December 19, 2014 / 5:38 AM / in 3 years

Merckx and Ickx feted as Belgium's speed demons

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Eddy Merckx did it on a bicycle, Jacky Ickx drove fast for Formula 1. Now that both are approaching 70, an exhibition is celebrating their feats as two of history’s speediest Belgians.

Belgian five-time Tour de France and Giro d'Italia winner Eddy Merckx smiles as he prepares to cycle to London for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, at the Belgium Olympics Committee headquarters in Brussels in this July 25, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Laurent Dubrule/Files

The stunning accomplishments of the “fast friends” are chronicled in an exhibition that runs until June 21, just after Merckx’s 70th birthday on June 17. Ickx turns 70 on Jan. 1.

“This exhibition is ideal to refresh the memory. It’s a fine testimony of everything we accomplished,” Merckx said at the official opening earlier this month.

“It allowed me to look back and ask myself how I managed to win so many times.”

The exhibition is at the Trade Mart at Heysel, on the northern edge of Brussels, notorious for a football stadium disaster of 1985 in which 39 people died.

Merckx and Ickx diced with death, but say their guardian angels saved them as they emerged hurt but alive from crashes that could have killed them.

Ickx, whose six wins of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France earned him the title “Monsieur Le Mans”, was pulled from the flaming wreck of his car in the 1970 Grand Prix at Jarama, Spain.

The exhibition includes the semi-melted crash helmet he was wearing.

Merckx survived a crash in Blois, France, in which he cracked a vertebra and twisted his pelvis, while another cyclist, Fernand Wambst, died instantly.

The crash was in 1969, an epic year for Merckx in which he delivered what came to be known as a “Merckxissimo” performance on France’s grueling Col de Tourmalet, ensuring a spectacular win of the Tour de France.

It was also the year in which he was disqualified from the Italian Giro after a positive drugs test. Merckx still protests his innocence.

After the Blois crash, Merckx said he could never cycle without pain again, but that did not stop him breaking the one-hour world record in 1972.

The bicycle on which he managed that is on display, on loan from the Eddy Merckx Brussels metro stop, its permanent home.

Also exhibited is the Molteni bicycle on which Merckx rode the Tour de France in 1969, plus one of the team support cars from 1967.

For Ickx fans, a Ford GT40 and a Porsche 936 Spyder that he drove to victory in Le Mans are parked among the other memorabilia.

Editing by Michael Roddy and Andrew Roche

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