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Review: Merckx-Ickx Expo

Merckx Ickx expo

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.

Merckx Ickx

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.

Merckx Ickx supporter cafe

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.

Merckx Ickx expo

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.

Merckx Turchino Expo Brussels

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.

Merckx bike

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.

Jacky Ickx expo

Verdict
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

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Othersteve Monday, 15 December 2014, 9:55 pm

    Curious if you were tempted to wheel one of the Merckx bikes out a side door.

    I would ; /

    Thanks

    • Othersteve Monday, 15 December 2014, 11:36 pm

      I mean that I would of been tempted, as what a piece of steel art.

      • Anonymous Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 4:14 am

        *would have

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 9:06 am

      Maybe the Porsche, but the keys weren’t inside 😉

      The bikes are nice too. I did want to pick it up and feel the weight. I wasn’t sure if all the bikes were real or replicas. But look closely and you can see the seatpost is marked, as if Merckx was raising and lowering the height as he often did.

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 12:01 am

    €13 for a close look at both a GT40 and a Porsche 956 alone is not exactly a waste of money. The fee probably only makes a small dent in the cost these two have incurred preserving and storing all this stuff for the decades since retirement.

    Eddy Merckx, who was a doper and a businessman on the bike, was Also a cycling god. Puts the Vino chasing, pitchfork mob in perspective.

  • Larry T. Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 8:53 am

    Thanks a million for letting us know about this!!! In a world where a lot of cyclists pay $2 each for “energy bars” I won’t complain for a second about the ticket price. Can’t wait to see this and consider myself damn lucky it’ll still be going when I come up that way to see L-B-L 2015, the last of the five monuments for me.
    I did get a bit wistful seeing the photo of the Turchino tunnel as they’ve recently built a new, two-lane version and the old one is now blocked off. We talked to some folks up there in June during our Primavera tour, suggesting they make the old one a pista ciclabile to preserve the memories and let cyclists see the bust of Costante Girardengo just before the entrance, which is now difficult to find. “Great idea!” they said, “But who’s going to pay for this?” so who knows what will happen. I just hope nobody decides to fill the thing in or blow it up before the money could be found to preserve this wonderful, iconic place.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 8:59 am

      I was wondering about the Turchino tunnel, the race is using the new one now. The old one survives as a depot for storage of road salt and other materials.

      • Larry T. Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 11:01 am

        They put MSR back on the old finish, so perhaps they’ll restore the iconic tunnel as a pista ciclabile and then run the race through it each year? Well, I can dream, right? The new construction caught us by surprise this June as it was just completed in the fall of 2013 I believe. For 2015 we’ll be prepared to nose around and see if there’s a way to still see the Girardengo bust (they told us it’s still down there) and perhaps go through the tunnel, even if it has to be on foot. I really hate to see this piece of cycling history vanish. We have a couple of spots still open on the 2015 tour if anyone is interested in joining us.
        http://www.cycleitalia.com/la-primavera-milano-san-remo-cycling.htm

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 11:41 am

    A great visit to pass the days over Christmas. Wish I was there.

  • gabriele Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 11:49 am

    I tend to be kind of hypercritical, but one has to be a real cycling atheist to doubt that Merckx is any less than cycling god 😛
    One of them, at least (a true cycling fans should be sincerely polytheistic).
    We don’t quite go around complaining about Achilles’ Styx-water doping or considering with hindsight how divine strategies favoured him more often than not 😉
    (that goes for Larry’s areté, too; seriously, it would be too long and OT a debate to elaborate on that here. By the way, really appreciated the Pantani link)

    • Larry T. Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 5:32 pm

      Grazie. That’s why this blog is a treasure. Plenty of spirited debate and difference of opinion without the “you suck” “NO, you suck!” that has destroyed the comments seconds (or simply caused them to vanish) elsewhere. One thing is always constant with doping – I doubt anyone would say they were just as much a fan of whoever their favorite rider is (was) after they found out they were doped. Everyone wants to believe their sporting hero is/was clean even despite evidence to the contrary. When/if nobody cares about this and says “who cares, let ’em all dope” to me it’s simply no longer a sport. I think Pantani (like Coppi, both users of dope) are idolized in Italy for the way they overcame adversity time after time to again rise to the top of the sport. The dope didn’t get them up out of the hospital bed and through the painful recovery and rehabilitation they both suffered through to race again. In some ways one can say the same thing about BigTex, who if he’d stayed retired and not been such a bully about it (and perhaps died young and tragically like Fausto and Marco) might occupy a similar place in the hearts and minds of cycling fans?

