That there is no greater cyclist than Eddy Merckx is an established fact. Records are made to be broken, but the man who can exceed his 525 career race wins has yet to be born.
His legend is well known and this beautiful book lovingly acknowledges every win.
But what makes Merckx 525 so special is the trove of photographs that document that awesome number. Many of the photos were unknown to Merckx before the project was begun.
Karl Vannieuwkerke includes the history when necessary, but the story is in the images, especially in the face of Merckx, who we first see as a young man in shorts and wool sweater standing on a brickwork podium with a typical Belgian town behind him. The last image is Merckx rubbing his neck in an expensive suit, his gold watch visible, dark hair immaculately combed back. It is his retirement day.
Between those two days is a lifetime of many triumphs and several tragedies, told with sparing words, marching statistics and most of all, the face of Merckx.
His is an expressive face, unique among the Belgians I have known, a people who can show a hundred slight variations of both the shrug and the sly, knowing glance.
Merckx cannot hide his pain or his joy because it is happening to him in that frozen moment. The photographs range from the Pieta-like crash scene at the Tour of Flanders with police cradling his fallen body like Mary and the Disciples taking Jesus from the Cross, to the raw ecstasy of the finish lines, arms above his large head with a sea of fans below, mouths agape.
As the wins are counted, we see for ourselves the erosion of his physical body while his legend is growing. We see him young and bullish but know how the story will end, as it will for all men. Merckx the young man is now 65, but the only number that will ever matter is 525. —Sal Ruibal
Merckx 525, by Karl Vannieuwkerke
Hardcover, 224 pages / $60
Published by Velo Press / velopress.com