I could tell by the tone in his voice that he was pissed. We were running late for our lunch and when I phoned to tell him we were on the way and should be there in 45 minutes I knew he wasn’t happy. I was in Belgium this past week for a few meetings and our Editor in Chief Steve Madden and Executive Editor Bill Strickland were arriving that morning from the US and their plane was late. But that’s not the reason why we were late. We were late because I had to clock two and a half hours on the bike this morning and even thought I hit the road at eight in the morning I still hadn’t managed to get out of the hotel in time to head to Meise. So it was either I don’t ride or Eddy waits. I chose the latter, sorry Eddy.
Thankfully, if you’re going to rent a car in Europe the best place to do it is Germany – there’s a better chance you’ll get a fast car, and we got the new Audi A4. It’s fast but not fast enough since I wasn’t able to get it past 140 MPH. We finally arrived at 1 pm and Eddy said that we had to find a restaurant that was still open since he was expecting us at 12. In all fairness I said I’d be there for lunch not at 12. Sandy from Gita said I’d be there at 12 but he never told me that. So really this is all-his fault. OK Eddy you made your point no let’s go it before I go into glycogen recession.
The restaurant was nice, but a bit empty since apparently in Belgium lunch is at 12! Now when you walk in somewhere with Eddy Merckx especially in Belgium its kind of a big deal. Heads turned, people spoke in low voices to their companions and then went about their business of finishing their DESERTS. Nobody asked for an autograph and nobody bothered the man. Although I was with two journalists and Jason Nikic one of our sales reps there were a few moment of silence. Eddy was asked a few pointed questions and he was very accommodating but I couldn’t help but wonder how often he’s asked these questions. I mean after all of these years and after all of the times he has spoken to reporters does he actually get asked a new question. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He told us that in 1975 (great year) he raced 190 days and that in those days the riders had contracts with him and not with the team. He said that he retired because he was tired of having all of that responsibility and that if he was racing today that he’d race less. By that he meant that he wouldn’t do as many six-day races, cyclo-cross races and criteriums where the start money was attractive. At the top of his career he made the equivalent of 150,000 Euros and that team budgets in those days were about 400,000 Euros. He misses his son who is now living in Canada and his grandson likes to ride bikes.
Although I had brought my camera I didn’t have the balls to ask for a picture for the blog. Sorry about that folks. Madden however did make away with the empty bottle of Bordeaux and Eddy’s signature.
We made it back to the factory and said our goodbyes and I again apologized for being late. No problem Eddy said. Yeah sorry about that I replied again.
You can see Bill’s blog entry on Bicycling.com about our lunch which I am sure is a lot better written than mine but the guy can’t sell advertising to save his life so I think I still win the all around competition.