"It is Eddy's desire to always be the best whatever he is doing," said the manager. "Boxing. Soccer. Tennis. They had the baskets match on television. A benefit exhibition, that is all. N'importe. But Eddy, he practices for two weeks to be ready. He must look good. His team wins by 25 points. Eddy is very good."
"What of his teammates?" asked the American. "He is a star. He makes all the money. They live in his shadow. How do they accept this?"
"They are there to serve him," said the editor. "That is their function. Domestiques. He never asks for special attention, but he is the boss. Not Molteni. Not the coach. Eddy. He can be very hard with them, but it is for the discipline of the team. When he does well, they do well. They make money. They are very good domestiques. Some are good to lead in the mountains. Grimpeurs. Others are very good on the flats. Eddy, of course, is good everywhere."
"But they are there to run his interference, to pace him, to block for him, to do whatever is necessary?"
"And away from his bike he makes no waves."
"Oh, he has been known to have a glass of champagne and once, in Paris, he won a beer-drinking contest from Jacques Anquetil, who had to be carried out. He must win, you see. But he can overdo it when he is away from Claudine."
"His wife. A lovely young lady. She is very strong. She knows what she wants."
The team meal had broken up and Eddy Merckx came over to his manager's table. Standing now, he seemed taller—he is a shade under 6 feet—and thinner, except for his hands, which are huge and do not fit the body. He sat and responded politely through the translator. Yes, he would race in the Tour de France despite the talk; yes, he was feeling fit; yes, he was a slow starter, but the season was young, etc. etc., but, sorry, it was past his bedtime. He would be up at 4:30 to prepare for the race. With a promise to meet again, he rose to leave.