How they used to train: Eddy Merckx’s pre-1969 Tour de France week

How the Cannibal trained to get ready for his first Tour de France win in the 1969 edition of the race

Eddy Merckx has the best record of any male pro road racer ever. You name it and Merckx won it. Except Paris-Tours, which gave another 70s pro a lovely one-liner.

He was Noel Van Tyghem, a Belgian like Merckx, and in 1972 Van Tyghem won Paris-Tours, a real classic in its day, but he didn’t win much else in his career.

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Noel is no longer with us, sadly, but he would say to anyone who would listen; “Eddy Merckx and I dominated the 1970s, I won Paris-Tours and Eddy won everything else.”

Anyway, how did Eddy Merckx train? Well, hard about describes it. He rode for miles, often with his whole team.

Sometimes he was out all day, arguing that big races last up to seven hours, so nine hour rides are good for the body and good for the mind.

Merckx did lots of motor-paced training to put zip in his legs, and he rode six-day races on in the winter to keep his speed up and his weight down.

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He took virtually no rest, as you can see from this page in his training diary, which lists what he did in the week before his first Tour de France in 1969.

Sunday: Raced in the Belgian National Championships, 264 kilometres.

Monday: Did two races, a 110-kilometre criterium and an evening track meeting.

Tuesday: Raced in a kermesse, but retired after 35 kilometres because he’d been prevented from starting with the rest of the riders by people demanding his autograph.

Wednesday: Training with his team, 180 kilometres.

Thursday: Training on his own 270 kilometres!

Friday: Behind a Derny for 50 kilometres (this session was scheduled to be longer, but torrential rain made it too dangerous)

Saturday: Morning, 40 kilometres fast. Afternoon, 40 kilometres easy. Evening, the prologue of the Tour de France.

Merckx won six stages in that Tour, seven if you count the team time trial. He took the yellow jersey by almost 18 minutes, he won the green jersey, the King of the Mountains, the combined classification and the combativity award.

So hard work does pay, especially if your name is Eddy Merckx.

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