BRUSSELS – Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong said Monday he believes Belgian legend Eddy Merckx is the true king of cycling.
Armstrong’s record number of consecutive wins on the world’s biggest bike race have led many fans to label him the biggest ever champion on two wheels.
However cancer survivor Armstrong, who won the race from 1999-2005 to surpass a string of five-time winners, believes Merckx is the true king of the sport.
“If you look at just his career — he’s the king of cycling and the greatest that ever lived. I’ve been fortunate to get to know him for the past 17 years,” Armstrong said ahead of the race’s second stage from Brussels to Spa.
Armstrong is bidding to win an eighth yellow jersey in what is his final Tour de France campaign with his current team, RadioShack.
But even if he succeeds, it is unlikely fans of Merckx will see the 38-year-old American’s achievements any differently.
Merckx won the Tour only five times, but the Belgian known as the ‘Cannibal’ — because of his voracious appetite for victory — also won the Giro d’Italia three times and the Tour of Spain once.
Merckx, 65, was also one of the most successful ever riders in one-day races, winning Milan-San Remo seven times, Liege-Bastogne-Liege five times and the world road race championship three times.
The Belgian, who on Sunday evening gave Armstrong a gift of a book on the Tour, also won the Tour of Flanders twice, Paris-Roubaix three times and the Tour of Lombardy twice.
As well as his Tour de France crowns, Armstrong is also known for victories in the San Sebastian Classic in 1995, the Fleche Wallonne in 1996, the Tour of Switzerland in 2001 and the Dauphine Libere in 2002 and 2003.
Armstrong is among a group of challengers who will be looking to upstage race favorite and reigning champion Alberto Contador of Spain over the next 19 stages of racing.