Merckx, Hinault And Froome – How Do They Measure Up?
Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Chris Froome are all champions, they are the only three riders to have won consecutive Grand Tours, but is it fair to compare different generations? Ed Hood takes on the thankless task and looks at all the facets of these ‘Kings of the Road’ to find how they measure up as men, icons as well as bike riders.
The three history makers – Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Chris Froome
The comparison keeps getting made; Christopher Froome to Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx as the only three men in the history of the sport to hold all three titles in the worlds’ greatest stage races at the same time.
Here at PEZ we thought we’d look at that claim in more depth:
Merckx: ‘The Cannibal,’ as in all consuming of the events he rode and his opposition. Said to have originated when a rival’s young daughter heard of this voracious creature her dad described’ ‘he sounds like a cannibal. . .
Hinault: Folklore has it that ‘The Badger,’ a shy creature but which is most dangerous and aggressive when cornered came about from his temperament as a battler. However, in an interview in the French magazine Vélo, Hinault stated the badger nickname had nothing to do with the black and white burrower and said it was a local cyclists’ way of saying “mate” or “pal” in his youth – “How’s it going, badger?” – and that it came to refer to him personally.
The ‘Froome Dog’
Froome: ‘Froomey’ or ‘Froome Dog’ derived from a Twitter spat between Froome’s fiancée and Wiggins’s wife when the latter accused Froome of disloyalty during Wiggins’ ultimately successful Tour ride in 2012. Froome’s better half responded that everyone should have a ‘Froome Dog’ because they were so loyal. . .
Merckx – 5 Tours, 5 Giri and 1 Vuelta
Grand Tour Wins, (total stage wins in brackets):
Vuelta: 1973 (6)
Giro: 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974 (25)
Tour: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974 (34).
Hinault – 5 Tours, 3 Giri and 2 Vueltas
Vuelta: 1978, 1983 (7)
Giro: 1980, 1982, 1985 (6)
Tour: 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985 (28).
Froome – 4 Tours, 1 Giro* and 1 Vuelta*
Vuelta: 2017 (6) *
Giro: 2018 (2) *
Tour: 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 (7).
Merckx, Hinault and Jacques Anquetil – 29 Grand Tours between them
Too many years have gone by to question Merckx or Hinault’s palmarès albeit’s worth mentioning that most believe that Merckx’s DQ in the 1969 Giro was a ‘stitch up;’ claiming his samples were spiked but barring death bed confessions we’ll never know the truth on that one.
Greg Lemond won his first Tour in 1986, maybe should have been 1985?
And Mr. Greg Lemond may well say that one of those Hinault Tour wins is rightfully his – but again, that’s another story. Two of Froome’s wins cannot yet be carved into stone tablets – there’s the ‘salbutamol scandal’ hanging over his head on the 2017 Vuelta and if he ‘goes down’ for that may well also lose the 2018 Giro.
Merckx left the 1969 Giro d’Italia in tears
Brushes with Controles:
Merckx: Apart from his 1969 ‘stitch up’ he lost his 1973 Tour of Lombardy win and a top 10 placing in the 1977 Flèche-Wallone due to failed tests.
Hinault led the Tour riders strike in 1978 and refused a dope control in 1982
Hinault: Refused a test at a criterium in Callac in 1982, he was fined and given a ‘conditional’ suspension.
Froome’s Vuelta’17 might not be OK
Froome: The outcome of the aforementioned ‘salbutamol scandal’ is awaited; apparently Sky have 1,500 pages of expert witness testimony to be considered – don’t expect an answer any time soon.
Merckx’s ‘one day’ race record isn’t too shabby either
If the comparison between these men is to be made then it can’t just be on Grand Tour performances. On the one hand you may argue that the sport is totally different now with so much specialisation and ‘Tour men’ don’t ride Classics any more – albeit Vincenzo Nibali has managed it. But on the other hand, and I quote Bernard Hinault here; ‘if Merckx had been allowed to build his season around just riding and winning the Tour then he’d have won 10 of them!’
Merckx winning in Sanremo as World champion in 1975
Milano-Sanremo 7, Flanders 2, Roubaix 3, Liege 5, Lombardy 2.
Hinault won in Roubaix, Liege and Lombardy
Roubaix 1, Liege 2, Lombardy 2.
Froome – No ‘Monuments’ in his palmarès
It’s easier to list the races Merckx has NOT won
Other Notable Performances:
Merckx: with a total of 525 wins on the road including 445 – with three of those being world titles – as a professional it’s easier to say that the only notable event on the professional calendar which failed to go his way was Paris-Tours, albeit he set up the win for team mate Guido Reybrouck in 1968.
