A delight arrived under the Chanukah bush this year. A DVD from my sweetie chronicling a few of many the achievements of Eddy Merckx. Although I have never pinned a number to my jersey (I rarely bother to wear a jersey, opting instead for a t-shirt), I have great respect for people who pedal lots and/or quickly. Eddy Merckx did both. Read the back of the DVD box for a list of just a few of his notable victories.
The DVD contains two movies, both of which I loved more than any bicycling documentaries I have seen to date. The first, La Course en Tete (The Eddy Merckx Story), is a wonderfully odd documentary. Very few words are spoken during its 105 minutes. Instead, strange 70s Euro tunes are laid over film footage of a broad spectrum of Eddy’s life. Race footage makes obligatory appearances throughout the film, but the viewer is more often than not taken off course for a peek into our hero’s shower (two scenes of Eddy showering show us that he is as vigorous with a bar of soap as he is on the pedals), kitchen (Eddy, instead of acknowledging that the cake is good, asserts that cake isn’t a problem for racers, hills, rather, are the problem), workshop (I was relieved that he had more bicycles than me) and motorized conveyances (he is shown driving cool Mercedes and Volvos). I was very taken by his swank contemporary home, which sported a front door that probably required more hours to produce than one of his admittedly fine steel lugged bicycles.
The scene I will admit to remembering most vividly, though, is Eddy working out his rollers. He is not working out on his rollers, as much as the rollers are getting a work out. I am very literally amazed they survived the one short attack documented on film. He opens with a high cadence spin fest that leaves the 30 frames per second camera struggling to catch a glimpse of his legs. I have witnessed kids today trying to become heroes during roller races. If a time machine allowed Eddy to saddle up next to them, they’d be wise to get off their bicycle and pop the top on another PBR rather than be humiliated by Eddy in the first three seconds. Eddy’s legs looked like pistons on a locomotive smoking meth rather than burning coal. The noise produced by the rollers was unholy, sounding like the front roller was driven by a dry bicycle chain rather than a rubber belt. The puddle of sweat under him at the finish said it all.
The scenes I won’t admit to remembering the most vividly are the many scenes of beautiful women smootching on winners on the podium. The women were wearing very simple and attractive dresses with San Pelligrino sashes, and seemed to be selected for their perfect podium kiss lips.
The second film, The Greatest Show on Earth (The Story of the 1974 Giro d’Italia), is a bit more conventional, but no less wonderful. Although commentary is added, it gives up nothing of the special 70s funk excreted by the first film. The strange sound track is made more strange by what sounds like a dying drunk trying to hum over the melody, creating an effect more at home in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre film than a sporting documentary.
The curtain of the race spectacle is once again lifted so that we can witness behind the scenes action as well as race footage. One more shower scene or oily leg rubdown and the ratings board would have been forced to place this film into the gay porn bin. Speaking of gay porn, here is the only picture known to exist of me without a shirt. Why only one such picture? I have a very negative self-body image. Apparently at one point in my life this was unjustified. Time has worked wonders to align my mind’s image with reality, such that I will spare you a current picture. I am posing with the bicycle I received as a gift for graduating high school. It was taken, then, a mere 25 years ago. I especially love the pants. Cook’s pants cut into biking shorts. Tre culinary pedalist cool. I wonder if I still have them. You should not be surprised to know I do have the Cannondale.
I was transported back to hetero-land just in time by frequent glimpses of the San Pelligrino women peppered strategically throughout the film, including one particularly memorable scene of the pair looking bored (which seemed to cause their lips to inflate to even greater volumes, heaven be thanked). Maybe they were warming up for another ceremony with their old friend Eddy?
But wait, there is more! This is, after all, a story about a great year of a great race. I won’t spoil the outcome, but be sure that you will enjoy exciting lead changes, the theft of soft drinks from cafes, a stray dog running through the time trail finishing zone and much, much more. What more? How about a shot of the Italian Police motorbike phone?
Saving the best for last, this was for me a documentary of 1970s racing bicycles. Lugged steel frames. Campagnolo components. Brooks saddles! Lacey was a trooper as I freeze framed and reversed the DVD to prove what I could barely believe. One or more riders were using bar end shifters! I knew Campy made them, but I thought they were produced solely for use by tourists. A revelation! Grant Petersen, why haven’t you told us about this?! Does it not fit neatly with your notion that we should not emulate racers?!
The bicycles I was most excited to see were Eddy’s own in the classic orange dressing. Perfection with either white bar tape and blue cables or blue tape with white cables. I want to wear these three colors and none other until all oppressed pedalists are free. Pictured below is a bicycle from my collection which best captures all that was right in the world of 1970’s racing bicycles. A GIOS Super Record. This one was probably produced in 1982, but examples from the end of the 70s look the same. It is my only Campagnolo equipped Italian racing bicycle. I love it dearly.
Let me know if you want to watch the dvd. I will be ready to see both films again in a week or so and then weekly thereafter for some time. And don’t worry that I am just sitting at home watching tv and cooking. Yesterday I pedaled to the co-op and the grocery and ice skated on our pond. The wind was fierce, allowing me to skate with the wind at speeds that felt unsafe and at speeds against the wind which seemed appropriate to my age. It was all good.