The Tour de France in numbers
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The 77-year-old retired from cycling in 1978 after being the first to win the Triple Crown of Cycling, and was nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’ in the prime of his career. A few years before he would retire, he would have his last solid shot at the Tour de France trophy torn away by a Frenchman on the side of the tracks.
Merckx won the acclaimed Tour de France in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974, and is the individual to have won the most stages at Grand Tours, with a total of 64.
According to Cycling Weekly, Mario Cipollini is second with 57 stages and Mark Cavendish comes in third with 53.
Tour de France is notoriously difficult and a crowning achievement for any cyclist wanting to climb to the rank of legend.
The race has run for 119 years, leaving plenty of chaotic episodes no matter how well organised and planned each event is.
The 1975 Tour de France race was no exception, as Merckx took the lead, hoping to add to his wins.
It had been a fantastic year for Merckx, having already claimed four classics by the Tour de France.
He was favourite to win the race and claim his sixth Tour title, although he already had the record for his five wins.
However, no one expected just what would completely derail his race.
The Belgian’s prominence in cycling had become so revered and evident that he had begun receiving threatening letters.
While each letter was different, they all encouraged Merckx not to race, and disobeying this would lead to alarming consequences for the cyclist.
Merckx reportedly took these letters as motivation, and by stage six of the Tour he was leading over half-a-minute ahead of his Italian competitor, Francesco Moser.
Also looking to dethrone The Cannibal was Bernard Thévenet and Joop Zoetemelk, who were actually able to pass him during the hardest stage in the Pyrenees Mountains.
At the start of the Puy de Dôme climb, Merckx was a minute and a half in the lead, with Thévenet following closely.
Just before the halfway mark of the incline, Merckx was navigating clusters of fans lining the road when Frenchman Nello Breton stepped out of the crowd.
Breton punched Merckx in his right kidney, but the cyclist pushed through, clutching his stomach and completing the stage half a minute behind Thevenet.
Merckx vomited after passing the finishing line and was found to have mild kidney inflammation.
He was treated with pain medication and blood thinners, but he was facing the Alpine climbs after a rest day and fought Thevenet at every opportunity he could.
Breton claimed he had been pushed by the crowd and fell into the rider as he went past.
Merckx would later sue his attacker and the court found him guilty, however Breton would only be sentenced to pay a symbolic fine of one franc.
After suffering some side effects from the medication and steadily falling behind cyclists who were once trailing him, Merckx attempted to give one last massive push in hopes of a comeback.
At this point Thévenet had more than a three minute lead and one mountain stage in the Alps left.
Merckx’s aggressive attack from the starting point that day would be his downfall as he suffered a bad crash, hurting his knee and hip, breaking his cheekbone and jaw and now bleeding.
Regardless of all of this, Merckx still returned to his bicycle, finishing just two seconds after Thévenet that stage.
He would endeavour to finish the race, despite his mounting list of injuries, and would later note it as a “big mistake”, lamenting that he should have retired and come back stronger the next year.
In an interview with Cyclist he said: “If I have one regret in my life that is it. Sometimes you can have too much courage.”
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