx’s ability was that it was truly all-round – he was equally at home on the velodromes of Ghent, Amsterdam and Berlin, as on the climbs of the French Alps, Spanish Pyrenees and Italian Dolomites, and equally powerful in the flatter, cobbled one-day races like Paris–Roubaix as the hillier Liège–Bastogne–Liège. These days cycle racing is very different and bike riders specialise in one event; they are either Grand Tour contenders, six-day specialists or Classics hard-cases, rarely all. Eddy Merckx was a winner at all of the major bike races and more. The cannibal was, and still is, unique.

If anyone is in any doubt then I draw your attention to RAI’s coverage of the Giro. Eddy’s been a star summeriser on their Giro show and the presenters have shown their admiration, or rather adoration, of the campione in spades. So much so that regardless of what is happening in the race they have regularly stopped their commentary just to fawn over big Ted. And behind the scenes are the tifosi, shouting: ‘Eddy, Eddy, Eddy…’  But despite this retrospective love, back when he was racing, the Cannibal had a big problem. People got bored of his dominance and the way he would smash the opposition into submission, in a way we have never seen since, and although he showed some incredible strength of character at times and no small sprinkling of panache, in the end the constant winning got boring.  If you’re not sure what I mean but recall the 1990s Tours better than the 1970s, think of Miguel Indurain. I have nothing against the five-time Tour winner – he seems like a likeable man – but boy was he boring to watch. Motivated by hanging on in the mountains and then grinding his way back through the GC against the clock, his wins at the Tour were as far away from the exploits of Merckx as you could get and eventually his wins got a bit too much, even for the Spaniard’s admirers. Cycling fans are a pretty transient bunch and eventually we want to see someone else get a chance. But how?

Merckx’s 525 victories had me thinking. Most riders are lucky to ride that many races in a lifetime and win any at all. What has stuck with me over the last few weeks is a question that many new racing cyclists ask: how do I win a race? It’s a tricky question and one that has so many answers that it would fill several books, let alone one short blog post. Truth is there are no hard and fast ways to reach the line first, but to the uninitiated the fundamental rule is somewhat confusing: it’s not something that just involves, being fast. Eddy’s response to this question was pretty familiar. Apparently he was ‘scared’, so attacking was the best method he had of dealing with the fear – perhaps it was the fear of losing, or of not winning. Whatever. Merckx just rode as fast as he could, because that was good enough most of the time.

But not winning, in my experience, teaches you an awful lot more about road racing craft than just riding the opposition off your wheel does. Winning is such a complex business – although, granted, professional racing is as different to the amateur level as tiddlywinks is to chess – but regardless of the level you’re at, whether strong and dumb or weak and clever, winning or not is all down to timing.

So if you have ridden 500 or more races in your career and won very few, or perhaps even none, you will have a different approach to racing and one that is as unique as Merckx’s palmares. Underachieving is actually the best education you can have, as not winning races means you’ll learn an awful lot from your mistakes along the way.

John Gadret won at the Giro yesterday and in many ways this was a victory for the ‘loser’ in cycling. Not that Gadret is a loser – far from it – but he has built a career on finishing up there, but not quite there. He has been a professional since 2004, his name often features in the TV commentary when the break is ten minutes down the road, and he knows well enough by now that today probably won’t be the day. But yesterday was Gadret’s day, and the finish was text book stuff. It wasn’t the measured response to covering your rivals, or being told in your earpiece who was strong and who wasn’t. It was all about timing and no small amount of bravery, but most importantly, as the splintered break was swallowed up, he knew too well what it felt like to be caught and sensed the oh-so-slight hesitation in the chase and, as the favourites stuck together like cattle, our man jumped away for the biggest win of his career.

The emotion on the 32-year-old’s face was the whole story; the unsuccessful breaks, missed attacks and unlucky punctures. They were all written in his expression. Collecting the crumbs had been a long time coming.

Guy Andrews, Editor

Prima Tappa

April 19, 2011

Eddy Merckx and Italo Zilioli come to London next week to help celebrate the launch of Maglia Rosa – triumph and tragedy at the Giro d’Italia by Rouleur regular Herbie Sykes. In this extract, Merckx wins his first stage in the Italian race. Look out, world…

Vincenzo Giacotto, the former manager of Carpano, called his old friend Nino Defilippis and told him to meet him on the road to Cervinia, at the foot of the Matterhorn. Charged by Faema, the coffee machine manufacturer, with building a new team after a four year hiatus from the sport, Giacotto was in need of a Giro winner. He had a hunch. It was the spring of 1967.

