"Even if Merckx rides a triporteur he is still ten classes too strong!" A look back at the 1974 Tour de Suisse

14min reading time   by Jurgen Creyf on 29 May 2024
In June 1974, Eddy Merckx took part in the Tour de Suisse for the first time. He was able to live up to his favourite role there. A triumphant race from start to finish was certainly not for The Cannibal and Molteni. The Scic team claimed most of the pie. With Enrico Paolini and Franco Bitossi, this Italian team achieved no less than eight stage victories. The archive of West Flanders press photographer Maurice Terryn formed the starting point to reconstruct this stage race half a century later.

A prologue and 11 stages spread over 10 days. That was the programme for the ten participating teams in the 1974 Tour of Switzerland. Among those ten, not a single Belgian team. Which, of course, is not to say that no compatriots took part. Italy's Molteni signed present and at the time consisted entirely of Belgian riders. Leader Eddy Merckx came to the start for the first time.

Preparing for the Tour de France

Merckx, due to the bronchitis he had contracted in Paris-Nice, had gone a spring without victory in a Monument or any other major classic. That was underwhelming by his standards and had not happened since 1966. Four days before the start in Switzerland, he won his fifth Giro. That hard-fought final victory, just 12 seconds ahead of Italian Gianbattista Baronchelli, was overshadowed by the death of his manager, Jean Van Buggenhout.

Merckx saw his passage in the Swiss cantons mainly as preparation for the Tour, which started barely six days after the final time trial in Olten and in which he wanted - and would - triumph for the fifth time. His name was always put forward as the top favourite for this 38th edition of the Tour of Switzerland.

There cannot be the slightest doubt about the overall victory. Even if Merckx rides with a triporteur, he is ten classes too strong for his opponents.
Tribune de Genève

So were there no riders who could still make things a bit difficult for Merckx and Molteni? Of course there were and then we looked towards the Spanish KAS and the other Italian teams. Like Scic with Franco Bitossi and Italian champion Enrico Paolini, who had just won two stages in the Giro.

Nine Belgians

Swiss professional cyclists who could make serious waves on the road were not really around at the time. Although home rider Albert Zweifel was on the list of participants for this edition. He was then in his second year as a professional and would only enter the international scene a year later. Between 1975 and 1986, he appeared no less than 10 times on the podium of the cyclocross World Cup. Five times as world champion, three times with the silver and twice with the bronze medal.

Spaniard Pedro Torres, winner of the mountain classification in the 1973 Tour, was initially also supposed to participate. However, he had to forfeit due to an earlier collarbone fracture. Also not present was Hennie Kuiper, who proved to be insufficiently recovered from his fall in the Giro. The Dutchman, employed by West German formation Rokado, was replaced in extremis by our compatriot Gustaaf Hermans. That brought the number of Belgians at the start to nine. Hermans and Molteni's eight-man selection.

Straight into the leader's jersey

The 1974 Tour de Suisse began on Wednesday 12 June with a prologue, a 9.6km individual time trial held in the evening. Gippingen served as the start and finish location. Mercxk started last in the prologue, rode the best time with an average of 47.6 km/h and, as expected, got to don his first leader's jersey.

"The children from Gippingen wore snow-white caps from a Swiss cigarette brand with the very French name Parisienne. Gradually caps from Merckx were added because a Belgian cap peddler had appeared on the scene."
Het Volk (13/06/1974)

Several details indicated that he was moving towards better fitness again. "Charles Terryn, his mechanic, could speak for himself," wrote Harry Van den Bremt in Het Nieuwsblad.

"In the hours leading up to the time trial, Merckx had it hard again. He took the handlebars from his first bike, the pedals from his second, the pedals from his third and the saddle from his fourth. He had all this fitted to another frame. When the new bike was ready, it did not immediately fall into Eddy's taste. Terryn then just had to re-fit everything again."

No, Conti wins!
Merckx wins after all!

On Thursday 13 June, the opening stage ended with a mass sprint in arrival town Diessenhofen. According to several journalists, that was about the only exciting moment of this stage. In the last 300 metres there were two more right-angled corners. Merckx was first out of the last corner, which was barely 150 metres from the finish. He kicked too big a gear which made him return to full speed too late.

In the last 100 metres, two Italians caught up with him.Pierino Gavazzi of team Jollj Ceramica and Enrico Paolini, who took the win.Merckx crossed the line in third place and remained leader in the general classification. "Yellow jersey wearer Merckx made it difficult for his mechanic again.He changed bikes twice in the 157 km stage," the stage report in Het Volk stated the day after.

