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"Tomorrow you will ride in the car with me," said the manager. "You will see for yourself. Eddy is an idol because the people know he must labor. When the racing car wins at Le Mans the mechanics win. But Eddy—he must labor. Do you understand?"
"I understand that he rides bicycles very fast. And often. And I have read that he makes $400,000 a year doing it, and that The New York Times runs an annual story from Paris describing Eddy Merckx' victory in the Tour de France, and that the story compares him with Beethoven and Cassius Clay. 'C'est Cassius Clay. C'est Beethoven.' "
"Yes, I know of those two."
The manager produced a clipping from his portfolio. It showed the results of a poll that had been taken by the Spanish magazine El Mundo in 1970. Ethel Kennedy, American housewife, had been voted the world's most popular (admired) figure. Second was Eddy Merckx, Belgian cyclist. There were two other clippings, from 1971, of Merckx being chosen Athlete of the Year by a) the International Sports Correspondents (with Mark Spitz third, Jackie Stewart sixth, Joe Frazier seventh) and b) the UPI (with Stewart second, Lee Trevino ninth).
Furthermore, he said, Eddy was now appearing on television, shaving with a Gillette razor, and he also endorsed Ariel soap powder, Adidas shoes and Vittel Perrier mineral water. He fished again into his portfolio and produced a small poster of Eddy, smiling appealingly and wearing a red turtleneck and holding up an oversized package of Clark's Tendermint gum. Merckx was not identified on the poster save for his signature, which was indecipherable. Gum-chewers will know the face.
"We have invested in land and in buildings, but we must turn down many opportunities," said the manager. "We must be discreet." That very day, he said, he had refused to allow Eddy's name on an inferior package of macaroni, and there was an unacceptable hat Eddy would not be endorsing (or wearing) and the grand opening of a pharmacy he would, with regrets, have to pass up.
"He is a millionaire at 27 years of age," said the interpreter.
The manager nodded, apparently in agreement, though the interpreter's English sometimes confounded him.
A tall man came to the table and was introduced as Theo Van Griethuysen, editor of Les Sports, the sports newspaper of Belgium. In fluent English Theo identified himself as an old and faithful Merckxist. Van Griethuysen said he had a son attending college in Louisiana and was therefore familiar with the American ignorance about bicycle racing.