The formidable, precocious young Belgian, Eddy Merckx, already being touted as ‘the new Rik Van Looy’ for his extraordinary strength in the single day classics, was the hottest property in world cycling. Merckx, his contract with the French bicycle manufacturer Peugeot due to expire at the season’s end, had greatly impressed Giacotto with an outstanding performance at Paris – Nice. A former World amateur champion and already a big winner amongst the professionals, Merckx found himself paying his own expenses at Peugeot. He’d sought to renegotiate but no avail; the winner of Milan – Sanremo continued to buy his own tyres from the local bike shop.

He’d come today because he knew that Italian cycling was better paid, and because he was anxious to meet Giacotto, about whom he’d heard great things from the Belgians he’d managed at Carpano. Almost to a man they had said he was progressive, clever and honest, unusual qualities in the arcane, often grubby world of professional cycling. For his part Giacotto had gotten it into his head that if he could get the youngster to, as he put it, ‘think Italian’, he could challenge Gimondi, considered now the world’s best cyclist, at the Giro.

Defilippis, twice maglia tricolore and formerly Giacotto’s Captain on the road at Carpano, agreed to meet his old boss, though in truth he’d pretty well lost interest in cycling since his retirement. What he saw as Merckx powered his way up the mountain, though, had him agog at his untapped climbing brilliance, and would re-ignite his interest in racing. More immediately though it had him, and Giacotto, scratching about under their car seats, desperate to have Merckx sign something which might constitute, in some way, a pre-contract. The back of a cigarette packet, anything…

Keen to impress his would-be employers, Merckx performed expertly at his first grand tour, the 1967 Giro. When Zilioli attacked on the big mountain stage to Block Haus, he confounded expectation by first following and then dropping him to claim his first Giro stage win. The Gazzetta opined that ‘…our climbers were embarrassed by a Belgian sprinter.’ They, and their scalatori, need get used to the idea. Merckx won again two days later, this time a bunch gallop at the seaside, and would finish ninth on general classification without apparently giving it much thought. In so doing he seemed to confirm Giacotto’s perspicacity. That he possessed bludgeoning strength, a prerequisite for winning the classics, had never been at issue, but he was a tremendous, bullying climber as well, and could time trial with the best. Here indeed was a potential Giro contender.

On Friday 2 September 1967 Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx signed, for 400,000 Belgium Francs a year, a three year contract with Faema; it represented an increase in salary of over 300 per cent. The following day, across the Dutch border at Harleen, he celebrated. In outsprinting the local favourite, Jan Janssen, he become only the second man in history to claim both amateur and professional versions of the world title. Thus, by the time he arrived at Faema’s winter training camp on the Ligurian coast, 22-year-old Merckx had won not only the great Ardennes classic Flêche – Wallonne and Milan – Sanremo (twice), but had handed Giacotto, on a plate, the rainbow jersey of the World champion. It had been a decent day’s work at Cervinia…

Merckx made for the partenza of the Giro with an impressive Spring campaign under his belt. As the peloton barrelled towards the finish of stage one, beneath the Novara’s giant Basilica of San Gaudenzio, the sprinters had themselves in position, entirely as forecast in view of the flatness of the percorso. Two kilometres from the line, however, Merckx bolted, and held off the lot of them to win by six seconds. His was an extraordinary feat of speed and strength, but categorically not the action of a rider intent on winning a three week stage race. Guido Reybrouck, Faema’s designated sprinter, was aghast, Pifferi, Basso and the rest of the Giro’s velocisti humiliated. For his part a delighted Eddy Merckx, the new maglia rosa of the Tour of Italy, didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. Vincenzo Giacotto simply shrugged his shoulders; this Merckx was something, wasn’t he?

Merckx’ show of force had the media speculating, quite reasonably, that he was at the Giro in search of stage wins, and to a degree they were right. There had been a stage to win, he had won it, and now there were another 21 to try to win before the Giro finished. The next day he went out and won again, this time in the mountains of Aosta. As he made his way towards the podium Merckx was grabbed by a TV reporter from RAI;

‘Bravo Eddy, did you always have it in mind to go for the win today?’

‘Why do you ask me that? Why do you think I’m here? To watch the others win?’