"It is a matter of temperament. The people still speak of what he did in the Tour de France of 1969. For 70 or 80 kilos, over three very nasty peaks of the Pyrenees, he goes. Solo. Nobody would think to do such a crazy thing. They would die, and never make the finish. But at the finish Eddy is the only one in sight."
"And he does this more than once?"
"Oh, many times," said the manager. "He was on the cover of Paris Match. HIS HEART, HIS LUNGS AND HIS PASSION FOR WINNING MAKE HIM THE CHAMPION. The doctors have measured his heartbeat. It is only 40 to 48 beats a minute. Even when he has been riding, it is only 60 or so. They have measured his lung capacity. It is six to seven kilos. The average is no more than five. From a medical point of view, he is not normal."
"It is said that he races too much, that he will burn out," said the American.
"He trains hard, 250, 300 days a year. Twenty thousand miles. He competes maybe 120 times. But also he wins more than anyone has ever won. He recuperates quickly. Recuperation, that is the word you must remember about Eddy Merckx."
The rain had stopped by the time the two cars reached the first vantage point at Maldegem. Claudine Merckx had stayed hard on the manager's rear bumper throughout.
"She drives like a maniac," said the American.
"Yes," said the manager.
Claudine swung her Mercedes around to facilitate a quick exit, and the group got out to stand beneath a Chiquita Banana sign to wait with the gathering crowd. Traffic was already immobilized. A helicopter could be seen in the distance. Claudine complained about something to the manager. The interpreter said it had to do with an insufficient number of spare tires on the Molteni car. He raised his eyebrows.
Suddenly there was the blast of a siren, and a motorcycle policeman hoved into view—the advance man clearing the way. At that speed, however, if the way had not already been cleared, he would have done it spectacularly.