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2003 World Championships News
 
By Staff
Date: 9/23/2003
2003 World Championships News
 
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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 Italy.

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 interesting race."

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 for me."

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 bike!

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 motivated." +

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 nations.

"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."


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