Being an American cyclist – and I use the second term lightly – I figure I am honor bound to cheer for the likes of Lance Armstrong, Greg Lemond, Andy Hampsten, et al. But at one of the first bike shops I worked at in my early adulthood there was a strange character there that had a great influence on my cycling allegiances. I don’t even remember the guy’s name, but the strangeness was based on the fact that this was a lowly bike mechanic that also happened to be a licensed physician. On the days that it was too nasty to commute via two wheels his mode of transportation had a flat six boxer engine hanging out the back. For those of you of lowly pedigree, I’m talking about a Porsche 911. He said he stopped playing doctor – much to his wife’s chagrin – because he was tired of all the politics and he was perfectly happy to turn the various pedals and wrenches of cycledom.
Now even as a BMX racer that only liked road bikes because you could go pretty fast on them, I knew who Eddy Merckx was. But every morning when the good doctor showed up he would burst out with a loud ED-DYYYYYYYYYYYY!!! Then the morning was spent either being regaled with stories of epic rides or listening to him bitch about his wife bitching about him diagnosing SunTour Superbe Pro drive trains instead of some old duffer’s pancreatic cancer.
I still use one of his funniest lines – “Get thee behind me Shimano!” any chance I can get, and I was even able to win his affection, so to speak, when I programmed the screen saver on the shop’s cash register computer with a floating ED-DYYY!!. He said it brought a tear to his eye when he saw it and stuff like that was one of the reasons he would rather muck about in the solvent tank than somebody’s innards.
This entry is actually going somewhere. I always check out the Velo News headlines on the RSS feed widget on the right side of this site and the “Wind, Eddy, Victory” headline from Michael Barry’s diary caught my eye. I hope you enjoy his Eddy Merckx anecdote as much as I did:
Merckx, who eats in the main dining hall with the riders, often walks around the room to chat with the different teams. For us, it is an inspiring moment to have the sport’s greatest hero, an idol to virtually every rider, converse with us and take genuine interest. Their respect for him is evident as soon as he approaches the table. As if they were speaking with royalty, the modern-day champions become shy, sit straight, and address him politely. Eddy will forever be the king of cycling. And, he still has his pedal stroke.
In the week prior to the first stage last Sunday, we trained on the wide-open roads and Merckx joined us on a few occasions. To find shelter from the persistent wind we ducked in behind our team car to increase the speed and spin our legs. Slim, motivated and fit, Eddy fought the wind, rode the distance and sat tightly in the draft while we cruised along at 50 km/h.
Watching his legs turn the pedals I thought about all the Tours, Giros, Milan-San Remos and Roubaixs they had won. His physique is impressive but what is striking is his passion for the bike. Even today, the spark that made him the champion he became is evident. Rarely have I seen retired professionals still so fond of riding and bikes.
As we sat around the mechanics’ tent after the ride, Cavendish said to Merckx, “I can’t believe it: now I can say I have ridden with Eddy Merckx.” With sincerity he responded, “And, now I can say I have ridden with Mark Cavendish.” A fervent fan, he is as impressed with today’s riders as they are with him.