Half Man, Half Bike: The Life of Eddy Merckx, Cycling's Greatest Champion by William Fotheringham:
Van Buggenhout describes Merckx’s preoccupation with the details of his bike (compared with Jacques Anquetil who would simply get on the machine and race) but his punctiliousness went further than worrying about his position. ‘Eddy thinks about the future a great deal and already, even though he isn’t yet twenty-five years old, he is concerned with what he will do after he has finished racing. He is continually asking himself the question: what will I do with my life after my sporting career?’ One Belgian paper asked Merckx if he was a worrier and if it was a weakness. He answered yes to both, adding that he had trouble sleeping before a race, as ‘I wouldn’t want to disappoint myself or the team or the supporters’. In his eyes, worrying was a virtue, because ‘in cycling, being sure of yourself is an almost inevitable guarantee of not winning’. Insecurity meant minding every detail and never understanding the opposition.
Merckx had, he said in other interviews, always been nervous, ‘almost irritable’. ‘I used to feel taken over by doubt, by fear. There were times when I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Sometimes my stomach wouldn’t keep my food down.’ It was a patronising parallel, but there was something in the assertion of a rival team manager who said Merckx was ‘like a little third category amateur who isn’t sure what the result will be’. The opposition might have been sure; he wasn’t.