When a man named Merckx emails us from The Netherlands and tells us that he likes our website and that he has a collection of 2,300 plus cycling jerseys, we have to pay attention, right?
The basics first, how old are you, where are you from, what do you do, what about family?
“I am 55 years old, I’m from Eindhoven in The Netherlands.
“I used to be a baker, later on postman and the last eight years I’ve been working in a warehouse at the European base of the English company Nisbets who make kitchen equipment.
“I’m not married, but I have a very nice girlfriend, my dad was also a fanatical cyclist in the 50s & 60s, he was a baker too. At the age of 30 in 1959 he turned professional as an individual pro.
“Dutch amateurs from above the age of 30 could not race in Belgium; that’s why there were so many Dutch individual pro cyclist above 30 years-old in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.”
Did you ever race?
“No, I never did any racing because I suffer from epilepsy, but in 1980 I started to ride my racing bike. I did long distance events Paris-Brest-Paris [a mere 1,200 kilometres, ed.]
“Twice I had an epilepsy attack on my racing bike.
“But after years without epilepsy I decided to ask the doctor if it would be possible to start racing; the morning before my visit to the doctor I went cyclo-cross riding with my usual training partner and after about 10 km I had a epilepsy attack and ended up in a (dry) ditch.
“I really don’t know how I got back home – on my bike they told me – but laying in my bed after that I realized that this was the end of my racing dream.
“I’m still a very keen cyclist but not in any kind of competition.”
How/why did you start the jersey collection?
“In August 1983 I visited a race in Valkenswaard in The Netherlands, it was one week after the Tour de France, and in the peloton with the big names and teams there was an individual pro cyclist called Jan Aling in a beautiful jersey advertising a local fruit merchant.
“I liked the jersey and decided that I would like to have one.”
Which was your very first jersey and when was that?
“Some days after that race in Valkenswaard I wrote a letter to Jan Aling and I got an answer from him; ‘you can come to my place and pick up the jersey of my sponsor, “Henk Wintermans”.
“I also got a jersey of “HB Alarmsystemen”, “B&S Wegenbouwmaterialen”, “B&S-Elro Snacks” & “Marc Zeepcentrale”.
“At that time I didn’t realize that it was the start of this awesome collection.”
How do you acquire them, where do you look?
“In the past I wrote around 150 letters every winter to cyclists for jerseys, usually receiving around 70 answers of which 40 would be positive.
“It was hard to find addresses but phonebooks and national cycling unions were a good help.
“At the moment you can’t get any addresses because of privacy laws, but Facebook and the internet give me the opportunity to do some research and achieve similar results as I achieved in the past.
“When I visit races I never ask cyclists if they can help me on a jersey, you wouldn’t go to a building site and ask a builder to have his shirt!
“I wait until the end of the season.
“With around 2300 jerseys it’s working out very well for me.”
What’s the most you have paid for one?
“I prefer not to pay for jerseys but of course I’ll pay for packaging and shipping.
“But sometimes it happens that you have to pay for a jersey and the most I’ve paid is €100.”
How many do you have?
“Just today I counted 2301 different jerseys, but there are some more (another 10 jerseys) on their way by post or still have to be picked up at cyclists’ homes.”
Do you include track/Six Days/skinsuits?
“Sure – I have jerseys from all kinds of pro cyclists and all types of jersey; I have jerseys from the road, track, cyclo-cross, and a few from MTB, and of course the Six Days.
“I have world champion jerseys too; from the road (Igor Astarloa), the track (Tony Doyle and Peter Schep), Cyclocross (Bart Wellens, Erwin Vervecken, Mike Teunissen and Sven Nijs) and MTB (Gunne Rita Dahle).
“Skinsuits – well, if they’re used or damaged it’s no problem, for instance from the last Tour de France I got the time trial skinsuit of Marc Hirschi which was damaged from his big crash.”
Where and how do you store them – and find the one you wish to look at?
“I store them in two rooms in my house; there are around 1100 jerseys on hangers (only the Dutch and Belgium jerseys) with all the rest in big plastic boxes in my wardrobe!
“I have a lot of documentation for every jersey, I take a photo of the jersey and write down the staff and members of that team, all their victories and sometimes nice anecdotes.
“All the boxes are numbered and the jerseys are put away in country and alphabetical order so when I want to see a jersey I can find it in just a few minutes.”
“I pray to God every day to keep them away and so far I have had no problems!”
What about keeping them clean?
“All my jerseys are in plastic sealed bags in the boxes, and all the jerseys hanging are in big plastic covers, in fact I just bought a lot of covers today to cover the last jerseys which were without covers.
“I never wash the jerseys because some of the jerseys are already dirty from being used by the rider – it has to stay like that.”
Which is your favourite?
“That’s hard to say, there are some very special ones.
“But I think “Neilson-Tivoli” (an English team) because I live in a neighbourhood called Tivoli, and of course “Molteni” and “Peugeot-Michelin-BP”.
Are jersey deigns getting better or worse as the years go by?
“It depends on your personal taste but some designs are better in the past like “Peugeot-Michelin”, which lasted for many years, but personally I also like “Team Illuminate” from the USA; a black jersey with an orange zipper.
“The 2019 jersey of “Illuminate” I picked up in January this year during my holiday in New Zealand in the town of Wanaka from Mikayla Harvey.”
What do you think of the AG2R 2021 jersey?
“I had hoped it was a joke but I guess at least the names of the sponsors are loud and clear to read.”
What’s the ‘Holy Grail’ you have yet to add?
“A Maglia Rosa from the Giro d’Italia would be great but so too would some old jerseys from British teams like “Percy Bilton”. I have a ‘bucket list’ with some names on it…”
When will the collection be finished?
“When I die, I guess?”
With thanks to Ton, check out his website tonmerckxwielershirts, and next time your partner moans about how much cycling clothing you have in the wardrobe, let them read this.