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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:

Kaprijke - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Eddy Merck and Roger De Vlaeminck, ancien coureur cycliste - former cyclist - foto Cor Vos ©2012
The ‘Cannibal’

‘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. . .

The ‘Badger’

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):
Merckx, 11:

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

Hinault, 10:
Vuelta: 1978, 1983 (7)
Giro: 1980, 1982, 1985 (6)
Tour: 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985 (28).

Paris - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Christopher - Chris FROOME (GBR / Team Sky) pictured during the 104th Tour de France 2017 - stage 21 from Montgeron to Paris, 103.00 km - foto Poolphoto Benoit Tessier/Cor Vos © 2017
Froome – 4 Tours, 1 Giro* and 1 Vuelta*

Froome, (6):
Vuelta: 2017 (6) *
Giro: 2018 (2) *
Tour: 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 (7).
(* Pending).

Merckx, Hinault and Jacques Anquetil – 29 Grand Tours between them

Question marks?
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.

Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens, Joseph Bruyere en Bernard Hinault. foto Cor Vos©
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!’

Eddy Merckx Milano-Sanremo. Foto Cor Vos
Merckx winning in Sanremo as World champion in 1975

Merckx, 19:
Milano-Sanremo 7, Flanders 2, Roubaix 3, Liege 5, Lombardy 2.

Bernard Hinault en Gerrie Knetemann in Luik-Bastenaken-Luik. foto Cor Vos©
Hinault won in Roubaix, Liege and Lombardy

Hinault, 5:
Roubaix 1, Liege 2, Lombardy 2.

Huy - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Christopher Froome (Team Sky) after his crash injured pictured during la Fleche Wallone 2015 Elite - photo Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2015
Froome – No ‘Monuments’ in his palmarès

Froome, 0.

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

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.

Archief - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - archief - stockfoto - archive - Patrick Sercu - Eddy Merckx - foto Cor Vos ©2008
Merckx rode many ‘6 Days’ with Patrick Sercu

Hinault: French Professional Pursuit Champion 1975 and 1976.

Bernard Hinault wint Parijs-Roubaix voor Roger de Vlaeminck en Francesco Moser, foto Cor Vos ©2001
Paris-Roubaix finishes on a velodrome

Froome: 0.

Hoogvliet - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - archief - archive - stock - Eddy Merckx - foto /Cor Vos ©2008
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.

Lienz - Italia - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Christopher Froome (GBR - Team Sky) pictured during Tour of the Alps 2018 - stage 4 from Chiusa to Lienz 134,3 km - 19/04/2018 - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2018
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

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.

Gran Sasso d’Italia - Italië - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Christopher Froome (GBR - Team Sky) - Zdenek STYBAR (CZE / Team Quick - Step Floors) pictured during the 101st Giro d’Italia 2018 - stage 9 from Pesco Sannita to Gran Sasso d’Italia (225 KM) - photo IB/DB/LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2018
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

Fan Base:
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

The Swansong:
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.

Roma - Italië - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Fori Imperiali - Christopher Froome (GBR - Team Sky) pictured during the 101st Giro d’Italia 2018 - stage 21 from Roma to Roma (115 KM) - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2018
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. . .

Sanremo - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Former Belgian cycling champion Eddy Merckx and VRT’s cycling expert Michel Wuyts at the Sanremo fountain, in Sanremo, Italy - photo PN/Cor Vos © 2017
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.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by our contributors and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of PezCyclingNews.com or its employees. Although we do try our best, PezCyclingNews.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by our contributors.

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