Tour de France stage 1 to pay homage to Merckx
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Tour de France stage 1 to pay homage to Merckx

by Ben Atkins at 10:02 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 

The details of the finish of stage 1 of this summer’s Tour de France have been announced in a joint presentation from Tour organisers ASO and the Brussels local authorities, according to hln.be.

The stage will take in 224km between the Netherlands city of Rotterdam – where the prologue ran the previous day – and the Belgian capital of Brussels on July 4th. The route will finish outside the Koning Boudewijn stadium on Houba De Strooperlaan at the end of a 1600m straight.

The Koning Boudewijn stadium is the Belgium national stadium and was previously known as the Heysel stadium until the disaster before the 1985 football European Cup Final between Italian team Juventus and British team Liverpool. Violence before the match between rival sets of fans saw 39 Juventus fans killed when a wall of the decaying stadium collapsed. The stadium was later renovated and renamed.  It was reopened in 1995.

On its way to the Belgian capital, the Tour route will pay tribute to five-time winner, and greatest cyclist of all time, Eddy Merckx , passing through his home town of Meise.

"The organizers and the City of Brussels are giving me a great honour by passing through my home town of Meise,” said Merckx to Belgian news agency Belga.

Merckx, nicknamed “the Cannibal” because of the way he devoured his opposition, famously refused to be drawn on the debate between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia to the South, simply proclaiming himself “a Belgian”.

"Brussels is my heart, my country,” he said. “I feel like a true citizen of Brussels, although I've never lived in the heart of Brussels, but always nearby. I have never won a stage in Brussels itself, but in the Tour that I won in 1969 I took the yellow jersey after the team time trial there".

Merckx held the lead for one day after his Faema team won the team time trial in Woluwe, a Brussels suburb. He took the jersey back five days later, and this time held it all the way to Paris to win the first of his five Tours by almost 18 minutes.

Merckx will celebrate his 65th birthday on June 17th this year, a little over two weeks before the Tour passes through. He is in no doubt as to what he would most like for a present.

"If I must be honest,” Merckx said, “the best birthday gift would be a Belgian stage victory in Brussels.” Presumably he will be rooting for a Quick Step rider – such as current Belgian champion Tom Boonen – as the team switched to Eddy Merckx bikes this season.

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