At the beginning of July Cycling Weekly published the training schedule of Eddy Merckx in the final week before the 1969 Tour de France.  It was mind-boggling, incredible, monumental and made us at RoadCycling hurt just reading the stats.  In #justaskGMC we ask Josh Page why things have changed.

The 1969 Tour de France began on a Saturday.  In the days leading up to the Tour that year, Eddy Merckx won the 264km Belgian National Road Race Championships, rode 180km with teammates, 270km without, and threw in a couple of 35-50km rides for good measure (both of which would have been longer).  Then on the day of the prologue time trial he lined up at the start having already ridden 80km that day!

#justaskGMC:  Why don’t we train like Eddy Merckx did anymore?

Our knowledge of how the body works and how best to bring it in to good form has changed a lot over the last 40+ years.  Training that way certainly may have worked back then, but also they knew no other way.  If Eddy trained using modern techniques and practices perhaps he may have won even more.  Or perhaps less, training back then certainly seemed to be a very throw-the-eggs-against-a-wall approach and see what’s left.  Thus the winner may not necessarily be the best bike racer they may just be the one who training didn’t kill.

Athletes certainly like to follow trends, and if the athlete doing the winning is doing some particular training then like anyone, their rivals will try to mimic that in the hopes of gaining the same performance level.  Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that, with modern sports science now leading training trends, athletes are able to undertake the best possible training for them as an individual to bring them in to the best possible form at the right time.  For sure things sometimes go wrong or they miss the timing of a peak, but that is the human element.

We could take two athletes exactly the same physical attributes, size, height, weight VO2 max etc, but genetics may determine that one athlete requires a more high volume lower intensity training load and the other athlete thrives on lower volume but more intensity.

Not to delve down the path, but you will also find that the darker side of the sport played a large part in athletes’ abilities to undertake training such as Merckx’s and still be able to get up and perform the next day.

Whilst Eddy was obviously an amazing athlete and certainly the most winning/successful rider to date, does that mean he would still be that rider if he was riding today?  Riders must be compared to the time they are in, and so must the practices around those times.  We can only question and guess as to whether or not Eddy would’ve beaten Chris Froome at this year’s Tour had he followed his traditional ‘old school’ programme and Froome followed the ‘modern’ scientific based approach.

I can be fairly certain the winner of this year’s Tour of Southland won’t be following Eddy’s final week lead in before cutting their lap of Queens park TTT.


Photo:  Mark Sowry


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