Tag Archives: Eddy Merckx

Geschke wins on historic Pra Loup as Froome loses a rival and Contador loses time

Stage 17: Digne-les-Bains > Pra Loup, 161km

It was on the final climb to Pra Loup — made famous in 1975 when Bernard Thévenet ended the domination of Eddy Merckx — in which Simon Geschke — most famous before today for winning the second stage of the 2011 Critérium International — took the biggest win of his career in a solo exploit that the likes of Merckx would have been proud of.

He attacked away from a large group of 28 (that once again included Peter Sagan) on the ascent to col d’Allos with 50km still to ride, and was never seen again. Thibaut Pinot briefly gave chase but a crash on the descent ripped his confidence and once again exposed a frailty that no doubt cost the young Frenchman the stage win. He was passed by Andrew Talansky and Rigoberto Uran, neither of whom would make enough in-road on Geschke, who struggled up the road to Pra Loup to take the first Tour stage win of his career and the 5th for Germany this year alone.

They often say that you never know how the body is going to react after a rest day in the Tour de France and we’ve seen it many times before when someone looking strong just two days before suddenly falls apart the day after a day off. No such issues for Geschke, but sadly the same couldn’t be said of general classification contender, Tejay Van Garderen, who having picked up what seems to be a bug of some sort, was dropped early on the days stage and while he briefly regained contact with the peloton, he was soon dropped again and with less than 100km covered for the day, the man sitting second to Chris Froome, seen by Froome now as his biggest rival, and seen by himself as the fifth member of the now ‘big five boy band’, had abandoned the Tour.

It was a big shakeup and one which Alberto Contador must have felt willing to exploit as he began to throw caution to the wind, as only he can, in a bid to somehow overhaul his deficit to Froome or cement a podium place. He attacked on the col de la Colle-Saint-Michel and briefly established a gap but it was a long shot in more ways than one, and so it proved to be when he was later reeled in.

Indeed that was as good as it got from Contador. As Geschke was preparing himself for one last effort up to Pra Loup, Contador made a mistake and crashed on the downward slopes of the col d’Allos, proving that it isn’t just the likes of Pinot who can be exposed on such a descent. His team-mates Michael Rogers and Peter Sagan waited on him and soon Contador was off on Sagan’s bike as the Slovak unselfishly urged the Tinkoff-Saxo team car past him and on to Contador who needed to make a final bike change onto his spare bike.

The whole incident cost Contador 2mins 17sec to Froome, who finished with his new nearest challenger Nairo Quintana, despite the Colombians attempts to try and distance the Yellow jersey.

In 1975 Pra Loup had major implications on the race as Merckx cracked for good and would never wear the Yellow jersey again. 40 years on, there wasn’t quite the same impact despite the earlier departure of Van Garderen and time loss for Contador, for Froome will once again ride in Yellow tomorrow.

Result: Classement:
1. Geschke (TGA) in 4h 12′ 17″

2. Talansky (TCG) +32″

3. Uran (EQS) +1′ 1″

4. Pinot (FDJ) +1′ 36″

5. Frank (IAM) +1′ 40″

6. Kruijswijk (TLJ) +2′ 27″

18. Quintana (MOV) +7′ 16″
20. Froome (SKY) s.t.
21. Valverde (MOV) +7′ 23″
22. Nibali (AST) +7′ 31″
31. Contador (TCS) +9′ 33″

1. Froome (SKY) in 69h 6′ 49″

2. Quintana (MOV) +3′ 10″

3. Valverde (MOV) +4′ 9″

4. Thomas (SKY) +6′ 34″

5. Contador (TCS) +6′ 40″

6. Gesink (TLJ) +7′ 39″

7. Nibali (AST) +8′ 4″


Jens Voigt attempts to rekindle one of cyclings greatest records: The World Hour

Tonight the seemingly ever popular, never aging, Jens Voight will bring down the curtain on his long career in cycling by taking a shot at one of the most prestigious standards in all of the sport: The World Hour record.

It’s a record steeped in history but one that in recent years has lay dormant, but thanks to the UCI amending their rules on what equipment is applicable to go for the official UCI record, there’s a hope that Voigt’s big effort tonight will open the floodgates for further attempts.

The official record at the moment is 49.7 kilometres set by Ondrej Sosenka in July 2005, and although several riders bettered this time significantly in the 1990s, their times were later split away from the official UCI record to the category of ‘best human effort’ when the UCI deemed the bikes used to be illegal and that any future attempt must be made on a bike similar in style to that used by Eddy Merckx when he broke the record in October of 1972 by going 49.431 kilometres.

