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Phil Liggett’s life has been intrinsically linked to the bicycle, making commentating his career where he has travelled the world and reported on 51 Tour de Frances and 16 Olympic Games.

What Phil doesn’t know about the sport, isn’t worth knowing.  So, I asked him, after a lifetime of being directly involved in cycling who is the greatest cyclist?

His answer was simple.  “Eddie Merckx. He’s the greatest as far as I am concerned.”  

Eddie Merckx

Belgian Eddie Merckx is the is the most successful rider in the history of competitive cycling.  He was nicknamed “The Cannibal” because he would not let anyone else win.  During his career, that spanned from 1965-78, he achieved 525 victories.  He won every Grand Tour, and holds the joint record for the most Tour de France wins with 5.  Along the way he amassed 34 stage victories.  In addition to that he is one of only three riders to have won all five ‘Monuments’ Milan–San Remo, (7 times), Tour of Flanders, Paris–Roubaix, Liège–Bastogne–Liège (5 times) and the Giro di Lombardia.

Phil’s favourite

To Phil, Eddie was not only the greatest rider, but his favourite to watch.  “Without a doubt Eddie Merckxhe was simply too good.”  

Phil recalls a story with Dutch cyclists Gerard Koel, “I was at the start of the race with Gerard and I asked “Are you going to win today?” He looked at me and said “If Eddie Merckx doesn’t want to win, then I have a chance, otherwise Merckx will win.””

Phil recounts “His fellow pro riders couldn’t touch him.  He won Tour de France stages by minutes.  When I met him a couple of years ago, and we talked about his Tour de France wins he said had to win – he wanted to please people.”  

In his home country of Belgium, he is well respected, Phil noted “He is a superhero in his own country of Belgium, they’ve got no more accolades they can give him, he even has a good relationship with the Royal family.  It’s hard to imagine the world without him, he’s been there throughout my career, we’re virtually the same age, and I just hope he continues for a long time to come.”

Phil and Eddie raced

What people don’t know is that Phil actually raced against Eddie in the early part of his career.  What is overlooked is that before becoming the commentating legend that Phil is now, he was an aspiring professional cyclist.  

“When I was trying to be a professional cyclist, I was racing against an amateur rider called Eddie Merckx, who was outstanding and never got beaten. And of course, he went on to become not just my favourite bike rider I ever reported on, but the best bike rider in the world. He won 525 of the 1500 races he took part in. He was absolutely brilliant.” Phil recalls.

Years later, Phil, in his capacity as a journalist remembers “I interviewed him at his house in Belgium, because over the years, we’ve become reasonably good friends. I went to his house with a camera crew.

And I said, “Eddie, you’re the reason I never turned pro, you know?” And he looked at me, he said, “You turned pro?” I said, “Yeah.” I said, “I didn’t turn pro, because I said I couldn’t beat you!” He said, “What?” He said, “You beat me?”  And his eyes went from my feet back up to my head. And he just said, “You beat me?” I said, “That’s why I didn’t turn pro, Eddie!”

And he just smiled, because he knew how good he was. I said, “Eddie, whenever I watched you race, you always won. My newspaper was so fed up of me telling them you’d won.  Why didn’t you lose a couple, just so we had a different winner?” And he looked at me, and said, “The people, they came to see me win, so I must win. I must win, because the people came to see me win.””


Phil has had the opportunity to interview Eddie multiple times.  “I’ve interviewed him on the stage in California and in South Australia at the Tour Down Under, where he gave me a magnificent interview. And he got a standing ovation.  He told his whole life story.  I enjoyed his company immensely.”

Summing up

Whilst Eddie went on to dominate the sport of cycling, Phil would go on to become a dominant force in the field of sports commentating. I think it fascinating to learn that that the two were once fellow competitors, and in their own distinct ways have left unique legacies within the sport.