The first victory in 1968
Over the years Eddy Merckx has achieved several incredible results at the Giro, including carrying the Maglia Rosa from the first to the last stage in 1973, but never did he show his superiority as clearly as in 1968. The 22-year-old cyclist was already seen as one of the best, feared every time he appeared at the starting line. However, after 11 stages that year he was still one and a half minutes behind Michele Dancelli (also a very strong rider).
The next day, a group of 12 riders was able to escape. The weather became worse and their lead grew further and further to nine minutes. Merckx had mechanical problems with his bike and had to change bikes. Following this, he chased the breakaway through wet snow and strong gusts of wind. He approached the leading group and, unaware of the cold, he did what everyone thought was impossible, except Merckx himself. At the top of the next mountain he had almost beaten his rivals. None of the favourites could finish even close to Merckx, with Gimondi six minutes behind.
This stage victory was so strong that he gained a lead of more than five minutes over Dancelli in the general classification, who dropped to third place. Ten more stages followed, but the race was already decided. Merckx finished in Naples with four stage wins, the Maglia Rosa and the jerseys for best sprinter and best climber, while his Faema team finished as best team. The era of the Cannibal had begun and would continue for the next six years.
The drama of 1969
2 June was a dark day for Flemish cycling fans. Eddy had not even gotten out of bed yet, but he was already told that he was not allowed to participate in the Giro because of a positive doping test. The previous evening Merckx, as classification leader, had been asked to test for doping. The stage came after a rest day and Merckx finished in 36th place, which was certainly enough to keep the Maglia Rosa. He had therefore not made any great efforts that day. Cycling fans everywhere began to doubt: why would Merckx destroy his reputation for this? Moreover, he had been checked seven times that edition, so why would he now suddenly take doping, during such a calm stage? On top of that, never before a rider was expelled during the Giro. The year before, some riders also tested positive for doping, but they were suspended after the Giro.
The riders themselves also supported Eddy Merckx, who vigorously denied that he had taken any doping. Some riders even tried to protest, leaving at walking pace, only to stop later at the hotel where Merckx had slept that night. Knowing that everyone supported him, Merckx and his team went home the next day.
Everybody supported Eddy Merckx and he was thinking of filing a complaint with the Italian justice. He was supported by Felix Levitan, fearing that Merckx would not be allowed to start at the Tour de France. Things got even crazier when a handwritten note arrived stating that a certain Marco B. had drugged Merckx for a large sum of money before the start in Parma. However, he did not dare to reveal his name and the statement was annulled: anyone can write such a note.
On top of all this, twenty hours later Merckx had himself examined at the doping control at the University of Milan. Nothing was found during this examination, which again was very striking, considering the large quantity found the day before. However, after the end of the Tour of Italy, UCI decided that Merckx's suspension remained in place. He was not allowed to participate in any more races for one month and because of this he would also have to miss the Tour de France. Due to the commotion, UCI reversed its decision a few days later and the suspension was lifted. One month later Merckx proved himself again and won the Tour de France.
Merckx is back
The following year, in 1970, Merckx's Italian Faemino team encouraged him to return to the Giro d'Italia. Merckx gave in and returned with a vengeance. He won three stages and was able to put on the pink jersey again in a breakaway on stage seven. He later strengthened his leading position with an additional stage win in the individual time trial in Treviso.
After this he managed to win the Giro d'Italia three times in a row: in 1972, 1973 and 1974. This makes him, together with Fausto Coppi and Alfredo Binda, the record holder to this day.
Merckx on the way to Dobbiaco in the 19th stage of the Giro in 1970
A little fact about the pink jersey
Hundreds of talented riders have already tried to pull on the iconic Maglia Rosa, which identifies the leader of the general classification in the Giro d'Italia. But why is the shirt pink? The Giro could not exist without the newspaper 'Gazzetta dello Sport', which has been printed on pink paper since its inception in 1896. So this is how the newspaper is honoured.
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