With the record re-set, Chris Boardman, the man who had held the best record when the UCI decided to revert back to that of Merckx, became the first to beat it in 2000. It was a fine achievement but one that said as much about the talent of Merckx as it does anything else.

28 years had passed since Merckx laid down the marker in an outdoor velodrome in Mexico wearing one of those old style rubber helmets, riding a bike with normal wheels, flat spokes and toe-clips on his pedals and while Boardman used a similar bike to Merckx in specification he had the advantages of an aero helmet, clipless pedals and bladed spokes. All this made a difference and coupled with modern training and nutrition techniques, Merckx’s time was beaten by just ten metres.

Sosenka then took Boardmans record but three years later he failed a drug test and suspicion has lingered over his record ever since. And nobody has attempted to break it again; unwilling to go onto an old fashioned style bike that isn’t suited to what they have been accustomed to riding for such efforts. Bike companies likewise have seen little benefit to getting behind a record set on a bike that isn’t going to promote their technology.

With this in mind and in the hopes that a new marker could be established to carry the sport into a new era, the UCI finally relented and changed the rules earlier this year to allow a modern track and time-trial style bike to be used. And Voigt, cleverly, was the first to jump at it.

On a standard Merckx like bike, it is unlikely that Voigt could break the record, but on the kind of modern day bike he will be riding, he stands a very good chance. It’s a shame we’ll lose that direct reference to a time done by Merckx, but with the prior mentioned advantage of training, nutrition, and equipment, it was hardly an level playing field between eras anyway.

And given the lack of attempts at this record in recent years a whole generation of cycling fans have come to the sport since this record last made serious headlines and many will have never seen the record broken before. This serves as an opportunity to set a new standard and re-awaken the great record.

Following Voigt’s effort tonight I’d expect to hear announcements by the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Sir Bradley wiggins and even Tony Martin of their intentions to now go for it themselves with much encouragement of their respective bike sponsors.

It’s a historic evening for cycling and on the line is the opportunity to rekindle one of the sports greatest milestones.

Good luck to you Jens Voigt.

The following is a video of the great Eddy Merckx attempting the record in 1972. The difference in the equipment used and the track he rode on is striking, yet it it is unbelievable that the time he set could only be bettered by a mere ten metres by Chris Boardman 28 years later.

It may look like poetry in motion, but the suffering is unparalleled. Merckx would say afterwards that it was the hardest thing he had ever done on a bike and that he felt paralytic when climbing off and that three days went by before he could walk again.

Merckx went out of the gate like a rocket and barely relented.

Nibali rams home the final nail for fourth stage victory

Stage 18: Pau to Hautacam, 145.5km. High Mountains.

Nibali attacks on the lower slopes of Hautacam

Sunday, July 14, 1974 was the last time someone won four road stages in the Tour de France and went on to win the Yellow jersey. Indeed, only sprinters have done it since. That years Tour visited England also and a Frenchman, Raymond Poulidor, finished second. The winner that year was Eddy Merckx…this year, it’s Vincenzo Nibali and once more it could be a Frenchman finishing in second.

Merckx ended up with eight stage victories that year including two time-trials and while that won’t happen with Nibali the fact his victory today achieved something last seen 40 years ago only highlights how brilliant he has been in this years Tour.

Merckx beat Poulidor by a dominant 8 minutes, 4 seconds in ’74 and today Nibali’s stunning ride to win solo a-top Hautacam by a minute and ten seconds from Thibaut Pinot means he now carries a staggering 7 minutes, 10 seconds lead over the young Frenchman into the final two flat stages and individual time-trial.

It’s set to become the largest winning margin (assuming you overlook Lance Armstrong’s 7 minutes, 17 second victory over Joseba Beloki in 2002), since Jan Ullrich beat Richard Virenque by 9 minutes, 9 seconds in 1997, also the last time a Frenchman finished on the podium.

Baring an absolute disaster, Nibali is set to win this Tour and completing the triple crown of winning the Tour, Giro and Vuelta, joining just five men (Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault and Alberto Contador) to have done it. It will be the 9th top 10 finish in a Grand Tour for Nibali and at 29 years of age you figure it won’t be the last.

