Similar to our home here in Minneapolis, Belgium is a place of bicycling fanatics. Nearly every village has a cycling club where members meet two or three time per week to pedal the picturesque countryside and riverways, much like how cyclists here will embark along the Mississippi River or venture out on trails beyond the city limits.
The undisputed greatest cyclist ever is Eddy Merckx from Meensel-Kiezegem, Belgium. Born in 1945 and known as “The Cannibal,” Merckx was a time trial machine, one of the best climbers and was rarely beaten sprinting to the finish.
His resume includes five Tour de France victories, which is a feat only matched by Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Lance Armstrong. Of course we all know now that Mr. Armstrong was on more drugs than a touring funk band. In the 1969 Tour de France, Merckx won the Yellow Jersey as the overall winner, the Green Jersey for points winner and the Polka-Dot Jersey for being the best climber. In all he won over 300 races.
Many of his records held up until updated technology paved the way for faster times. I think it’s safe to say that Belgians are as proud of the achievements of Eddy Merckx as Americans are ashamed of the disgraceful bravado and unscrupulous fall of Lance Armstrong.
But as we head into the prime time for biking here in Minnesota – and in particular, the popular April challenge 30 Days of Biking – we can reflect on how biking fans here in Minneapolis share something with Merckx, which is perhaps the freedom and exhiliarion of the ride itself.