The day Eddy Merckx bowed to Luis Ocaña

"I bow to Ocaña and raise my hat as a sign of respect. Luis has dominated us all, like El Cordobés in the bullring," said El Caníbal.

The-day-Eddy-Merckx-bowed-to-Luis-Ocaña

"Under normal circumstances, I think I have won the Tour." Luis Ocaña was euphoric after his exhibition at Orcières-Merlette, a feat reminiscent of the historic rides of Fausto Coppi. The man from Cuenca had flown alone to be crowned at the Alpine station with 5:52 minutes over Lucien Van Impe, the second classified, and 8:42 over Eddy Merckx, the ogre of the time, his main rival to be crowned in Paris. The Belgian had not suffered any crisis: simply, Ocaña was overwhelming that July 8, 1971, to the point that he left 61 cyclists out of control, most of them later replayed by the organization so as not to leave a famished peloton of 53 riders with ten stages to go.

Ocaña had already seen Merckx falter at the Puy de Dôme and at the Porte. He had to test him again. And he chose a short stage in the Alps, the 134 kilometers that ended in an unprecedented port, Orcières-Merlette. On the first climb of the day, Laffrey, Fuente jumped first, shyly. Then Agostinho did it, with force. And there Ocaña went after the Portuguese. Zoetemelk, Van Impe and Petterson also responded to the attack. Merckx did not budge.

No one could keep up with Ocaña that day. At the next level, the second-rate Hoyer was left without company. "I would not have minded continuing with them, but they barely gave relief and could not continue, so better alone," said later the Cuenca, crammed into the yellow jersey with stratospheric advantages: 8:43 on Zoetemelk; 9:20 on Van Impe; 9:26 on Petterson, and 9:46 on Merckx.

"I bow to Ocaña and raise my hat as a sign of respect. Luis has dominated us all, like El Cordobés in the bullring," said El Caníbal, defeated. But Merckx wasn't going to give up so quickly. On the flat stage in Marseille he prepared a trap that cost him two minutes, in the time trial Albi pinched another 11 seconds ... Despite the thrust of the Belgian, the advantage was comfortable. "Under normal circumstances", Ocaña would have won that Tour ... But the circumstances were not normal. Already in the Pyrenees, in the muddy descent of the Menté, Luis suffered an irreparable fall. Merlette would always fit.



Photos from as.com
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