Over his illustrious 12 year career, Merckx was more prolific than any other rider before or after him. He was able to win grand tours, one day classics, smaller stage races, and world championships. And not only did he win all different types of events, he usually did so multiple times.
Consider first his grand tour resume. Five wins each in the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, and one win at the Vuelta. He raced the Tour seven times and won five of those editions. He raced the Giro eight times and won five times. And for the Vuelta, he won his only attempt at the Spanish grand tour. In fact, he should have won the Tour six times but was injured after a fan punched him in the stomach in the 1975 edition, forcing his eventual second place finish.
Some more staggering facts regarding his grand tour participations. To this day, Merckx is the only rider ever to win all three classifications (points, KOM and GC) in both the Tour and Giro. Today, having one of these jerseys can make a career. Merckx on the other hand took all three during the same event, in the 1968 Giro and 1969 Tour respectively. Unbelievable.
So what about his one day prowess? Also unbelievable. Of the five monuments of cycling, Merckx took Milan-San Remo a staggering seven times, the Tour of Flanders twice, Paris-Roubaix three times, Liege-Bastogne-Liege five times, and twice the Giro di Lombardia. Other classics victories include two Amstel Gold races, three Fleche Wallonnes and three Ghent-Wevelgems. His domination in one day classics was unmatched, even by the "Classics King" himself, Sean Kelly.
Merckx also took the world title three times, and joined only Alfredo Binda and Rik Van Steenbergen as the only riders to have done so up to that point. Since then, only Oscar Freire has managed to join the exclusive club of three time world champions. He won the triple crown of cycling (Giro, Tour, world championship) in 1974, and the only other rider ever to accomplish that feat is Irishman Stephen Roche, in 1987.
Some other significant victories that Merckx lays claim to include one Tour de Swiss, three wins at Paris-Nice, one Tour of Romandy, one Dauphine Libere, and two Tours of Belgium. And he didn't stop there. He took 17 six day events on the track, as well as seven Belgian Madison Championships. He was a jack of all trades, fearless, and unbeatable in almost every race he entered.
Many people like to say that Lance Armstrong is the greatest cyclist ever. But before you make your decision, consider Lance's major wins aside from the Tour: One world title, one Clasics San Sebastian, one Fleche-Wallonne, one Tour de Swiss, two Dauphine Liberes. Not bad, but not Merckx either. Side by side, there is simply no comparison, Merckx beat them all. Even Sean Kelly, the "Classics King," only had nine classics wins compared to Merckx's twenty seven. Again, no comparison. The great Eddy Merckx, cycling perfection from Belgium