HEADER

THE HARD MAN.

 

An eleven-time Grand Tour winner, Eddy Merckx was the undisputed king of his generation. Many consider him the greatest ever. But his career would not have been complete without his career-defining victory at the Tour of Flanders.

 

It was 1969, the Summer of Love was upon on us. Flower Power children were opposing the Vietnam War. Concorde took to the skies for the first time over France and Belgian Eddy Merckx was dominating the roads.

 

After three years as a professional, Merckx's resume was already the envy of his bitter rivals. Not long after turning pro with Peugeot in 1966 he had won Milan–San Remo and then retook La Classicissima the following year. In 1968 he claimed the first of his five Giro d'Italia to add to his victory at Paris-Roubaix (the first of three). There were few holes to be filled on his Palmares.

 

One of those holes was his home Classic – the Tour of Flanders. To win the Ronde van Vlaanderen is to become a Flandrien – a hard man.

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The Koppenberg gifts riders with a maximum gradient of 22%, forcing all but the toughest to climb off their bike and run up the cobbles as if the Ronde is a cyclocross race.
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SUNDAY ROADS FOREVER.

Sunday Roads Forever is a special edition Euro Collection, celebrating the Spring Classics and paying tribute to Cycling's Monuments. Three classical, one-off jerseys, paying tribute to these magnificent races. Coming soon.

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WINNING AT THE WALL.

The heartbeat of Flemish cycling is the Ardennes, a tiny hilly region where the oldest of the Monuments, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, rounds out the early season Classics. Like so many of our famous races, the Tour of Flanders was the brainchild of a newspaper, Sportwereld. Editor-in-chief, Karen Van Wijnendaele, devised a race in the vain of Paris-Roubaix that would take the riders on a tour of the region and end at the velodrome in Mariakerke. Thirty-seven riders set off for the first Flanders in 1913 to cover the 324km on the poorly surfaced cobbled roads that came to characterise the race.

 

 

Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg, Koppenberg, Muur – their names are legend, the cobbled climbs that toughen an already arduous race into something extraordinary. The Koppenberg gifts riders with a maximum gradient of 22 per cent, forcing all but the toughest to climb off their bike and run up the cobbles as if the Ronde is a cyclocross race. Even Merckx was forced to walk up it in 1976. But it is the Muur (the wall) that the fans are waiting for. Introduced in 1950, it is the place where the famous winners have launched their definitive attacks. At least it was until the race organisers sadly switched the finish line.

 

But in 1969 the Muur was still very much a part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and it did indeed choose the winner. Starting the race on the back of his third success at Milan-San Remo, Merckx stood on a gloomy startline surrounded by bitter rivals from Italy and France who hoped to spoil the hard man's party. 259km of treacherous cobbles and a face full of icy cold sleet stood between them and the finish line.

 

The pace is high as riders head off into the darkness. A crash brings down Walter Godefroot and one potential rival is gone. Merckx sees his chance, seizes it, and the race is on. A punishing change of pace separates the winners from the losers and a group of 20 or so favourites, of hard men, that Merckx is intent on punishing even though the race is far from over.

THE LION OF FLANDERS.

"I'm sure he could have dropped me earlier, and if he had he would have won by 10 minutes. But I think Merckx liked the way I raced, so he made sure that I took second." – Frans Verbeeck.

When Merckx attacks over the Oude Kwaremont, and again on the Muur, he still can't quite break the elastic that keeps the reduced peloton together. Finally, with 70km left to race, Merckx simply changes his cadence and begins to ride away from his adversaries. For 25km he battles the wind alone, refusing to sit up or give up, teasing out his lead to a solitary minute.

 

It was the day the legend was born – when the boy from Brussels became a Lion of Flanders. Later that year he added victories in Paris-Nice and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, before he was finally crowned King Eddy on the roads of France. There was more to come. More Grand Tours, more Classics, more stage races. Records tumbled in his wake and have never been bettered. Most career victories (525), most wins in a season (54), most Classics victories (28), the greatest number of Grand Tour wins (11).

 

The Cannibal would win Ronde van Vlaanderen again, in 1975, in what was the twilight of his exceptional career. This time he attacked on the Oude Kwaremont, 100km from the finish line. Only Frans Verbeeck could hold his wheel. With the finish line 5km away, Verbeeck could keep the pace no longer and fell wawya, leaving Merckx to cross the finish line alone.

 

"I'm sure he could have dropped me earlier, and if he had he would have won by 10 minutes," recalled Verbeeck. "But I think Merckx liked the way I raced, so he made sure that I took second."

 

It was all his rivals could ever hope for.

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FOLLOW BLACK SHEEP'S STORIES AS WE MAKE OUR WAY THROUGH THIS YEAR'S SPRING CLASSICS PAYING TRIBUTE TO THE MAGNIFICENT 'MONUMENTS' THAT HAVE DEFINED OUR SPORT.

EURO COLLECTION | MONUMENTS. COMING SOON.


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