SI Vault
The Majesty of Monsieur MERCKX
John Underwood
July 24, 1972
Belgium's incomparable Eddy is sovereign of his sport, a pleaser of kings and a man who has made Merckxists of the masses throughout the world
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July 24, 1972

The Majesty Of Monsieur Merckx

Belgium's incomparable Eddy is sovereign of his sport, a pleaser of kings and a man who has made Merckxists of the masses throughout the world

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What followed was an anarchy of sight and sound. Sirens and incessant horns. More motorcycle policemen. A comic cavalcade of advertisers' cars, some done up in the shape of their products (a beer bottle, a lemon), their riders flinging vinyl toys, bubble gum and cigarettes to the crowd, their loudspeakers blaring music and slogans. Then the official cars with the press (how could they report on and photograph what was going on behind them?) at alarming speed. Next, after an interval, the flag car, and then the cyclists: a massive whirligig of metal, the riders with their rumps up and heads down, legs driving, chains clicking, looking like the inner workings of a giant clock whose lid had been lifted for the occasion. After them came the mechanics in their cars, noses pressed to the windshields, spare wheels on the roofs spinning slowly backward. Then, abruptly, silence. The lid closed. They were gone.

"Did you see Eddy?" shouted the manager. "He was fifth."

"Yes!" said the American. "No. I—it was so quick. They all looked alike."

"Come, we go," said the manager.

They drove, hard, to Lichtervelde, once more in time for the full concert of sirens, horns and slogans. When the cyclists came the American counted the time he was able to keep the leaders in view: six seconds. "Eddy is third," announced the manager. "He is in good position. Did you see?"

"Yes, I think so," said the American. "He had his mouth open. But then.... Well, there is no distinction of style. I mean, nobody plays like Pel�, so you know it's Pel�. When you see Muhammad Ali, he is distinctive, and he is right there. They all ride alike."

The interpreter did not bother to interpret.

"Eddy has a style," said the wrinkled little man. "Very powerful. They say if any other racer tried it he would fall off his bicycle."

At Deerlijk they parked on a side street. Rain began to fall before the cyclists arrived. A chant had started, "Ed-dy, Ed-dy, Ed-dy," not loud but steady and atonal, like an incantation, more statement than cheer. The manager received word by radio that Eddy had had problems (had he fallen?) and was forced to change bicycles. He was fifth as they passed, speckled with mud. They were stretched out in bunches now, the mechanics' cars interspersed between them.

After the fourth stop the American accepted Claudine's invitation to switch to her Mercedes to get to the finish line in Ghent. The manager had decided to head for the hotel. Claudine said she especially wanted to be there to commiserate with her husband. She tried to explain why Eddy would have a hard time winning now; that at this point there were others who would beat him in the sprint. "How can I explain what is happening if you do not know anything?" she said. As she talked she waved one hand but still manipulated the car beautifully, with a kind of controlled frenzy. She reached the station 20 minutes ahead of the caravan.

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