525 Wins for Eddy Merckx, the Greatest Cyclist Ever
Two cyclists have earned the title Campionissimo, or “champion of champions.”
One of them is Eddy Merckx, seen in the center of the photo donning the maillot jaune.
Four cyclists thus far have won the Tour de France five times, but only one of them has been called Campionissimo. That must give you a sense for what an incredible athlete Merckx must have been!
Eddy Merckx won the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia five times each. Plus, he swept the three main prizes in the 1968 Giro d’Italia and the 1969 Tour de France: the general classification, the points classification and the mountains classification.
No one else has achieved this feat.
His illustrious list of accomplishments goes on and on, but to summarize, Eddy Merckx racked up 525 professional victories.
He said he always raced every stage to win it.
His thirst for victory, his utter refusal to retire despite physical distress, and his tenacious will to keep attacking and go for the win earned him the nickname “The Cannibal.” ！
Incidentally, to Merckx’s left is Gerardus Joseph Zoetemelk, the perennial second-place finisher who finished runner-up in the Tour de France an incredible six times, first blocked by Merckx and then later by Bernard Hinault.
First Embroidered Logo on the Maillot Jaune
When the order was made to make the cycling jerseys for the Tour de France of May 1951, the jerseys needed to be highly sweat-absorbent and stand up to both rain and sun.
Le Coq Sportif developed quality jerseys to withstand a grueling race.
The team jerseys underwent a complete redesign, and in 1967, when Le Coq Sportif became an official sponsor, the company’s logo became the first to be embroidered on the maillot jaune.
Spanish Rider Luis Ocaña Challenges Merckx at the Summit
In 1971, Merckx went for a third-straight Tour de France championship.
At the previous year’s Tour de France, he not only won the general classification, but also eight stage races.
Everybody figured Merckx was a shoo-in to win it all again. However, it was much more of a challenge than anyone had imagined.
During the team time trial in Mulhouse, along the Swiss border, Molteni, Merckx’s team, which was based in Mulhouse, came out on top, as expected.
Next were stages with mountains. Until Stage 9, Molteni held onto the maillot jaune, but they were unable to open up their lead in the mountains where they thought themselves superior. Then, in Stage 10 in the Alps, Zoetemelk stole the maillot jaune.
Only one second behind him was the young and talented Spaniard, Luis Ocaña.
The following day was a climbing stage from Grenoble, passing through the punishingly steep slopes of Côte de
Laffrey, to Orcières Merlette, whose peak reaches an elevation of 1,871 meters.
Ocaña initiated his attack at the final part of the ascent, gaining a dominant lead over Merckx of 8 minutes and 42 seconds.
He was simply too fast.
The time limit is set based on the time of the stage winner, so without assistance, only 39 riders would supposedly have made the cut. (In fact, only three were disqualified.)
Despite Ocaña’s imposing lead, however, Merckx was not ready to throw in the towel. The team came together on the next stage, posting an average speed of 46.272 km/h in a fast-paced race. They were so fast, they reached the goal before TV crews could get there.
Meanwhile, Merckx showed his strength in the individual time trial by gaining an 11-second time bonus.
That cut the gap down to 7 minutes and 23 seconds. The championship would then be decided in the Pyrenees.
Strong wind and rain came near the top of the Col de Mente mountain pass. The road was covered in mud and visibility was negligible. Despite the hazardous circumstances, Merckx attacked again and again, but Ocaña was always quick to respond, all the way past the summit. On the left curb about 4 km down a winding road, Merckx crashed, while Ocaña, riding behind, went off the course and slammed into a guardrail, breaking a wheel. Merckx only dislodged a chain and was able to restart quickly.
While Ocaña tried to grab a wheel from a service car, another rider trying to avoid the vehicle hit the Spaniard. Ocaña was knocked out and taken to the hospital, still wearing the maillot jaune. He was forced to retire.
The next day, Merckx retook the overall lead, but refused to wear the maillot jaune and went on to his third consecutive championship.
Merckx and Ocaña never got the chance to duel in another race, because one or the other would not be in the event or would have to retire due to injury.
Every fan has dreamed of seeing the two rivals duke it out to the end of a Tour de France free of accidents.
So which of them would have won?
Tatsuya Anke (2005) “Tour Densetsu no Toge” (Legendary Passes of the
L’Equipe (2005) “The Official Tour De France: 1903–2004”
Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd Bill and Carol McGann “The Story of the Tour de France, Volume 2: 1965–2007”