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Eddy Merckx was born 17 June 1945 in Meensel-Kiezegem, Belgium, and is a Belgian former professional cyclist. The French magazine Vélo called him "the most accomplished rider that cycling has ever known. The American publication, VeloNews, called him the greatest and most successful cyclist of all time. He won the Tour de France five times, won all the classics except Paris-Tours, won the Giro d'Italia five times and the Vuelta a España, won the world championship as an amateur and a professional, and broke the world hour record.
He acquired his first racing bike, second-hand, when he was eight. His hero was Stan Ockers, who died in a fall on Antwerp track in 1956.
"He was my hero because of the Tour de France. Ockers had won stages in it, won the green jersey twice, and finished second overall twice. He was always in the news during the Tour de France, and the Tour was everything to me. I didn't even know much about the classics because they were held on a Sunday, and on that day we used to visit my grandmother at her farm in Meensel-Kiezegem, where I was born..."
Merckx rode his first race at Laeken on 16 July 1961 - riding for the Evere Kerkhoek Sportif club. He rode 12 races before winning his first, at Petit-Enghien on 1 October 1961.
In 1964, he rode the road race at the 1964 Summer Olympics and finished 12th. In the same year, he became world amateur champion at Sallanches, France. He said his victory was tainted by the long list of riders who had won the amateur championship and done nothing afterwards.
Merckx said of the race:
"Yes, I remember winning the world championship, but winning the Tour de France for the first time was more important to me. The world championship can be won by any good rider who has the right form on the right day, but to win the Tour you have to be good every day. I was in the break after the first few laps, but when the bunch started coming back to us, I broke away on the last climb to win by 27 seconds from Walter Planckaert, with Gösta Pettersson of Sweden third. Planckaert hadn't realised I was away and he thought that he had won..."
He turned professional on 29 April 1965 after 80 wins as an amateur. Merckx was earning 125,000 Belgian francs a year when he won the championship (approx €2,000 at 2008 values). He didn't buy his first car until he had been a professional for three years. Coca-Cola offered Merckx a million Belgian francs to ride in 1968 - van Buggenhout urged him to accept, but Merckx refused believing himself not strong enough to ride both the Giro - which was important to Faema- and the Tour - which wasn't.
The 1969 Tour de France was the first which Merckx won even though he was almost deprived of it by a doctor in Lille who found abnormalities in his heart rhythm. Merckx was cleared to start after medical colleagues said the hearts of endurance athletes were often unusual.
To read the entire story of this incredible athlete go to: