An exhibition depicting the sporting careers of Eddy Merckx and Jacky Ickx, a motorsport champion. Much more than a celebration of two men with -ckx in their name, the pair are friends and approaching their 70th birthdays and this show is tribute to the two and features a lot of material from their private collections.
If you’re in Brussels you must visit, if you’re not in Brussels you should visit.
Enter and you’re faced with the dichotomous layout, Eddy Merckx on the left and Jacques Bernard “Jacky” Ickx on the right, if you don’t care for motorsport or you’re in a hurry it’s possible to visit just the cycling side. But if you’re impressed by the cycling exhibition do visit the Ickx side because it’s instructive and features several clever features and videos: the same as the Merckx side just with an aroma of oil.
Cycling fans will start the journey through Eddy Merckx’s life with the early years, a picture of him as a boy on his first bike. Helpfully the exhibition is trilingual with the official Belgium languages Dutch and French but also English, one reason for this anglophone blog to dedicate a page to it. But if you can’t read any – and this blog is read by some via translation engines – then it’s still a worth visit because so much of the displays are about the visual and aural rather than the textual.
Proud owners of the Merckx 69 book will recognise some of the images on the wall; certainly walking around the exhibits was like wandering through the pages only the images were even bigger. However this is much more than a collection of posters, old bikes and some memorabilia stuck in glass cases. There is plenty of this too and it’s cleverly done with well-illuminated items, from Merckx’s first yellow jersey in the Tour de France to small things such as a postcard he sent from Sallanches, France during his victorious stay for the amateur World Championships.
What makes it more fun is the tour includes several “rooms” on the side. The first is a café which is there to celebrate the supporters and designed to resemble a bar from the early 1970s and decked with a coffee machine (Faema of course) as well as all the usual trappings of a supporters club, the posters, trophies and mementos. Best of all there’s a “window” and outside of – in reality a large screen -there’s a race going past outside. It’s fun for the atmosphere but watch closely because you’ll spot Marianne Vos walk past the window and briefly cheer on the riders, others appear including Eddy Merckx himself clutching a newspaper.
There’s a huge trophy collection on the wall. At first glance it’s just a lot of silver and gold, it could be the haul of a champion footballer or chess player but slowly familiar shapes emerge. A mounted Paris-Roubaix pavé, the twisting Trofeo Senza Fine of the Giro to commemorate Merckx into the Italian race’s “Hall of Fame”, plus a more modest actual Giro winning trophy.
Then there’s a mock of the tunnel atop the Turchino pass, a defining moment of the Milan-Sanremo route. It’s well done with street furniture that looks like it’s been stolen from the pass itself. Inside is a celebration of Merckx’s seven wins of La Primavera. Another room is a tribute to the Hour Record and includes his bike as well as three replicas rigged to indoor trainers where you can do a virtual ride against The Cannibal for a minute. In another anti-chamber there’s a celebration of Merckx’s Luchon-Mourenx stage win in the 1969 Tour de France and there’s a commentary booth inside a cabin where you can don headphones and take to the mic to try your hand as a TV commentator. Give it your best and the track can be emailed to you after.
There are two downsides to it all the price, €13 for an adult (€15 at weekends) makes this more than you’d pay to visit, say, the Royal Fine Arts Museum to see masterpieces in a grander setting. Indeed with the price comes a concious feeling of business behind the show: it is being held in a trade exhibition hall rather than a public museum. Which brings the second criticism that this is theology, it bolsters the myth of Eddy Merckx as cycling’s god. With hindsight it’s said Merckx’s Mourenx triumph was brilliant but also aided by negative racing behind, the other contenders being each to nervous to chase so it was as much their inglorious loss as Merckx’s crushing ride; there’s little contextual analysis of Merckx’s reign. Still you might begrudge the price on entry but you’ll understand the hero-worship when you leave.
A great exhibition full of memorabilia and information, made even better with clever and sometimes fun interactive exhibits. It’s something the non-cyclist would enjoy and the cycling-fan will find rewards visiting the section devoted to Jacky Ickx.
Anyone in Belgium should go and visit and anyone contemplating a visit for the spring classics should make a point of a detour to Brussels. Belgium can be cycling-crazy like no other nation but its capital has relatively little to offer the cycling fan when compared to Oudenaarde and it’s Ronde museeum or the Ardennes and their hilly roads. Now Brussels is on the map but hurry, it’s temporary and only lasts until June.
Where/When: the expo is at the Brussels Trademart in the Heysel, just next to the Atomium building. It’s on from now until June 21. More info at merckx-ickx.be