The training ride took place after the start of the Coppi Bartoli, a 2.1 category Italian road race starting in Riccione, near to Rimini on the Adriatic coast.
Merckx was guest of honour at last night’s presentation of the teams and he’s also here to support the Riccione Bike Hotels, a group of 14 town hotels which welcome roadies for training camps in the hills stretching over into Tuscany. Last year the group’s bikes were supplied by local brand Fondriest, now clients of the bike hotels get to ride on carbon fibre Eddy Merckx bikes.
At a photocall this morning Merckx was half-way through putting on a Riccione Bike Hotels jersey when his publicist whisked it away because a Fondriest logo could be seen.
A group of about 40 riders started the 85km training ride, happy to be escorted out of town by a police escort. Within about 5kms, only the hardcore roadies were left as the group containing ‘the cannibal’ was spinning along at 35km an hour.
BikeBiz.com editor Carlton Reid elbowed his way past riders to sneak a short interview with Merckx.
Were the rumours about a Trek takeover true?
"No, I’ve heard the rumours too but it’s not true. But if Trek wanted to pay a lot of money, of course everything is for sale.
"I’d heard Trek will not continue with the Lemond brand but I don’t know if that’s true."
Trek have long declined to comment about the future of the Lemond line in the Trek stable of brands. Greg Lemond has been famously at odds with Trek rider Lance Armstrong, with a gagging clause in his contract with Trek getting looser as time goes on.
What does Merckx think of the link up between Colnago and Giant of Taiwan?
"It’s crazy. What’s [Ernesto Colnago] doing it for? Colnago is famous for ‘Made in Italy. I don’t understand why he would want to change that."
Half way through last year, there was much talk about ‘the Eddy Merckx diet’. The great champion lost a lot of weight in 2004, and has kept it off. What’s his secret?
"I now go for training rides every weekend. Mostly by myself or maybe one or two others."
Does he call the police for an escort when he leaves for his rides?
Laughing, Merckx said "No, for that we have to thank Riccione."