In The Moment: Merckx’ Bay Area Visit
1997 – Stanford University
In the early fall of 1997, I somehow persuaded Eddy Merckx to make a stopover in the Bay Area as part of his trip to that year’s Interbike, then in Southern California. Over a relatively short period, my wife Shelly and I cobbled together a plan to have Eddy as our guest for a few days in San Francisco. It then evolved from a quiet visit to see our city into a public event at Stanford University co-starring Phil Liggett and Jim Ochowicz.
The legendary Wheelsmith bicycle shop in Palo Alto, particularly owner and wheel building czar Ric Hjertberg, worked tirelessly with the Stanford Cycling Team to secure a stunning venue on campus. The college students did double duty as ticket takers, ushers, and event volunteers. The VIP reception and main event quickly sold out, ensuring the Stanford Cycling Team a successful fundraiser.
When we arrived at Stanford University slightly ahead of schedule, Eddy requested to see the event space. I’m not sure if perhaps he expected to see a classroom or a bike shop. It was apparent Eddy did not anticipate a two-level, fully appointed auditorium. He was genuinely surprised to learn the event was sold out, commenting he had no idea there could be this many people in the Bay Area who even knew his name.
The pre-event reception was a catered affair, and nearly everyone who attended wanted a photo with Eddy, be it the tech CEO or a newly made fan. After the reception, we made our way to the auditorium. Introductions of the honored guests came one by one, and the house roared as Eddy emerged from behind the curtain. The next hour flew by as Eddy, Phil, and Och chatted about everything from Eddy’s childhood idols to contemporary racing. The event could have lasted three hours, and no one would have left early. Eddy had the audience eating out of his hand. Fortunately, the Stanford Cycling Team made sure to arrange the filming of the event. Every now and again, I dig up the VHS tape, now converted to DVD, and watch the magic. It never gets old. – Brett Horton