23 July 2019

Ask Him Where He Was On 20 July 1969

Three days ago, on the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, my post highlighted Dr. Rhett Allain's engaging article, "How Long Would It Take To Bicycle To The Moon?"

In my post, I said that everything stopped for Armstrong's historic stroll. Well, almost.  That same day, another legend was born, if you will.  A certain athlete would achieve one of the most resounding victories in his sport and begin a dominance that is all but unrivaled in any sport.

Now, since you're reading this blog, you probably know who that athlete is.  Hint:  He's Belgian.

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Yes, the incomparable Eddy Mercx rode to the first of his five Tour de France victories on 20 July 1969.  To be fair, the ride wouldn't have had to be pre-empted because it took place during the day, while the moon trek took place at night. That is, night in most of the Americas.  Paris time is six hours later than New York's (or Cape Canaveral's) and seven hours past Houston's, so by the time "The Cannibal" crossed the finish line--18 minutes ahead of second-place finisher and 1967 winner Roger Pingeon, one of the widest margins in Tour history--most Americans were still asleep or just waking up.

Although Mercx would become one of the most famous athletes of his or any generation, his ride in France was overshadowed (no pun intended) by the walk on the moon.  That was especially true in the United States, where there was little, if any, recognition of bicycle racing outside a few enclaves in California, Boston, New York, Chicago and, interestingly, Detroit.   And, of course, the 'States were the home base of the NASA.

So, even if bicycle racing becomes as popular as basketball or baseball in the US, if most Americans are asked "What happened on the 20th of July in 1969?," they respond, "Neil Armstrong walked on the moon!"  Then again, if you asked most people what happened on 22 November 1963, how many could tell you that C.S. Lewis died? 

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