All sports have champions from the past. Some have an undisputed “best ever” champion. Boxing has Muhammad Ali, soccer has Pelé. And cycling has Eddy Merckx although the story is never so simple, you could make arguments in favour of other riders, for example Fausto Coppi. But Merckx is a living legend and his name is valuable.
In 2008 Merckx sold part of his bicycle business to an investment company called Sobradis. Run by Joris Brantegem and his family, the company specialised in shoe retailing until it took a stake in Eddy Merckx SA. In time Sobradis sold some of its retailing interests, including the Brantano chain of shoes shops. Now flush with cash, Sobradis is planning to launch a range of Eddy Merckx shoes in time for the Spring classics. Note we’re talking about ordinary footwear and not cycling shoes.
It’s an odd choice of branding, it’s not cycling related but designed to cash into his reputation in Belgium where the shoes will be sold. Eddy isn’t exactly “street” these days and it’ll be interesting to see who buys the shoes. I hope they’ve licenced the rainbow design from the UCI.
This isn’t the only way to make money from Merckx and his reputation. Cannibal Editors have produced a book about Merckx’s career but this time it’s not just a book. Instead it comes in a presentational box that includes 12 glass jar containing “relics” from Merckx’s past. For example one contains some Mexican soil in celebration of his hour record, another contains water from the fountain on the Via Roma in Sanremo, to mark his seven wins in the Italian classic, another has stone chipped from a Paris-Roubaix pavé. The video clip below explains a bit more.
I haven’t seen the book but the “artbox” sells for €995 ($1370). No doubt someone had to co-ordinate the gathering of rock samples from Mexico to Mont Ventoux but this is an amusing way to bottle some dirt and sell it at a high price simply because Merckx happened to ride past the area 40 years ago. For me it would be different if the book contained special relics from the past, for example ball bearings from his hour record bike or shoe leather from the day he won the Giro for these are in limited supply and, in a tiny way, were part of the moment. Simply bottling some rocks from Mont Ventoux, which are in near-unlimited supply, doesn’t quite cut it for me.
We’ll see how the box sells but note on the one hand we have shoes with a Merckx label stitched in, destined for the mass market and out-of-town retail. On the other hand someone is trying to sell gravel in jar for €995 just because Merckx rode past. Mind the gap.