The World champion winning Paris-Roubaix
Hinault: French Champion, World Champion, Fleche Wallone, Amstel Gold, GP des Nations (five times), Dauphine (three times) and all of the other lesser French stage races.
Froome – 3rd in the Worlds’17 TT
Froome: Dauphine (three times), Romandie (twice), Criterium International, Andalucía. Froome also has Worlds time trial and team trial medals as well as Olympic TT medals but since these events did not exist in the Hinault and Merckx eras no comparison can be made; we can only imagine how many time trial Worlds the two other men would have won had the event been held in their eras. Froome has no notable single day results.
Eddy Merckx held the ‘Hour Record’ for many years
Merckx: 17 six day wins, European Omnium Champion, European Madison Champion, multiple Belgian Madison Champion – all Madison wins with Patrick Sercu. World record holder at 10 kilometres, 20 kilometres and One Hour.
Merckx rode many ‘6 Days’ with Patrick Sercu
Hinault: French Professional Pursuit Champion 1975 and 1976.
Paris-Roubaix finishes on a velodrome
Merckx – Pure class
Merckx: Aggressive, bludgeoning, desperate and driven to win anything and everything with very few favours asked or given. Whilst not one of the great stylists, when in full flight you were witnessing a force of nature.
Hinault – Power and style
Hinault: Less desperate to win than the Belgian but in the Tour he was the undisputed ‘Patron’ riding for kilometre after kilometre on the front in unfeasibly large gears, daring anyone to attack him. Again, far from ‘poetry in motion’ but once seen in time trial action when it really mattered, never forgotten.
Not a great look
Froome: As part of the Sky TechnoTeam he’s a much more calculating animal than the other two but does produce dashes of panache, none more so than his downhill attack to win Stage Eight of the 2016 Tour into Bagneres-de-Luchon. For a team which is dedicated to fine tuning every aspect of the sport they’ve been unable to do anything about Froome’s elbows and knees which seem to have a mind all their own.
Merckx with Gimondi and Ocaña – The King holds court
Merckx: Has certainly mellowed with age, the shy, taciturn ‘Cannibal’ has become an avuncular spokesman for the sport – and when he talks, folks listen.
Don’t get on Mr. Hinault’s podium
Hinault: Less pugnacious than in the old days when no one messed with him, he too has adopted a ‘sage spokesman’ persona, if somewhat more direct than Baron Merckx.
Chris Froome – Nice guy!
Froome: Polite to a fault and displays none of Wiggins’ ‘laddishness’ – gives concise answers in that soft spoken hard to pin down accent.
Merckx – More ‘human’ these days
Merckx: Worshipped by many back in the 70’s – me included – he’s now a Deity and much more loveable than he was back in his days as the Master of all he surveyed. He still commands hero worship from many.
Hinault was and still is very popular with the French
Hinault: Was hard to love, he was the Boss and made no bones about the fact; but he’s still hugely respected as a man, ‘who’s done it all’ and France’s last Tour winner.
Froome also has his fans outside of Britain
Froome: Despite his huge success the British public have never embraced him like they did Wiggins – many see him as a ‘Plastic Brit,’ born in Kenya, educated in South Africa and living in Monaco. Those of the Rapha/Sportiv/Discs/Sky generation are fiercely loyal however and will have none of the, ‘too good to be true’ arguments about his Giro win.
Retirement has not taken Hinault or Merckx away from the cycling World
Merckx: Definitely rode the dreaded ‘one season too many’ – too many races, too many injuries and ailments latterly and too much time spent trying wrangling to sort out his new C & A team finally took their toll and he climbed off a race bike for the last time in Kemzeke on March 19th 1978.
Hinault is also warmly remembered in Italy
Hinault: ‘Le Blaireau’s retirement was a much more gracious affair; he quit, as planned at the end of season 1986 whilst still capable of standing on the Tour de France podium.
Will we see much of the ‘Froome Dog’ after he hangs up his wheels?
Froome: The PEZ crystal ball is in the shop for service right now but we don’t think there’s much chance of ‘one season to many’ for Christopher – it’s not as if he has to keep racing because he needs the money. . .
Eddy Merckx has lifted many a cup in his time
That’s for you to decide, however we can’t help but recall the words of ‘Super Mario’ Cipollini when the journalists compared him to the legendary Gino Bartali when ‘The Lion King’ reached his 42nd stage win in the pink race;
“You should never compare the sacred to the profane. . .”
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,600 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.
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