In 1978, after retiring from road racing as the most successful rider of all time, the great Belgian champion Eddy Merckx planned to set up a bicycle manufacture. Since he wanted to build road bikes as fine and efficient as possible, he engaged his friend Ugo De Rosa – arguebly the best frame builder of the 1970s – to help him with the frame design and to teach other frame builders.
In the following years he succeeded not only in building some of the most reliable bicycles available, but he also sponsored a vast number of professional teams. One of them was the Team Hitachi VTM who started as Team Splendor before changing their name. In 1988 and 1989 they rode Eddy Merckx bikes - the Corsa Extra SLX model for standard road racing and the Grand Prix from Reynolds 753 for time trials.
The Team Splendor / Hitachi really took of when they started to employ one talented Belgian rider. Claude Criquielion had turned professional in 1979 with Team KAS-Campagnolo and immediately showed what he was capable of by winning the Tour of Catalonia.
‘Claudy’ was to become one of the most consistent and best cyclists of the 1980s. He came under first 10 finishers of the Tour de France 5 times. Add his 3rd place in the Vuelta a Espana and his 7th place at his only start in the Giro d’Italia and you get the picture.
But he was also a clever and strong contender in one-day races. He became world champion in 1984 and won the Tour of Flanders in 1987. In 1988 he was about to get back his title as world champion but on this tragic day in Belgium, the triumph was stolen from him. When in the final sprint,he was about to overtake Steve Bauer on his right side, Bauer pushed him hard into the barriers and Claudy crashed. Even today, the pictures of the betrayed Criquielion, dragging his bike to the finish line are probably the ones most people remember of the world championships in Ronse.
Claudy got back to his feet and raced successfully for two more years, winning the Flèche Wallonne in 1989 and becoming Belgian champion in 1990.
The bike we are offering here is his time trial bike from 1989. The frame was made using Reynolds 753 tubing. Well, if all of the tubes are 753 we do not know, Eddy Merckx famously was not a huge fan of this steel. But in general it was considered the non plus ultra, the strongest steel which could be drawn to super thin tubes if necessary.
As for the parts we find rather rare components, due to the fact that Team Hitachi made use of French Mavic components rather than Italian or Japanese groupsets. A good choice certainly. Especially the bearings were the finest you could get. And the other parts are not crappy either! Mavic made some of the best engineered stuff you could get hold of.
A lucky guy purchased this bike in Luxembourg in late 1989 and kept it safe until now. More than 30 years later, this fine piece of cycling history could become yours.
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