Living Legends

Eddy Merckx (Belgium)

Tour de France 2004

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Tour de France Eddy Merckx

Age: 59
Tour Wins: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974
Wore Yellow: 96 days
Nobody devoured more foes than Eddy Merckx. Perhaps the greatest cyclist ever, "the Cannibal"—a six-foot, 165-pound powerhouse—was uniquely lethal in all disciplines, from time trials to mountain stages. In 13 years, Merckx won an astonishing 476 pro races (402 more than Lance Armstrong), taking not just five Tours de France but also five Giros d'Italia and seven Milan–San Remos. Since 1980 he's headed the Belgium-based Eddy Merckx company, which builds racing bikes favored by pros like his 31-year-old son Axel. Why didn't you win six? "My career was about winning as many races as possible—not about winning as many Tours de France as possible." Is that a dig at Lance's near-total focus on the Tour? "Not at all! We're from different cycling generations. I was the best of mine, and he is the best of his." Will Lance win again? "Of course. And it will be sweet revenge. When he fell sick, Cofidis [Armstrong's former team] cut his contract and pushed him out the door. It was scandalous."

Tour de France Bernard Hinault

Bernard Hinault (France)
Age: 49
Tour Wins: 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985
Wore Yellow: 78 days
Bernard Hinault wasn't quite as flamboyant as France's other five-time winner, the late Jacques Anquetil—who reportedly swigged champagne from his water bottle during one Tour—but he always got the job done. Nicknamed "the Badger" for his tenacity, the five-eight, 149-pound Hinault scored 28 stage wins in eight Tours de France, a figure second only to Eddy Merckx's 34. He retired in 1986 and became a farmer in his native Brittany. What's replaced cycling in your life? "Chickens! I hung my bike on the wall, and that's where it's stayed." Will Lance prevail in 2004? "I give him a one-in-two chance. My advice: Think of it as the Tour—not your sixth Tour. If you race for a record, you'll have problems." What about critics who say cancer medicines boosted Armstrong's endurance? "To those assholes I say, I wish you just one thing: that you have the same sickness, that you have one foot in the grave. Then you'll see how much you'll want to do what you love, and do it to its maximum."

Tour de France Miguel Indurain

Miguel Indurain (Spain)
Age: 39
Tour Wins: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995
Wore Yellow: 60 days
Miguel Indurain reigned so completely over the Tour that he won five in a row, becoming the first (and, until Lance, only) rider to accomplish the feat. In the process, "Big Mig" established himself as Spain's greatest sportsman—a star whose determination was exceeded only by his shyness. (Teammates said he spoke mostly with his shoulders.) Renowned for his imposing size (six-two, 176 pounds), Indurain possessed an extraordinary lung capacity, a resting heart rate—28 beats per minute—that would qualify most humans as dead, and monster talent, especially in time trials. The farmer's son from the Spanish village of Villava retired in 1997 and now lives in nearby Pamplona. You lost the Tour at age 32. Is 32-year-old Lance Armstrong over the hill? "He's at an age where there's a limit to your athletic performance—but he can still have good years. And he's very motivated." You've said you like to keep things in perspective—that the Tour is only a bicycle race. Still, do you ever wish you'd tried to snag it one last time? "I did try to win a sixth, but it was not to be." Do you want Lance to win? "I want the best rider to win."

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From Outside Magazine, Jul 2004
Filed To: Road Biking
Lead Photo: Pressesports/Abaca
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