But the celebration for those kinds of records can wait until Sunday for today it was all about ramming home the final nail into the coffin of everyone else’s hopes with an attack on the lower slopes of Hautacam and a solo time-trial to the top. When Chris Horner, the man who beat Nibali to last years Vuelta crown by a handful of seconds, made his bid for a stage victory, Nibali jumped onto his wheel and eventually away from the aging American.

He hunted down the loan man still in the lead of the stage, Mikel Nieve of Sky, the team who would once again be denied a stage victory in a tour to forget for the British team, and ploughed on alone. Rafal Majka was forced to react because not only was Nibali ramming home his dominance in these mountain stages with another stage win and cementing his Tour success, he was also bidding to become the first man since Merckx, again, this time in 1970, to win the King of the Mountains title and the Yellow jersey title in the same year. Majka only needed to finish sixth and so relented in his pursuit once it became clear he wasn’t going to catch Nibali and settled for third on the day behind Pinot who not only finished second but moved into second overall.

It was a big day for the French as not only did Alejandro Valverde squander his second place overall but he slipped off the podium with a bad final day in the high mountains. These Pyranees have proved to be a ridge too far for the Spaniard, despite their close proximity to his homeland, and the plucky French have worked him over.

After years of watching the Spanish soar ahead of their own to success in this race, the French will feel satisfied tonight. They wait 17 years for a Frenchman to finish on the podium again and it looks as though two may come along at once. Peraud is the other, the 36 year old former mountain biker turned roadie in only 2010 has seized the moment and given his time-trial ability may not be done with his rise up the standings.

A mere 15 seconds separate Pinot in second and Valverde in fourth with Peraud in the middle two seconds ahead of Valverde and it’ll all come down to this 54 kilometre time-trial to officially sort them out. Peraud will likely be the favorite to take time on the other two, but how much remains to be seen. It’ll be a real battle between Pinot and Valverde to grab that podium position and that drive may allow them to limit any potential loses.

One man who doesn’t have to worry is Nibali though given the way he has rode this Tour from his victory on the rolling roads of England on stage 2, to his superb ride on the cobbles of stage 5, to his win in the medium mountains of the Vogues, to a solo win in the high Alps and another today in the high Pyrenees without putting a single foot wrong it has been one of the finest individual performances at the Tour in recent memory.

Part of me cannot help but think the loss of Froome and Contador has brought out this desire within him to show that he belongs where he is; that he has won this Tour de France regardless of whether they had been here or not. It’s worth remembering that Nibali had a 2 minutes, 34 seconds lead on Contador the day he crashed out with all the mountains to come, and given the way he has continually attacked and never once looked in trouble, it’s hard to see where he would have lost any of that time never mind some of it.

Nibali has shown himself to be a worthy champion the entire way around this three week race, aggressive yet classy; steeped in panache, and all he need do now is navigate his way safely into Paris in three days time to confirm it.

1. Nibali (AST) in 4h4’17”
2. Pinot (FDJ) +1’10”
3. Majka (TCS) +1’12”
4. Peraud (ALM) +1’15”
5. Van Garderen (BMC) s.t.
6. Bardet (ALM) +1’53”
10. Valverde (MOV) +1’59”

1. Nibali (AST) in 80h45’45”
2. Pinot (FDJ) +7’10”
3. Peraud (ALM) +7’23”
4. Valverde (MOV) +7’25”
5. Bardet (ALM) +9’27”
6. Van Garderen (BMC) +11’34”

Memories of Merckx at Tre Cime di Lavaredo


Despite the route being changed tomorrow and a number of the climbs being taken out, it’s still set to be an epic stage in the Giro d’Italia thanks to the races finish at the iconic Tre Cime di Lavaredo. It’s a climb made famous by a young Eddy Merckx who won up there in 1968 en route to crushing a field of established veterans by 5 minutes overall.

An extract from the book, “The Story of the Giro d’Italia”, Volume 1 tells the story of that day on stage 12 when Merckx — at just 22 years of age but already the reigning World Champion and winner of the Paris-Roubaix, not to mention past winner of the Milan – San Remo (twice), Gent–Wevelgem and Flèche Wallonne — announced himself to the world as a Grand Tour rider and one capiable of winning every kind of race in what would become the greatest cycling career we’ve ever seen. As you’ll see, the conditions then sound very much like the kind of conditions we can expect tomorrow…

Through cold rain and snow (one journalist called the conditions “Dantesque”), clad in a short-sleeve rainbow jersey, wool cap, thick gloves and shorts, Merckx plowed ahead, catching and dropping the break that started the climb with a nine-minute lead. He went on alone to win at the top of Tre Cime di Lavaredo by 40 seconds over Giancarlo Polidori, the only survivor of the initial break, and 54 seconds over third-place Adorni. Further down the mountain there were those who couldn’t take the bitter cold and became little more than pedalling zombies.

