BRUSSELS — The start of the 2019 Tour de France will be all about honouring Eddy Merckx in his hometown of Brussels.
Merckx, known as "The Cannibal" for his ferocious taste for victory, won the first of his five Tours in 1969. Half a century later, the Belgian great still sees it as one of the major accomplishments for a cyclist generally considered to be the greatest ever.
"I wore the yellow jersey 96 times. It is the best memory of my career. It still gives me goosebumps," Merckx said during Tuesday’s presentation of the Grand Depart — the opening weekend of the three-week Tour.
Merckx also won a record 34 Tour stages and is among four riders who won the Tour a record five times. French riders Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish great Miguel Indurain are the others.
Tour organizers said it will be the second time the race will set off from the Belgian capital, which hosted the race’s Grand Depart in 1958.
The 2019 race will also mark 100 years since the race leader’s yellow jersey was created.
When it comes to the first two stages on July 6-7, the iconic Wall of Geraardsbergen climb should take centre stage.
The 192-kilometre (119-mile) first stage of the Tour will have the Wall, for decades the toughest climb in the Ronde of Flanders classic. The Wall will come early but the stage, which makes a big loop south of Brussels, is still set up for a sprint finish close to the royal palace.
It will also have its stretch of famed Flemish cobblestones and will pass through the hometown of soccer player Eden Hazard.
The second stage will be a 28-kilometre team time trial through the Belgian capital along its wide-open boulevards. The riders will also pass by St. Pieters-Woluwe in suburban Brussels, where Merckx lived as a child and where he got to pull on his first yellow jersey.
From Brussels, it is an easy trek south into nearby France for the rest of the race.