Half Man, Half Bike: The Life of Eddy Merckx, Cycling's Greatest Champion
by William Fotheringham
Review by Robert Leone
San Diego's bicycle racing fans are in for a few months of quietude before spring,
or at least the Boulevard road race and the Red Trolley Classic criterium of
2014. Until the derailleurs start shifting in anger again, deprived sprint
train junkies can find solace in Half Man, Half Bike: The Life of Eddy
Merckx, Cycling's Greatest Champion by William Fotheringham.
It is part
history, part hero-worship, with an occasional unfortunate, sometimes hilarious
combination of the two (one example states Merckx was perhaps the only man
who'd looked good wearing flared pants). There is good, solid stuff in here,
including extensive commentary on the role of appearance money in athletes'
race choices, a compelling but somewhat source-free narrative about the endemic
bigotry and ethnic divide in the Belgian bicycle racing scene in the 1960s, and
a numbingly long record of Merckx's phenomenal racing results. In the course of
describing “The Cannibal” in the Tour de France, Fotheringham doesn't shy away
from noting and criticizing Jacques Goddet's conflict-riddled combined role of
race organizer, newspaper publisher and working sports journalist, The racer's
hour record success, and the subsequent division of the hour track record into
two separate events, is recounted with particular insight. Unfortunately Half
Man, Half Bike is written with a hindsight-powered voice of pompous
omniscience reminiscent of an NFL Films documentary, or an article by the
overly-prescriptive Jacques Goddet.
The 2013 Chicago Review Press edition is
edited and designed with those little touches that scream “enthusiast press” to
the observant. These include printing the photo captions as fore matter (“List
of Illustrations”) far from the two sections of pictures on glossy pages in the
depth of the book, serially numbering that illustration list without noting one
of the descriptions applies to a two picture sequence, and the frequent archaic
use of “crutch” instead of “crotch” with reference to the human anatomy. Still,
despite those criticisms, Half Man, Half Bike by William Fotheringham is
an enjoyable and illuminating book worth reading.