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- By Paul Gains, Hamilton 2003
Tuesday, September 23, 2003 Add cycling legend Eddie Merckx to the list of
experts who believe the next world road race champion will be Paolo Bettini of
The five-time Tour de France winner was speaking by telephone from his home
in Belgium Sunday night, shortly after dropping his son Axel at the airport. The
younger Merckx is expected to compete in Hamilton but was leaving for a
competition with his professional club team Lotto Domo.
"Yes, I think the riders from Italy are very strong always in
championships. And I think Bettini is the guy. He has won some world cup races,
I think he will be the biggest favourite," Merckx said. And having had the
opportunity to review the course, albeit by video and not in person, the 58
year-old cycling legend believes the course favours a rider like Bettini.
"Last week the Belgian cycling federation and I saw the course. I think
it will be a very tough course because it is really hilly. I think it will be a
hard race especially because it is only 12 km around. It will be a very
Business commitments at the Merckx bicycle factory, which is located directly
across the street from his home, preclude a planned visit to Hamilton though he
has fond memories of Canada. The only other time the world road championships
were held in this country was in 1974 and Merckx won in style. As one would
expect he places a great deal of importance on the world championships although
he would have liked to see the race held earlier in the season.
"The world championships is the most important one day race because when
you win that race you can wear the World Championships jersey for a whole year.
It is the most important one day race," Merckx says of the championships he
won three times.
"I have very nice memories because it was my third world championship
victory as a professional and it was the first time the world championships was
held outside Europe. It was special for all the riders. It was very nice. The
course was very hard the weather was nice and the people too. It was a great day
In a career that spanned a decade Merckx, who was nicknamed "The
Cannibal" for the manner in which he destroyed his opponents, was the face
of cycling and is widely touted as the greatest cyclist of all time. In addition
to the five Tour de France victories and three world championship titles he also
smashed the coveted world one-hour record in Mexico City covering 49.432km or
30.717 miles. It was a record that stood for 24 years before Chris Boardman of
Britain finally lowered it in Manchester riding, what else, but an Eddie Merckx
The Belgian wonder was a most complete rider winning multi stage races,
one-day races and achieving the one-hour world record in his career. Comparisons
between the three distinct events are not easily made.
"It is completely different. There is more prestige doing world
championships. Something you do. You have nothing to win almost all to
lose," he explains. "The big difference between the events is that the
Tour de France is three weeks. The Tour de France is the biggest race in
cycling. But the hour record is very special."
Merckx has high hopes for his son who won the Tour d'Ain this year. Although
Axel has the greatest resource any rider could hope for at home fatherly advice
is something, which he only occasionally seeks.
"He is part of a professional team so we speak together but he has his
own trainer his own mechanics his own sports director," says the elder
Merckx, "So yes we speak but he is already in a professional team. I hope
he will make the podium (at the world championships) I think he is in good shape
now and he has also really good motivation because his wife is also from Canada
from Kelowna, British Columbia. So I think he will be very, very
As a businessman he still makes his living from cycling selling his high end
bike frames in 18 countries around the world including Canada, USA, Europe,
Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan. In all, he employs 27 people in his
factory. And so he is very much in tune with modern cycling lamenting the fact
that today's cyclists race frequently to earn money.
Although there have been some cycling enthusiasts who would prefer the
championships were held in Europe on a regular basis Merckx is amongst those who
are delighted to see the championships shared with less powerful cycling
"In Canada (in 1974) there were a lot of people and now the World
Championships has been in Colombia and Colorado and cycling has become more
international," he concludes. "That is very good. The more
international cycling is the better it is for the cyclists."