TITLE: Merckx 69
AUTHOR: Jan Maes & Tonny Strouken
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Sport
ISBN: 978 1 4729 1064 6
Which of the following statements is not true?
1. Eddy Merckx is one of the greatest cyclists of all time, if not the greatest. Although it is always hard to compare the achievements of athletes from different generations, I don’t think that many people would argue with this one. Whilst the press release aims to avoid controversy by referring to him as ‘one of cycling’s greats’, the cover of the book is unequivocal, calling him ‘the world’s greatest cyclist’.
2. This is a proper coffee table book. A slightly subjective assessment, but weighing in at 1.7 kg, and measuring 34 x 30 x 2.5 cm, it is certainly has the sort of impressive presence that I would expect from a coffee table contender. Add in the high proportion of images and relatively sparse text, and that seals the deal. The aforementioned press release prefers to call it a ‘beautiful photographic book’, which is an equally apt description.
3. It is a typical example of a Rouleur book. Despite appearances this one is not actually true. Although it comes from Rouleur’s preferred publisher, Bloomsbury Sport, and it is full of the sort of grainy monochrome images that Rouleur like, it is not actually one of their books. However, it could easily pass as one, which in addition to being an indication of the style is in itself is an endorsement of the quality of production and presentation.
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
The man responsible for the text is Jan Maes, who has past form having contributed to a previous book called ‘Merckxissimo’. The book is divided up into twelve ‘moments’, each focussed on a certain event or location. Jan supplies much of the prose in the form of letters as if he were writing to Eddy at the time, which is a method that works well.
Tonny Strouken supplied most of the photographs, some of which are previously unpublished. ‘For years Tonny has waited for the right moment to give the greatest cyclist ever a fitting gift’ and use these images, states the foreword. There is a great variety of compositions and locations on offer, and the beautiful presentation certainly does them justice.
I did wonder if the world needed yet another book on the great man; after all, in the last two years alone I am aware of the following appearing: ‘Merckx: half man, half bike’, ‘Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal’, ‘Merckx 525’, and ‘L’Album d’Eddy’.
However, there is a certain logic to the timing of this one, which is reflected in the title: Eddy turned 69 years old on June 17th of this year. In addition, the claim on the cover is that 1969 was his finest year. To quote Merckx from his introduction, ‘This book is a treasured memory of that unique year of 1969. Perhaps it was the most important year of my career’. Whatever the case, it was certainly another very successful year for the man, and it supplies the other reference to 69 that the title invites.
In part the success of a year will be judged by his Tour de France performance: not only was 1969 probably the most impressive debut ever into that event, the level of dominance he achieved has never been matched in the race. However, the results for the year could have been even more impressive, except that Eddy was forced to leave the Giro d’Italia in May following a positive test for the banned substance Reactivan. This is covered in the Savona moment, and was made even more dramatic because Eddy was wearing the race leader’s pink jersey at the time, and the entire Faema team left with him.
Later in the year a serious crash during a derny race at a track in Blois may have had an impact on the rest of Eddy’s career, not just this year. A pacemaker was killed, and Merckx refers to it as his ‘brush with death’. Whilst Merckx went on to yet more racing success, ‘the constant fiddling about on the bike, looking for the right position, was a tangible effect of the fall’, says Jan. How would his career have been different if the crash had never happened?
The stories may have been told before, but not in this way. Merckx 69 is not claiming to offer comprehensive coverage of his racing history, but it does cover a significant period of it in an unusual and absorbing way.
REVIEW FIRST PUBLISHED 2015