MerckxHalf Man, Half Bike
by William Fotheringham
I imagine that almost everyone who has had the slightest interest in cycling would know the name of Eddy ‘The Cannibal’ Merck, and if you are like me, also know very little about him beyond that he is often quoted as the greatest racing cyclist that there has ever been.
William Fotheringham’s book certainly addresses this lack of knowledge and through extensive research and interviews, gives the reader a very detailed account of not only how he earned such a lofty title, but also why, what could motivate someone to claim 445 victories? Compared to Lance Armstrong, for instance, which tally below 100 (now following recent events, are several less!).
The introduction inside the cover describes it well:
‘His triumphs only tell half a story that includes horrific injury, a doping controversy and tragedy…..’
The author ‘…..goes back to speak to those who were there at the time and those who knew Merckx best. The result is this extraordinary and definitive story of a man whose fear of failure would drive him to reach the highest pinnacles before ultimately destroying him.’
We learn that his desire to win is an accumulation of many factors that have influenced him throughout his life, even the terrible aftermath of the Second World War has its part to play in shaping his character and popularity, even though he was born in 1945. This inherent fear of failure causes him to race without any regard to riding defensively, it never enters his mind to sit back and relax a little, conserve his energy, even with an apparently insurmountable margin over his rivals.
For example, during the 1969 Tour de France, he was already leading by over 8 minutes, but Merckx hammered a further 8 ½ minutes out of his nearest rivals during a 85 mile solo break in the Pyrenees, his reasoning was ‘just in case’ something went wrong, todays riders would just keep safely in the peloton and not risk over working themselves.
Another difference with the racing of today is the number of races he entered, some years as high as 151! He never treated a race as training, if he was on the start line it was because he planned to win. What surprises me even more is that he seems to be constantly fighting against injury and illness throughout his career.
His dominance guaranteed his place in history and his stardom, but as is often the case it came at a price, after a while he made racing too predictable, the fans and especially the other riders didn’t want him to enter, in their eyes he ‘killed cycling’ by taking all the wins and prize money. The fame also meant that his private life was constantly interrupted with media and fan demands, his household received around 50 phone calls a day, most dealt with and filtered by his Wife and not all them were pleasant.
This constant pressure, both created by himself and externally, eventually took its toll on his body and mind. It was not his way to pick a few races and just take the appearance fee, only the best performance would do, he must be capable of winning. So when this was no longer possible he retired, finding it difficult to adjust without the racing that had been such a large part of his life.
The book is a very good read and very well researched, it must have taken years of searching and organising to get the interviews and trace his life story.
I highly recommended it for anybody interested in cycle racing.
Now I know why he’s called the greatest, do you? Get a copy if you too want to know the story behind this unique man and cyclist. Merckx gets our Star Buy rating.
Don’t forget to enter our competition to win a Hardback copy of the book! Click here to enter!
Closing date: 24/09/2012.
Merckx – Half Man, Half Bike
Yellow Jersey Press (Random House) & Vintage Digital
Available in Hardback, iBook & Kindle
RRP £16.99 (Hardback), RRP £9.99 (iBook) RRP £16.99 (Kindle)