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Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Cannibal's recipe for success
Eddy Merckx wins the world road championships
Eddy Merckx celebrated 445 wins at the highest level
Eddy Merckx may not agree with the reinstatement of his own world record but he remains the greatest cyclist in history.

On Friday Merckx will be in Manchester to watch Chris Boardman attempt to beat the record he set on conventional machinery in 1972 and which has only been beaten since on bicycles not now permitted in competition.

It is ironic that the second of Boardman's hour records was set in what became known as the "Superman position".

Because if the sport has ever known a super-human figure then it is Merckx, regardless of aerodynamics.

  Eddy Merckx over three weeks
Five Tour de France victories, a record 34 stage wins and 96 days in the leader's yellow jersey
Five Giro d'Italia victories, including 76 days in the leader's pink jersey
One win in the Vuelta a Espana
Think of Pele, Bradman or Ali because Merckx is in that sort of company. He still stands head and shoulders ahead of all the greats that have followed him.

He was called "The Cannibal" by frustrated opponents because he would try to win every race, whatever the time and place.

This is not the way to win friends in cycling, where the handing out of a few favours to call back in later is an essential part of the competitors' armoury.

Merckx may now be an affable and slightly rotund middle-aged Belgian, but in his prime this lean fighting machine had no need to call in favours. So he rarely handed them out.

Eddy Merckx leads the Tour de France
Totally focused on the Tour: Merckx in yellow
Unlike the moden trait to concentrate on either one-day racing or the longer tours, Merckx was competitive from the start of the season in Milan-San Remo until October's Tour of Lombardy.

He could climb with the best, sprint as fast as most and had a fantastic engine for long, endurance-based efforts.

Belgium's most famous export aside from perhaps its legendary beer won 445 races at the highest level, including a record five Tours de France.

One year he wore the leader's yellow jersey from start to finish. In another he took the green jersey for best sprinter to Paris as well as the overall win and mountains prize - a stunning feat never to be repeated.

  Merckx's single day record
Three world championships
Seven wins in Milan-San Remo classic
Five times a winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Three times winner of Paris-Roubaix, Flèche Wallone and Tour of Flanders
Also won Ghent-Wevelgem and Tour of Lombardy
Champion of Belgium once
And then there was the year of the golden treble of yellow, pink and rainbow jerseys in which he won the Giro d'Italia and the World Road Championships as well as the Tour.

No wonder he holds every conceivable honour that can be handed to a Belgian civilian.

At home his worshipping public saw him frequently win their big races such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Flanders yet he only took one national Belgian title.

However this bizarre failure must be viewed as a complement since the only way that Merckx's countrymen could ensure they had a chance was by eliminating the Cannibal.

It must have pleased the old favourite enormously to see his own son Axel take the national title this July. There were also televised tears from commentator Eddy when Axel won a stage of the Tour of Italy in May this year.

  Merckx against the watch
Many of his major tour wins featured key time trial victories
Also winner of Grand Prix des Nations time trial
World hour record in 1972

But Merckx the elder does not cast his shadow over modern cycling simply by his offspring, media work and the bicycles his firm builds.

Many of his records will simply never be broken, and even if Boardman goes go further than the 1972 hour record on Friday it will not matter.

Merckx will be there to see Boardman in Manchester - as all great record-holders surely should be on such an occasion.

And everyone present will know that he remains the greatest, whatever the rulemakers say or the current generation produces.

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