      • SeeingElvis Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 7:54 pm

        Larry, you make excellent points, thank you. The comment section of this blog is unlike any other that I know of because of the refreshing civility and the composite knowledge of its followers. It remains the only site I venture a comment on, period. I am aghast at some of the other comment boards.
        And while I wish Mr. Inrng all the very well-deserved success he might envision for this blog, I do have a (fairly rational) fear that as other cycling sites shut down or shift their comments to deeper layers, the trolls will migrate here. Am I alone in that fear? I do not mean to sound elitist, but this is a special virtual place and I sure hope it can stay that way while still encouraging newcomers. Perhaps the power of the shared community and the facilitator can and will ensure this.
        Thanks again to Mr. Inrng and to all of you. A round of beers on me!

  • Andy W Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 12:01 pm

    Well I’d pay the entrance fee if I were to go to Brussels !

    It would be interesting to know what the average Belgian thinks of these two national sporting icons today – I guess Ickx was most famous in the 70’s and 80’s but is now fading from the memory a bit whilst Merckx is more immortal ?
    And cycling is bigger than motorsport in Belgioum, particularly Flanders, anyway ?
    – it is officially titled “Eddy Merckx – Jacky Ickx Exhibition”, so presumably that answers the question.

    The event website is http://www.merckx-ickx.be/en/
    – some excellent pictures on there

    @’Anonymous’ above – looks like not just a GT40 and 956, but also a 936, a CSL and Ferrari 312 !

    Pedantry INRNG, your Wiki link is ‘Jacques Bernard “Jack” Ickx’ – surely ‘Jacky’ ;o)

    And rather than you doing a full biog, this is a cycling blog after all, can I (trying to be helpful ;o) just suggest an improvement might be for the piece to mention that he is 6-time Le Mans winner and ex-Ferrari and Lotus F1 driver, to put him in context vs Merckx ?

    • Francisco Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 3:03 pm

      And arguably the greatest-ever driver in the rain…

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 1:48 pm

    I was lucky enough to be in Brussels last week and made my way to this exhibition and it was brilliant!

  • Lucian Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 4:37 pm

    @inrng, did you come to Brussels just to see the expo or are you often here? Would have loved to offer a beer or two, as a thanks for this excellent website! 🙂

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 5:24 pm

      It’s a good exhibition… but good enough to warrant travel to Brussels just to see the this. Was there for other reasons and decided to visit.

      As for the beer, thanks. The hard part is choosing which one.

      • Lucian Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 7:54 pm

        we could’ve gone for a ride and have an isotonic drink then 🙂

  • Vince Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 5:52 pm

    Sounds like a great exhibit.
    As far as the Hour Record bike, had you been lucky enough to be in Il Vecchio, the bike shop in Seattle run by the late George Gibbs,Sr., you could have gotten up close and personal with the bike and had an expresso to boot.
    Seems George ran into EM at a trade show and they got to talking. George asked what had happened to he bike and was told it was in Eddy’s attic. George, never shy, asked if could borrow it for a while. He was told yes but figured that was just a brush off. A few weeks later, a box arrived at the shop. In it was the Hour bike, covered in so much dust that its weight must have doubled. George cleaned it up and hung it on display. Eventually, EM asked for it back, and it went on its way. This was maybe early 90s.

  • Anonymous Tuesday, 16 December 2014, 6:37 pm

    What’s wrong with the theological approach to cycling? It is the closest thing to religion in my life, and I would want pro riders to feel the same way, as bearers of a vocation and a faith, of what in French is called “sacerdoce”, which I don’t believe has a translation into English, and means both “fonction considered respectable because of its required devotion” and “priesthood”.

    • GB Wednesday, 17 December 2014, 6:28 am

      I imagine much like any other religion, it’s fine so long as you don’t use it as an excuse to be a jerk or subjugate others. But it seems wise to pay attention to when the canon has been revised and whom by and why, and if someone insists on going around extolling the divinity of Mercx, some people will be at least thinking about slamming the door in their face. 😀

  • Anonymous Wednesday, 17 December 2014, 1:32 pm

    Very wise. So when it appears, after careful examination, that the canon has been revised for the wrong reasons or for someone’s specific interest, as it all too often does, the religious dimension of cyling, its eternity, looms higher and higher every time.

  • winky Wednesday, 17 December 2014, 3:30 pm

    The museum on the Ghisallo is obviously also well worth a visit if you’re into this sort of stuff. It’s quite well done, but perhaps not quite polished as this one seems to be.

    • Larry T. Wednesday, 17 December 2014, 6:36 pm

      A great museum for sure, if it’s OPEN when you go there. We were unable to contact anyone enough in advance to get it opened for our small group in July 2014, unlike the Museum of Champions in Novi Ligure which has no problem opening up for us with just a few days notice. We’ll start on the project much earlier in 2015!

  • PT Thursday, 18 December 2014, 8:08 am

    Looks like a great exhibition, would be nice if I could drop by but I live in a different hemisphere. It does prompt me to wonder; was the basis of the exhibition concept: “famous Belgian sportsmen whose names end in “ckx” ?