'In this leading group of 15, Merckx is clearly the strongest. For the moment, he does nothing to hide his form. He is single-minded and has decided to wear out his companions. At 17km from the finish, he chooses to attack for the first time. It's Maertens who calls him to order. A little later Merckx nips out again, and once more Maertens is alert to it. The same scenario repeats at 10km from San Remo. The Poggio is really quite close now.'
my holiday reading, for one reason or another, rarely falls into the category of relaxing and untroubled narrative. whatever the male equivalent of mills and boon is, i know well to be the sort of book i ought to have in my travel bag, sandwiched between a couple of cycling monthlies, modern drummer and the uk edition of wired. the latter options ought to keep the intellect from deteriorating too far as i spend a week doing as little as humanly possible, while an appropriate book can fill in the gaps with some mindless tat.
but that's not the way it seems to work.
several holidays ago i purchased two reasonably paginated paperbacks concerning aspects of modern literary thinking; not in a storybook sort of way, but more in terms of the mechanics of the genre. they were entitled phonetics and semantics. quite how i thought i was to devour both in the space of a week, seven days when i was due to be lazing about on leather sofas thinking about nothing more challenging than what i might fancy for lunch. what made such a task even more onerous was the nature of both volumes. leaving phonetics aside for just a minute, semantics concerns the science of understanding or categorising of language in an almost mathematical manner.
effectively we're looking at the meaning of meaning. such fun.
however, these are often the subjects that can be reflectively consumed when on holiday, distanced as one is from any form of onerous reality. granted any philosophical musings are blown well away on returning to the real world, but it's nice to consider oneself of intellectual constitution for a few days every year, even if no-one else ever does.
i never did start reading the book about phonetics. it still lies buried in a cupboard somewhere abouts, or i may have passed it onto the local recycling group, a fate that also befell the book on semantics. i never did finish reading it, even after two abortive attempts, though i think myself well enough informed on the subject to feign a knowledgeable facade if the word ever arises in conversation. however, the modest number of chapters that i did manage to read, engendered an annoying improvement in the level of pedantry i find it necessary to impose upon others. mostly i just can't help myself.
for instance, take the term legend. in the throes of youth, a legend was a tale told based on a kernel of real happenings but creatively added to over time, thus sort of believable but sufficiently distanced from contemporary times to avoid any in depth investigation. for illustrative purposes, may i suggest the legends of both bonnie and clyde and ned kelly. there's more than a grain of truth in both, but it's hard to tell where reality ends and myth begins. few would dispute that both the latter can be etymologically classified as legends, yet how to we reconcile such with a recent legend such as eddy merckx?
regularly described as a legend in his own lifetime, eddy is still fit, healthy and able to adjudge and verify any superhuman claims made on his behalf. yet a rider with an official 525 victories throughout his fourteen years in the saddle surely deserves the apellation legend? how else would we describe him?
eddy hasn't done too badly this year already, with his career more than adequately described by both will fotheringham and daniel friebe, but this velopress offering invokes the words sumptuous, luxurious and magnificent. the title encompasses those 525 official victories, logically detailed for every year of eddy's professional career, though the writers are astute enough to point out that there exists an accurate tally of 553 victories; those not part of his official palmares are printed in italics.
some of these victories, particulalry in the light of the more specialised approach of our modern heroes, are worth repeating here.
7 x milan-sanremo
5 x liege-bastogne-liege
3 x ghent-wevelgem
5 x tour de france
5 giro d'italia
world hour record.
and that's barely scratching the surface.
there are few amongst the cognoscenti who are unaware of the importance of the legend that is eddy merckx. when there was consternation expressed recently by one of the paralympic track sprinters over the length of his competitor's carbon fibre legs, asking for a ruling on the parameters of such, the inimitable michael hutchinson commented on twitter that the uci would solve the problem in a tea break: everyone's legs would need to be the same length as eddy merck's. it is perhaps no coincidence that the bicycle design accorded approval by the uci for the athlete's hour record was pretty much that of colnago's steel as used by merckx in his own successful 1972 attempt on the hour.
i'd love to be able to point my finger at favoured photographs, images that rise above all the others, but that is a false hope. it would be very much an uphill struggle to impose a hierarchy to which all the others aspire; rarely has a book such as this displayed such consistency from the opening pages to those met near the end. as merckx himself states in the cover wrapround "(it) contains a unique collection of exclusive photographs, including some that even I had not seen before." the same testimony advises that it is the only work officially authorised by eddy merckx.
i have mentioned above that an adjective easily applied to this widescreen format hardback is that of sumptuous, one that applies not only to the beauty of the paper, the luxuriance of the photographs and the graphic sensibility of the page layout. it is the essence of good design that it remain all but transparent to the intended audience, but each of its 221 pages simply scream out loud to satisfy the senses. even the choice of ff scala as the body text typeface is as impeccable as it gets. i'd be hard pressed to suggest better. if the rouleur readers amongst you enjoy the aroma of that publication's ink on paper, you will adore merckx 525.
£42 may seem a hefty price to pay for a book that could realistically double as a coffee table by dint of its size and heft, but this is real and tangible contemporary history which ought to make as much of an impression on those born well after the legend's era, as it will to those who remember eddy's heyday from the roadside. modern cycle sport is particularly well-served by some excellent photographers, but the imagery contained within merckx 525 is exemplary. i have spent several gratifyingly happy hours deliberating over many of these photos; leading his faemino team car during a very dark 1970 paris-roubaix; being half-wheeled by a press motorcycle during the 1969 ronde van vlaanderen; clothed in a thick blanket at the summit of a snowy 'tre cime di lavaredo' in the '68 giro d'italia. each succeeding year or chapter brings with it a collection of images that will urge you to head out on the bike no matter the weather outside.
reading is for a cosy evening by the fireside.
merckx 525 is little short of a triumph. with christmas looming on the horizon, you would do well to leave giant-sized completely unsubtle hints on every square inch of available space. i can think of little more despondent than waking up on christmas morning to find an empty space where a copy of this book ought to have been.
'Just before the Poggio, the final killer on the course, the young Belgian Vandenbroucke speeds up. De Vlaeminck, who appears to have recovered from his fall earlier in the race, counters and drags the rest with him to the head of the race again. Merckx then keeps on going at full speed. No one reacts. It looks as if his fourth attack will be successful. Only Vandenbroucke is capable of following. Merckx is his pacesetter. Vandenbroucke does not lead...'
saturday 13 october 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................