The ease with which he ascended the day’s stiff slopes left his competitors shaking their heads in disbelief. One newspaper writer said Merckx had “climbed like a pursuiter”. He had left Motta and Zilioli more than four minutes behind while Gimondi conceded 6 minutes 25 seconds. Merckx later wrote that he rated the 1968 Tre Cime di Lavaredo stage win as his best-ever day in the mountains and one of the three greatest points of his career along with his 1969 Tour de France victory and gaining the World Hour Record.

Merckx took the maglia rosa that day and would keep it until the end of the Giro. It was his first Grand Tour win … He would go on to win another 11 over the next six years.

There’s nobody like that in this years Giro and we arrive at Tre Cime di Lavaredo on the penultimate day of the Giro with the general classification seemingly won, but that doesn’t mean we can’t expect to see fireworks. Will Vincenzo Nibali ram home his advantage and in the spirit of Merckx, go up the climb alone to victory? Or will someone else ride to glory and etch their name in Giro legend? It’s going to be worth watching.

And you thought Cancellara crushed the opposition at Flanders? Take alook at Eddy Merckx, 1969

Last weekend I followed the Tour of Flanders as the ever powerful Fabian Cancellara taught the new upstart Peter Sagan a lesson in how to win a Monument Classic, and while I watched in admiration as the big man blew the opposition away to win by a mighty 1min 27secs, I couldn’t help but think about what I had recently read about Merckx achieving in the same race 44 years before.

‘Half Man, Half Bike’ by William Fotheringham is the second biography of Merckx that I’ve read in the last five months, though I’m not yet finished Fotheringham’s effort. The first was ‘Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal’ by Daniel Daniel Friebe and if you’re a cycling fan you really should read at least one of these two biographies. Merckx was after all to cycling what Pele was to football, what Wayne Gretzky was to hockey, what Muhammad Ali was to Boxing, and Michael Jordan to basketball. He was in a league of his own during his prime and his story is truly fascinating when look back from the twenty-first century to such a by-gone era. Merckx didn’t just dominate the Grand Tours but he also dominated the spring classics, won World Championships and decimated the hour record. He rode and raced relentlessly all season, every season until his body finally gave up much younger than it might have had he been riding in the last twenty years where the riders are more specialized with their race programmes carefully selected. It’s for that reason that we perhaps don’t see such exploits, but then again sometimes such talents only come along once in a life time.

And that time was 1969, and what a twenty-four year old Eddy Merckx did to the sport on his home turf in Belgium, at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. All eyes were on the huge young talent who had already amassed a Giro d’Italia GC victory, a World Championship, three Milan-San Remo’s and a Paris-Roubaix on his palmares, desperate to see if he could win their big one.

It was raining heavily in Ghent that day, but this was entirely in the order of things. The Tour of Flanders is not always rained on but it is an event that needs wet and cold to be truly epic and so it was for Merckx’s first victory in de Ronde.

The rain poured, a wind howled out of the west. The race remains legendary. The day’s events hinged on a change in the course direction after a hundred kilometers, when the race reached Torhout after heading west from Ghent: there the gale changed from a headwind into a crosswind, favouring action at the head of the bunch.

The hostilities were started by Frans Verbeeck, who epitomised the Flandrian professionals who lived for and through the April Classics. Merckx then took charge and the bunch split to bits with over 160 kilometers still to race. Only twenty-three riders survived the wind-lashed selection to make it into the front group, including four Italians — Gimondi, Franco Bitossi, Dancelli and Marino Basso.

Merckx made his first move on the Oude Kwaremont, a narrow strip of windswept cobbles running through the fields above the town of Kluisbergen, up a hill that ran parallel with the newer main road. A puncture held him up, but he attacked again on the Kapelmuur — a one-in-four brute out of the town of Geraardsbergen to a hilltop chapel — where Gimondi and his countrymen kept him on the leash. He kept on attacking and with about seventy kilometers remaining — before the race returned into the wind to finish in Gentbrugge, close to the start — he got clear, simply be pressing a little harder on the pedals.