During the second stage, Merckx shook the tree after 140 of the 193 kilometres to be covered.With ten fellow escapees, he created a gap on the climb near Wildhaus.The 11 stayed ahead and sprinted for the win in the then brand-new ski resort of Atzmännig. Franco Bitossi took Merckx to the finish in full sprint. Thanks to his steering skills, our compatriot was still able to crawl through the gap and continue to compete for the win.

Merckx and Italian Constantino Conti, who had come up on the other side of the road, crossed the finish line almost simultaneously. The speaker immediately declared Merckx the winner but the photo finish then determined that Conti had won. A few minutes later that was revised and the victory went to Merckx after all.

A kilo of gold

It was no secret that there was a pretty penny to pick up in the Tour of Switzerland in those days.In addition to interesting prizes in kind.In 1974, for example, the winner of the classification of the intermediate sprints received a car.

The organisers even came up with a 'special prize' that edition. After all, the 300th stage in the history of the race was on the programme.

This was celebrated with a gold bar weighing one kilo.That super premium went to the team that set the best time in stages 3, 4a and 4b during the weekend of 15 and 16 June.For each team, the chrono of the first three riders counted.

And those were the men from KAS of team leader Antonio Barrutia. They bagged the precious metal. Italy topped that weekend in terms of stage wins, with one victory for Paolini and two for Bitossi.

The toughest stage was undoubtedly the one on Monday 17 June. A 165km mountain stage from Bellinzona to Blatten over several Alpine cols. This stage with passages over the Gotthard and Furka passes hardly brought any separation and certainly not the spectacle announced. There was a timid counter-offensive from the KAS formation. In the closing kilometres, Spaniard Gonzalo Aja escaped. He held on until the finish. Merckx, who was celebrating his 29th birthday that day, got a lot of support from a very strong Ward Janssens and strengthened his leading position.

Bitossi - Paolini 4-4

The longest stage took place on Tuesday, June 18, and went from Naters to Lausanne over a distance of 201 km. There was much more wind than there was attacking spirit to note. Midway through the race, the peloton was an hour behind the scheduled time. Nevertheless, Bitossi had difficulty keeping up. He even thought about giving up. But in the final stretch, the Italian found his second wind. He even returned to the front of the race and, to everyone's surprise, beat Merckx in the sprint. His third victory was a fact.

Enrico Paolini must have thought that he couldn't lag behind his teammate and fellow countryman. The stage from Lausanne to Grenchen on June 19 also ended in a bunch sprint. In it, Paolini once again showed himself to be the strongest, bringing both him and Bitossi to three stage wins each. Merckx's Molteni team kept the race well under control, effectively draining all the tension from the competition. But the leader's jersey was secured. Mission accomplished for the Belgians.

On the penultimate day of this Tour of Switzerland, the peloton rode from Grenchen to Fislisbach. It was a stage where the pace never really slowed, making it arguably the most exciting of this edition. In the end, the familiar story unfolded. A sprint, this time by a group of 38 riders, in which - you guessed it - Enrico Paolini was once again the fastest. His fourth stage win was a fact.

The beginning of summer but the end of this stage race on Friday, June 21, 1974. On this final day, the riders had two tasks to complete. First, a 137 km stage starting in Fislisbach. In the streets of the finish town Olten, Franco Bitossi escaped and held on to a few seconds at the line. Like his compatriot Paolini, he brought his victory tally to four.

The 38th Tour of Switzerland concluded with a 24.6 km time trial starting and finishing in Olten. In this, Eddy Merckx was 13 seconds faster than Gösta Pettersson, a rider from the Italian Magniflex team. The Swede also finished second in the general classification.

Triumphant Eddy

Scic was the big winner of this edition. The Italian team achieved no less than eight stage victories, thanks to Franco Bitossi and the fast Enrico Paolini. His sprinter's legs secured the victory in the intermediate sprints classification and the associated car. The riders of the Spanish KAS team won the team classification.

Merckx wore the yellow jersey from start to finish and was the expected overall winner. He also added the points classification and the mountains classification to his palmarès. Organizer Sepp Vögeli expressed disappointment with the performance of his star. He had expected more fireworks and competition, and less playing it safe to secure the overall victory.

Even Merckx couldn't save the Swiss Tour from mediocrity.
Sport 70 (23/06/1974)

At the end of this stage race in 1974, Merckx had to deal with a new health issue. He had to have an ulcer on his buttock surgically removed. As a result, he headed into the Tour de France with an injury. Despite that, he won that Tour. The icing on the cake that year was his victory at the World Championships in Montreal, Canada.

Belgian Winners of the Tour de Suisse

After Henri Garnier in 1936 and Georges Pintens in 1971, Merckx was the third Belgian to win the Tour de Suisse. In fact, six of the eight Belgian overall victories so far took place in the 1970s. In addition to Pintens and Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Michel Pollentier, Paul Wellens, and Wilfried Wesemael also added the race to their palmarès in that decade. In 1991, the victory went to Luc Roosen.

