As for Merckx, his
performance was simply extraordinary. Once he grabbed firm hold of the lead on
his prodigious eighth lap, there was no stopping him. His distances over the
second-place cyclists increased with methodical regularity: two minutes, 33
seconds on lap eight, five minutes, 13 seconds by lap 13, 10 minutes, three
seconds going into the last leg from Versailles to Paris. Beyond noting his
monotonous brilliance there was little anyone could write about Merckx.
Reporters were reduced to describing the kind of detergent the Tour used to
wash Eddy's underwear (it was chafing him after lap 16).
technique rarely changed. Having won a remarkable six laps (two more than any
other cyclist), he concentrated on increasing his lead over Guimard, Oca�a,
Poulidor and Gimondi, while not concerning himself overly with amassing bonus
points and other frills. He wisely avoided the daily half-crazed arrival
sprints in which younger and hungrier pedalers gain points at the risk of
bruises, broken collarbones (there were at least three in this year's Tour) or,
worst of all, a multibike chain reaction crack-up.
who needed his team's bonus points to maintain an occasional 10- or 15-second
lead during the early laps, Merckx subtly used his teammates to control the
pack, allowing the leader to sprint ahead almost whenever he felt like it. Eddy
usually ran along a second or two behind—but always prepared to take the lead
in an emergency. Said veteran Merckx-watcher Terry Williams: "Eddy has
grown up a lot this year. He has honed his technique perfectly and no longer
feels threatened by other cyclists. The psychological crises of last year's
Tour are a thing of the past. He is an unrivaled athlete at the height of his
powers. The reign of King Eddy is absolute."