James's Reviews > Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike

Merckx by William Fotheringham
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Oct 06, 13

bookshelves: biography, cycling, non-fiction, i-own-a-copy, read-in-teenties
Read from September 14 to 21, 2013 — I own a copy

Everybody with even a passing acquaintance of cycling as a sport has probably heard of Eddy Merckx. Anybody who has an interest in the sport will also know that Merckx was the greatest cyclist the sport has had – 'The greatest there is; the greatest there was; the greatest there ever will be' to steal (and change) a line from Bret Hart. What I didn't realise until I read this book was quite how great that great was. That such a cyclist doesn't seem to have written an autobiography, let alone had it translated into English, seems like a great oversight. An oversight that William Fotheringham and Daniel Friebe both seem to have decided to resolve; both releasing their own biographies of Merckx in the same year. I'm sure I'll read them both eventually but, due to some birthday book vouchers last year, I got to read Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike first.

Covering the full range of Merckx's career – from his early amateur races when other riders would often not bother turning up when he rode; the first rider (and still only?) to win the amateur world championship and the professional world championship (which he won three times); winning the Tour de France and the Giro in the same year – three times no less – even taking all the jerseys; through his career changing crash; and ending with his retirement. His win rate was prolific, according to Wikipedia he won at least 25% of the races he entered for seven straight years, peaking at 45% in 1971. Numerous times in the book, Fotheringham explains how Merckx charged off to win races that he clearly didn't need to, just because he could. Although Fotheringham's journalistic background shows through in what is a hugely researched and fact rich book, he does manage to stop it being a dry read, although this is more due to his choice of source material than his prose per se. What he does do though is step back and let the story tell itself around the facts and figures.

I thought I knew a bit about Merckx, although he was a little before my time (he retired before I was 10). I was a cycling fan – I'd read articles about the man before. But I'd barely scratched the surface of either the races he won or the depth of his career. A must read for any fan of cycle sport, now I need to snag a copy of Friebe's Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal and read that too...
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