Rather than making an intentional, dramatic attack, he ratcheted up the pressure. The journalist Théo Mathy described the scene: ‘Going through the villate of Tollembeek, after doing his turn at the front of the group, he gained a few bike lengths on the others. He moved across to the side of the road, turned round and assessed the situation. Then he went on. There were 70km left to the finish. It was raining and the gusts of wind were bending the trees. No matter.’

Merckx’s thinking was simple but typical of him: riding back to the finish into the headwind, it would be far easier for the other riders to hang on in his slipstream. That meant they had to be eliminated beforehand. In this version of the course — which has changed several times since then — there were no major climbs in the run-in to the finish. If the lead group remained together, it was by no means certain that he could beat Basso, who was particularly rapid in a sprint.

During the slog to Gentbrugge, the time gaps stretched out to a ridiculous extent. Gimondi came in second, five minutes thirty-six seconds behind. The lead group was eight minutes back. Van Looy, now definitely yesterday’s Emperor, was a quarter of an hour off the pace.

Merckx’s status had changed since his world title and his Giro d’Italia win. he was now expected to win everywhere he raced but the paper that sponsored the Tour of Flanders, het Niewsblad, had speculated that maybe Merckx lacked that little something special it takes to win their race. There has always been a strong element of nostalgia to Flemish cycling, best expressed in the fact that ‘the Last of the Flandrians’ is an honorary title that has been bestowed several times, notably on Schotte, and Museeuw.

With this implicit concern about how the present matches up to the past, the question was clear: could the new, Bruxellois, champion match the Flandrian legends of yesteryear? Merckx said to Guillaume Michiels that he could answer his critics if the weather cooperated, and so he did, leaving the strongest cyclists of his generation floundering in his wake.

— Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham

It was a master stroke and despite the glory had had achieved before then, it was this one that seems to have cemented his control over the sport. Nobody was in any doubt anymore and no race was safe. A few weeks after that Tour of Flanders win Merckx would add Liège-Bastogne-Liège to his Monument win-list; an achievement of which winning the pair in the same year has not been done by anyone else since (he would do it again in 1975). A few months later he would enter the Tour de France for the first time and win it…by a mere 17mins 54secs!

Merckx would win a staggering 525 professional victories in his career including 54 in one season; he won 34 stages of the Tour de France, spent 96 days in the Yellow jersey, won the general classification, the points classification and the mountains classification in the same Tour (1969), won 28 classics including 7 Milan-San Remo’s and 11 Grand Tours in all including the Giro-Tour double three times. In 1972 alone, at perhaps the peak of his powers, Merckx would finish only 7th at Flanders and in Roubaix, but would otherwise win Milan-San Remo, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Flèche Wallonne, the Giro di Lombardia, the Hour record (at 49.431km), the Giro d’Italia pink jersey (plus 4 stages), and the Tour de France yellow and green jerseys (plus 6 stages).

And yet for many, it’s that ride in Flanders ’69 that stands out in his glittering career. (It and stage 17 of the Tour that same year, from Luchon to Mourenx in which Merckx attacked over the top of the Tourmalet with 130km still remaining, built a lead of 7mins by the top of the Aubisque and finished the day almost 8mins ahead of 2nd place).

It was moments like this that highlighted the incredible talent of Merckx, but he also had an incredible dedication to his craft that he maximized to the fullest. The kind of work ethic that separates the greats from the good, or even the very good. This extract from the same book reveals it perfectly, allowing his monumental feats to become the legends they are today:

Patrick Sercu tells a story which he believes shows the level of Merckx’s obsession.

‘Liège-Bastogne-Liège was a race which didn’t have a course that suited me, so I rarely rode it. One year I had a call the day before from the team manager, Franco Cribiori, to say that Roger De Vlaeminck, the star of the Brooklyn team, was ill and wouldn’t start. That meant I had to race as I was the No. 2 in the team.

I left Ghent on the Saturday afternoon with my father to drive down: a slow drive as there was no motorway. We were driving down the main road from Brussels to Liège, it was raining and snowing together, the worst possible conditions for riding a bike.

A long way up ahead we spotted a cyclist on the road: we couldn’t work out who would be riding in such weather. It was so bad that there was no one else outside. When we passed the bike rider we saw it was Merckx: he was riding the hundred kilometres from Brussels to Liège, all alone, because he had not won Fleche Wallonne during the week.

He won Liège-Bastogne-Liège the next day five minutes ahead of the second rider: I climbed off after forty kilometres.’

— Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham