...so the media (and everyone for that matter) needs to retire this label immediately. Not tomorrow. Not after breakfast. Now. I have a nervous tick growing from whenever a journalist or media pundit describe a rider as "the next Merckx". Since Merckx's retirement in 1978, this tag has been stuck on many riders, all of which failed to live up to the heavy expectations that such a title brings. In recent years, this term has been used too many times in regards to riders such as Tom Boonen, Edvald Boasson Hagen and most recently, Peter Sagan. There are so many things wrong with using a statement like "the next Eddy Merckx" that I will not be able to confine my rant to one post.
|The Bicycling article that inspired this rant.|
I loath the notion that people have to equate athletes "as the next..." in general. Be it basketball with Michael Jordan, soccer with Pelé or cycling with Eddy Merckx. It is fine to make comparisons between athletes; note for example similar styles on the bike, penchant for attacking or whatever else. Do not stick a label such as 'the Next Merckx' on a young rider just because he has shown a lot of talent at a young age.
1. Do we forget how great Merckx was in his day? History can have a dulling effect in that while we are able to see quantifiable statistics to show how great someone was, it is sometimes hard to imagine the power that Merckx commanded and how his winning emotionally affected his contemporaries. Merckx was so prolific in his winning that by the time he was in his 25th (age) year, he had won the following:
- 2x Tour de France GC (14 stage wins + 2 KOM titles, Points Jersey & 2 Combative Prizes)
- 2x Giro d'Italia GC (13 stages + KOM and Points title)
- 3x Milano-Sanremo
- 2x Paris-Roubaix, Gent-Wevelgem, La Flèche Wallone, Paris-Nice, Trofeo Baracchi
- 1x Ronde van Vlaanderen, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, World Championship, Tour de Romandie, Tour of Belgium, Volta a Catalunya
So let us take a look Peter Sagan, the latest wunderkind to be touted as the
- 6 Grand Tour stage wins (3 in both TdF and Vuelta)
- 8x Tour of California stage wins (plus two points jerseys)
- 6 stage wins (Tour du Suisse)
- 3 stage wins (Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour of Oman)
- 2x stage wins (Paris-Nice)
- Tour of Poland overall (plus 2 stage wins)
- Tour of Romandie stage win
Again, this is not comprehensive but very impressive nonetheless. Peter Sagan is without a shadow of doubt, one of the most exciting riders in a couple decades. Yet, why does he have to be described as the Eddy Merckx of his generation? What the hell does that even mean?
2. There will never be another Eddy Merckx. This is fact simply because of the era of specialization and that since the 1980's, there really has not been a rider that has been able to compete on the cobbles of northern France while turning around and leading up the cols of the Pyrenees. Since the late 80's-early 90's, riders have shifted their focus from attacking the whole calendar to peaking for individual races. This is plainly evident to anyone with eyes who watches racing. Riders peak for choice events while racing other events with varying amounts of effort.
So why the fuck would you call someone the "next Eddy Merckx" in this day in age if they are not going to produce the results that Merckx did? Using the term "the Merckx of his generation" to describe Sagan is just as dumb. Is Bicycling just trying to see a bump in online traffic by using a buzzword like Merckx? Probably. But Sagan is no Merckx (or Hinault, Coppi, Bartali, Van Looy, etc...). For how absolutely, jaw-dropping talented he is, he will never win the Tour de France unless a) he gets the Vo2 Max of a horse b) looses nearly all of the upper body muscle mass that he needs for the cobbles or c) the Tour goes all 1984 Giro d'Italia and makes a course that is tailor-made for him. Don't try to write articles about how he could possibly go for the Tour in the future. Don't say how he is a freak of nature that could do what Merckx did when he was a rider. He, nor any other rider in the men's or women's peloton barring Vos, rides the way Eddy Merckx rode. So unless you want me to come personally kick you in the shin, don't call a rider like Sagan the "Merckx of his generation" because it is a blow to Sagan. Why can he not be the first Sagan? What is so wrong with putting "Peter Sagan just might be the best rider of his generation"? No comparisons. No expectations. Just a statement.
As I have been saying, the statement the 'next Eddy Merckx' puts undue weight on a rider. When Merckx retired, Belgians searched for a rider to replace him. The never found their Merckx. Instead, multiple riders ruined their careers trying to reach heights that were unattainable for them. Part 2 of this rant will include the origins of the "next Eddy Merckx" and the riders, mostly Belgians, that had careers derailed by the weight of expectations.