It is very rare in any sport that one is able to state that one man was undoubtedly the greatest ever. But such is the case in cycling with Eddy Merckx of Belgium, born on 17 June 1945 in Meensel-Kiezegem.
He was so strong and rode so hard so consistently that his nickname was "The Cannibal". He had no weaknesses - he was the strongest time trialist and climber in the world, and could outsprint all but a few rivals.
His list of major victories is staggering. He is one of only four cyclists to have won the Tour de France five times, along with Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Lance Armstrong. At the 1969 Tour de France, Merckx performed the still unequalled feat of winning the Yellow Jersey (overall winner), the Green Jersey (points winner) and the Polka-Dot Jersey (King of the Mountains).
Merckx was a professional cyclist. By the age of 28 he had surpassed more records than any other racer, with more than 300 professional victories. He won the world amateur cycling championship in 1964, and in 1967 he captured the world professional cycling title. He became the first man to win all of the major scoring classifications in both the 1968 Giro d'Italia and the 1969 Tour de France. He was Belgian Sportsman of the Year each year from 1969 to 1974.
In his prime he was virtually unbeatable at time trials and mountain races; in sprint events none but the world's fastest ever defeated him. Merckx rode about 32,180 km (20,000 miles) per year for training and another 16,120 km (10,000 miles) annually in races. He set World Records in Mexico City in 1972 for 10km (11 minutes 53.2 seconds), 20km (24 minutes 6.8 seconds) and the 1 hour record (49.431957 km). These records were later beaten but this was only possible with the help of updated technology. Nobody could ever beat Merckx's records using the same technology as he did. Eddy's son has also taken up professional cycling and it remains to be seen whether he can even get close to the brilliant career of his father.
The Tour de France is cycling's most famous international event. Started in 1903 by Henri Desgrange, the stage race covers a course that varies from about 4,000 km to 4,800 km (2,500 miles to 3,000 miles) over roads and mountain passes throughout France and portions of five neighbouring countries. The 3-week event attracts the greatest cyclists; the winner is generally acknowledged as the world's best cyclist.
The first bicycle race was held at the Parc de St. Cloud, France, in 1868. Recognized world championships were first held in 1893. As competition became more widespread, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) was established in 1900 to govern all amateur and professional events. The United States, France, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland were charter members of this group, which now represents over 110 nations. Winners are currently established in 14 categories. The Olympic Games has competitions in both road and track racing for a total of eight events.