Half 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)
If you follow the Tour every year, like us, you will have waited a lifetime for a Brit to win it (well if you’re from this small island you have). If you’re Bradley Wiggins, you’ve been training for it all your life. howies wanted to celebrate the amazing win and commissioned a limited edition tee “Sideburns of Glory”, that became their fastest selling tee of all time. I ordered mine and I’ve been wearing it proudly since. It’s a conversation piece. The design is based on the Bayeux Tapestry and it shows “St Bradley of Viggins” wielding his sword while atop a pile of broken riders and bikes.
For the week after the Tour, howies decided to donate the proceeds from their cycling themed t-shirts to the Dave Rayner Fund, raising £5560.
Dave Raynor was an English professional road cyclist from 1987 to 1994, in his career he rode for Dutch (Buckler), British (Interent-Yugo, Raleigh-Banana & Banana Falcon) and American (I.M.E.-Health Share and Lex-Townsend) Pro teams. Dave was a consistent winner of the under 22 Milk Race (now known as the Tour of Britain) which was a favourite of his). He sadly died age 27 in 1994.
After his death a memorial fund established and a fund raising dinner which takes place every year with esteemed guests such as Miguel Indurain, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, and Eddy Merckx attending.
Since 1996, The Dave Rayner Fund have supported hundreds of promising British cyclists. By issuing grants to cover training and racing costs, they bridge the gap into making a successful career from cycle racing in Europe and it’s great the customers of howies have raised such an unexpected sum.
The fund has supported the career progression for the likes of David Millar and Charly Wegelius and receives ongoing support from professional riders, such as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.
To support the Dave Rayner Fund or find out more please visit their website by clicking here.
Alex from howies says, “There’s going to be loads more British Cycling success on the TV over the next couple of weeks and some great tees to celebrate.”
… and here they are!…
You can choose from “Great Thighs of thunder” (Sir Chris of Hoy), Sweet Chariot (Queen Victoria) and The MMXXII Missile (The Marquis of Cavendish).
To order visit the howies website.
Tom Murray - Image © Anna Magrath Cycling Shorts.
This winter I set off to the Gent, Six days full of enthusiasm and excitement, its somewhere I have great memories off, somewhere I have passed down many a story about to my friends, family and anyone else who would listen. But there is a problem, a worry stuck in my head I think the world needs to know, but first I better tell you why I qualify to worry about the six days.
The Kuipke track has always been close to my heart, in truth it’s the whole reason I got to ride a bike for a living. As a young kid my parents took me across to Gent to watch the six day with Ben Swift I remember us both sitting there staring in amazement as the six day rolled on and on into the early hours of the night and the party in the middle of the track got more and more wild and out of hand. I made a decision there and then that I wanted to ride the six days, I wanted a piece of that atmosphere to be part of the whole circus, it felt a lot more than just a bike race is was entertaining and a real show.
The thought of riding at Kuipke in the six days didn’t leave me and a few years later I moved to Gent to live with a Belgian family in the heart of cycling land. Riding for the Kingsnorth International team I spent three years riding on the kermis circuit out in Belgium, a great experience. One that taught me how to be a racing cyclist in truth and in 2007 I was finally lucky enough to get an invitation to ride the Noel Fore Memorial event on the Kuipke track. It had taken some getting there but I had made it onto the track in Gent. Even better was that after a good performance riding with Peter Williams against mostly national squads we received an invitation to the UIV amateur six days of Gent. It was the best news ever; I was to be involved in some small way in the six days! I remember the six nights well, it was hard, a real learning experience, some nights went well others went awful but it didn’t really matter I was part of the six day show, full of adrenaline and excitement.
After that first amateur six day, over the next three years I was lucky enough to ride twice more in Gent and once in Amsterdam, Dortmund and in between took in International events in Alkmaar, Munich and on the new Eddy Merckx track in Gent. Every event was a new experience, a new place, different people a proper adventure, you didn’t always know how you would get from place to place. Once along with Tom Smith I was stuffed in the back of Iljo Keisse’s car along with his huge number six flower after been left stranded in Amsterdam! But that was all part of been immersed in the six day circuit. Although I never got to step up to the professional six day circuit I am happy that for a small while I was part of it, even if that part was pretty small.
So what’s my problem? Well, the atmosphere at Gent this year was pretty subdued, the showmen or orchestrator of the sixes seemed to have disappeared (granted Keisse who is probably the current star of the sixes wasn’t able to take part) and the crowd seemed more interested in the bar than the track. My theory on the reason for this is the changing face of track racing, something that was once fairly individual that didn’t rely on you been in a big backed trade team or part of a national set up now seems to be exactly that. Add to this the exclusion of the Madison from the Olympic Games and it seems like while track racing is becoming universally more popular and important the six days is not been pulled along with it.
In my last year of riding the amateur six days it became more difficult to gain an entry as a result of not been the ‘national’ selection of your country, it had changed from riders who had done it off their own backs, who wanted to be there and be part of it, people who travelled in the back of transit vans from event to event all to be part of the six day circus to deadly serious national selections who the majority of the time while respecting the events were gearing up for bigger and better things on an international stage. This year when I went back and saw the UIV amateur six it was exclusively national selection teams, that’s not that there’s a problem with those riders I’m sure they want to be there and enjoy the experience but in reality there going to move on from the six day circuit to focus on World Championships, Olympic Disciplines or a road career, leaving little for the professional six day circuit to pick from when they look for new riders.
I think that’s the problem, while as the sport gains in popularity the professional six day’s may have to come in line with new format’s that interest a wider audience but the amateur six days should always allow entries from those who have their own dreams and ambitions and follow them. These people are where your characters come from after all. The current six day star Iljo Keisse grew up riding on Kuipke, his dad owns a bar just round the corner from it, he’s a true six day rider who grew up watching the six days and wanted to be part of that, take away the possibility of that happening and in effect your killing the six days slowly. True there are still some rides left, Franco Marvulli and Danny Stam spring to mind, but what happens when they have hung up the wheels, where are the next true six day riders coming from?
Sport’s grow, evolve and change, the UCI in their wisdom have proved this by booting the Madison and individual pursuits out but some things should stay the same for their own good.