(provenance commemorative medal: Collection Noël Grégoire)


  • Articles

    VAN DEN BREMT, H. Met Eddy Merckx als het symbool van de erkenning, Het Nieuwsblad, 12 juni 1974

    VAN DEN BREMT, H. Twee pakjes per dag, Het Nieuwsblad, 13 juni 1974

    VAN DEN BREMT, H. Paolini wint massaspurt aan slot van openingsrit, Het Nieuwsblad, 14 juni 1974

    VAN DEN BREMT, H. Merckx duwt door en wint na veel heibel, Het Nieuwsblad, 15 juni 1974

    VAN DEN BREMT, H. Merckx met krappe voorsprong naar Alpencols, Het Nieuwsblad, 17 juni 1974

    VAN DEN BREMT, H. Bitossi wil eerst opgeven maar klopt Merckx in spurt, Het Nieuwsblad, 19 juni 1974

    VAN DEN BREMT, H. Nieuwe massasprint: derde ritzege van Paolini, Het Nieuwsblad, 20 juni 1974

    BOOGMANS, J. Eddy Merckx natuurlijk favoriet in zijn eerste Ronde van Zwitserland, Het Volk, 12 juni 1974

    BOOGMANS, J. Proloog tijdrit natuurlijk voor Eddy Merckx, Het Volk, 13 juni 1974

    BOOGMANS, J. Italiaan Paolini remonteert Merckx, Het Volk, 14 juni 1974

    BOOGMANS, J. Gonzalo Aja winnaar van de zwaarste rit, Het Volk, 18 juni 1974

    BOOGMANS, J. Paolini heeft nu ook drie zegepralen, Het Volk, 20 juni 1974

    BOOGMANS, J. Vierde ritoverwinning voor Paolini, Het Volk, 21 juni 1974

    BOOGMANS, J. Eddy Merckx: de gele trui van begin tot einde, Het Volk, 22 juni 1974

    Ook Merckx redde Zwitserse tour niet van middelmatigheid, Sport 70, 23 juni 1974

  • Books

    VANSEVENANT, J. Eddy Merckx, de biografie, Uitgeverij Kannibaal, 2015

  • Websites


    De Wielersite



Eddy Merckx

Édouard Louis Joseph, Baron Merckx (Dutch: [mɛr(ə)ks], French: [mɛʁks]; born 17 June 1945), is a Belgian former professional road and track cyclist racer who is the most successful rider in the history of competitive cycling. His victories include an unequalled eleven Grand Tours (five Tours de France, five Giros d'Italia, and a Vuelta a España), all five Monuments, setting the hour record, three World Championships, every major one-day race other than Paris–Tours, and extensive victories on the track. Born in Meensel-Kiezegem, Brabant, Belgium, he grew up in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre where his parents ran a grocery store. He played several sports, but found his true passion in cycling. Merckx got his first bicycle at the age of three or four and competed in his first race in 1961. His first victory came at Petit-Enghien in October 1961. After winning eighty races as an amateur racer, he turned professional on 29 April 1965 when he signed with Solo–Superia. His first major victory came in the Milan–San Remo a year later, after switching to Peugeot–BP–Michelin. After the 1967 season, Merckx moved to Faema, and won the Giro d'Italia, his first Grand Tour victory. Four times between 1970 and 1974 Merckx completed a Grand Tour double. His final double also coincided with winning the elite men's road race at the UCI Road World Championships to make him the first rider to accomplish cycling's Triple Crown. Merckx broke the hour record in October 1972, extending the record by almost 800 metres. He acquired the nickname "The Cannibal", suggested by the daughter of a teammate upon being told by her father of how Merckx would not let anyone else win. Merckx achieved 525 victories over his eighteen-year career. He is one of only three riders to have won all five 'Monuments' (Milan–San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris–Roubaix, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and the Giro di Lombardia) and the only one to have won them all at least twice. Merckx was successful on the road and also on the track, as well as in the large stage races and one-day races. He is almost universally regarded as the greatest and most successful rider in the history of cycling. Since Merckx's retirement from the sport on 18 May 1978, he has remained active in the cycling world. He began his own bicycle brand, Eddy Merckx Cycles, in 1980 and its bicycles were used by several professional teams in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Merckx coached the Belgian national cycling team for eleven years, stopping in 1996. He helped start and organize the Tour of Qatar from its start in 2002 until its final edition in 2016. He also assisted in running the Tour of Oman, before a disagreement with the organizers led him to step away in 2017.
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