"I understand Eddy will not race in the Tour de France this year," said the American, attempting to recoup. "What a pity."
Theo threw back his head and laughed. "Mere gossip," he said. He repeated the rumor in French for the manager, who shook his head from side to side on hearing a sad but familiar calumny.
"But I read it in—"
"Does the crown prince not go to his coronation?" Van Griethuysen said. "It is a story for the French journalists to cluck over. Each would like to be the first to say Eddy is finished. They cannot wait to say it. Last time in the Jura, racing between Belfort and Divonne-les-Bains, he straightened up on his bicycle. He rode for 30 yards that way, with his back straight, to rest or to get out a kink, whatever. Robert Chapatte of Radio Europe announced to the world, 'Merckx is in trouble! Eddy Merckx is finished!' It is wishful thinking. Eddy wins by a bicycle length. It is true that Eddy races harder than anyone and too often, I think, but he will be champion for another five years."
The four men all turned to look appreciatively at Merckx. He had been laughing at something that had been said at the Molteni table and now appeared to be into a story of his own.
"I thought that he was supposed to be very shy and retiring," said the American.
"He is happy when he is with his team," said Van Griethuysen. "Then he laughs. Then he tells jokes. With others he is shy."
"He is not an excited man," said the manager. "He talks with his feet. That is his expression. When he is on the bicycle he has a great temper. When he is off he has no temper."
The editor told of an incident in the Li�ge-Bastogne-Li�ge race in 1970, of which his newspaper was the sponsor and he the principal official. The cyclists—Eddy Merckx leading them—had come near the finish, turning onto a narrow dirt road along an incline. One of them, Eric de Vlaeminck of Belgium, hidden from view of the judges, "reached out and grabbed Eddy's shirt, disturbing his equilibrium and allowing his brother Roger de Vlaeminck to win the race. Eddy was furious, but he did not protest. He did not come to blows with the man. That is not his mentality. He knew he would get him next time.
"This was, of course, an unusual circumstance. These things do not happen so often today because the races are closely scrutinized, even with helicopters. The days of bashing the riders with sticks and strewing tacks and nails in their paths are over."