The winter is coming, and that’s a time for all cyclists to switch gears. Some take a few months off, others switch to different sports. But, what would Eddy do? We* took some time to talk to the greatest cyclist of all times, and founder of Eddy Merckx Cycles, and asked him how he spent his winters.
Eddy, the winter is here. How does a Cannibal get through winter?
When I was a pro, I switched from road to track cycling every winter. Until 1966, I went to the Sports Palace in Brussels to train (then the Brussels Equivalent of Madison Square Garden), later I switched to the velodromes of Ghent and Antwerp.
Did you do any other sports during winter time?
Sure, around December I liked to go to the mountains for a few weeks. I did cross-country skiing there, to stay fit and lose weight. I wasn’t the only one who did that, by the way. Joop Zoetemelk (the Dutchman who went on to win the Tour in ’80) did the same thing.
What about cyclo-cross? That’s a very popular winter sport now.
Well, I did do a few professional races, like the one in Overijse in Belgium (Eddy finished 18th in 1975, and 10th in 1977). A few other of my competitors were more into cyclocross though, like the brothers De Vlaeminck. I was more a track guy.
You don’t say – you won the legendary Six Days of Ghent six times!
That’s right – I was really into it. In all, I rode 34 Six Day races. They often went on from the early afternoon to late at night. Often the race would last until 5AM in the morning, only to start again a few hours later! But the public loved it. In Germany, for example, people would sit down and watch the races all night.
How different are Six Day races now?
It has become much more of a specialty sport. Road riders like me don’t do it anymore, because they don’t need the money. Only the likes of Iljo Keisse (who won Ghent 5 times) and Erik Zabel (the German who won the green jersey in the Tour a record 6 times) combined road and track.
Riders have turned into snowbirds, haven’t they?
Well, they now go to South-Africa, or the Southern European countries during the winter. Back in my time you were happy you could ride a Six Day race to earn some extra pocket money during the winter – But let me also say I wouldn’t do a Six Day race if I was a pro today either. Take the team race in Ghent, that’s no laughing game. I had to recover two or three weeks from a race like that, even though I won.
Do you think it’s wise then, that we don’t see road riders on the track anymore?
No. I would still ride on the velodrome, because you learn so many skills that are so useful later on in your career. Speed, agility, endurance,… it’s the ideal training ground for juniors. If I could do it all over again I’d ride in velodromes non-stop at the age of 15.
There are quite a few of your fellow countrymen that are doing well in the Six Day races. Should they stay in the velodrome?
Listen, the velodrome is a perfect learning ground for young riders. I love to see Gijs Van Hoecke and Jasper De Buyst being so successful at such a young age (De Buyst won the Six Day of Ghent this year, Van Hoecke came in third, both on an Eddy Merckx bike). But at the end of the day you have to try and make it on the road. Look at Bradley Wiggins. He won a World Championship medal in track cycling, but then attempted and succeeded at winning the Tour. Current young riders should take that as an example.
Thanks for the advice, Eddy!
* This article was a collaboration between BikeRumor and Eddy Merckx Cycles. It’s something we plan on expanding with more original content, questions and thoughts from The Cannibal. Big thanks to Peter Vanham from Merckx USA for coordinating. To read more about Eddy Merckx, visit www.eddymerckx.us . And check out their new EMX525 road bike, which is being offered with a free limited edition Eddy Merckx Art Box ($1,095 value) through the end of the year.