Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 20.08.2014

On this day in 2013, managers of Euskaltel-Euskadi announced that they had begun the "orderly shut-down" of the team. Euskaltel, though not one of the most successful ProTour teams for much of its existence, had enjoyed enormous popularity since formation in 1994 - at least partially due to the infectious passion of their Basque fans.

Enrico Toti
Enrico Toti, who was posthumously
awarded the Medaglia d'oro
al Valore Militare
Enrico Toti, who was born in Rome on this day in 1882, worked on the railways until he lost his left leg in an accident when he was 24. He then took up cycling and, a year later, rode from Rome to Paris and via Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Lapland, Russia, Poland and back home again. Five years later, Toti set out on a new journey into Africa and rode through Egypt to Sudan, where the British colonial governors said he was putting himself in too much danger and made him return home. A year later, when the First World War broke out and Italy and the Austrian Empire became enemies, he tried to enlist in the army but was refused after being declared physically unfit.

So, he got on his bike and rode to the front line, became attached to several military units and served as an unofficial, unpaid civilian volunteer until he was forced to go back to Italy - and once he was home, he got back on his bike and rode back to the war again. This time he was unofficially enlisted in the 3rd Bersaglieri Bicycle Battalion and served with them until the 6th of August 1916, when he was fatally injured. Before dying, however, he summoned up the strength to sit upright and hurl his crutches at the enemy soldiers.

Daniel Martin
Daniel Martin
Daniel Martin, who was born in Tamworth, Great Britain on this day in 1986, may well have chain lubricant following in his veins rather than blood - he's the son of Olympic cyclist Neil Martin and Maria Roche (the sister of Stephen Roche). His first major success came in 2004 when he won the British Junior Championship, but he would later choose to represent Ireland. In 2006 he won a stage at the Tour de Grandview and another at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, also taking second place overall at the latter, which earned him a traineeship with Slipstream for 2007; overall victory at the Tour des Pays de Savoie and other good results that year brought him his first full professional contract with the same team for the following year and he has repaid their faith by riding for them ever since.

In 2008, Martin won the Route du Sud and the Irish National Championships at Under-23 and Elite levels; in 2009 he was third at the Tour Méditerranéen, then completed his first Grand Tour (the Vuelta a Espana) and came a very impressive eighth at the Giro di Lombardia. He rode the Giro in 2010 and then, a year later, won his first Grand Tour stage - Stage 9 at the Vuelta, where was 13th overall and fourth in the King of the Mountains; he finished the season with second place at the Giro di Lombardia (cousin Nicolas Roche was 16th).

In 2012, he achieved fourth overall at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, sixth at theWaalse Pijl, fifth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and took three top ten stage finishes plus 35th place overall at the Tour, which prompted me to write on this blog "He is a rider who seems destined for great things; perhaps even a Grand Tour victory" - that victory came the following season, when he won Stage 9 at the Tour de France. Earlier in the year he had also won the Volta a Catalunya and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, later he would come second overall at the Tour of Beijing.

Samuel Dumoulin
Born at Vénissieux, France on this day in 1980, Samuel Dumoulin won the Under-23 Paris-Tours in 2001. Having won a National Novices Championship as far back as 1996, he joined La Française des Jeux as a trainee in September 2001, then signed his first professional contract with Jean Delatour for the following season. He stayed there for two years, winning three stages at the Tour de l'Avenir and the General Classification at the Tour de Normandie as well as competing in a Tour de France.

The next four years were spent with AG2r Prévoyance and he began getting his first good Tour results with them (though his 2004 attempt ended in disaster when he collided with a dog that had been allowed to run onto the road, crashing badly and having to sit out of racing for four months), finishing stages in the top ten on a number of occasions before switching in 2008 to Cofidis. That year, he won Stage 3 at the Tour, his only stage win in the race to date; in the following years he would win the Points competition at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya (2009), the General Classification at Etoile de Bessèges (2010), Paris-Corrèze (2011) and the GP d'Overture in 2012.

In 2013, Dumoulin returned to AG2R (by then known as AG2R La Mondiale) with a two-year contract and won Stage 5a at the Etoile de Bessèges Alès, overall at Plumelec-Morbihan and picked up numerous other good results. He was second overall at the Tour du Haut Var and 90th at the Tour de France in 2014.

Ralf Hütter
Ralf Hütter
Born in Krefeld, West Germany on this day in 1946, Ralf Hütter has been an amateur cyclist since the 1970s and was placed in an induced coma following a serious crash in 1983. He is better known as the synthesizer-player, lead singer, sole original member and - so far as they have one - leader of Kraftwerk.

According to legend, when on tour Ralf would have the band's bus stop approximately 160km from every venue and would then cycle the rest of the way. It's also rumoured that his first words when he awoke from his coma were "Where is my bike?", though he himself claims this is not true.

Meifang Li, born in China on this day in 1978, won the road race at the Tour of Chongming Island in 2007 and 2008. 2007 was the first year that the race was held, 2008 was the last time that it was won by a Chinese rider.

Ned Overend
Edmund "Ned" Overend was born in Taipei but - as the son of a United States diplomat, holds US nationality. Over the course of his career, he has won a large number and great variety of different events including the World Mountain Bike Championship, six National MTB Championships, two editions of the XTERRA World MTB Championships, two editions of the Mount Evans Hill Climb and a large number of other races. At the time of writing, he is the captain of the Specialized Cross Country MTB team - but what's truly remarkable is that as he was born in 1955, is 57 years old.

Danielys Garcia, born in Valera on this day in 1986, was Venezuelan National Road Race Champion in 2006, 2007 and 2008 and National Time Trial Champion in 2008 and 2009. She took part in the road race at the 2008 Olympics, finishing in 54th place, and again in 2012 when she didn't finish.

Other cyclists born on this day: Damien Gaudin (France, 1986); Ashlee Ankudinoff (Australia, 1990); Casper Jørgensen (Denmark, 1985); Jon Unzaga (Spain, 1962); Boris Shpilevsky (USSR, 1982); Martin Santos (Guam, 1962); Kohei Yamamoto (Japan, 1983); Robert Vehe (USA, 1953); Josip Pokupec (Yugoslavia, 1913); Earl Godfrey (Bermuda, 1961); Andoni Ituarte (Venezuela, 1919); Stanley Smith (Barbados, 1952); Juan Moral (Spain, 1951); Carlos Espinoza (Peru, 1951); Otto Lehner (Switzerland, 1898, died 1977); Bernardo Arias (Peru, 1942).

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 18.08.2014

Ruby Miller
Ruby Miller
(© Joolze Dymond)
(Used here with very kind permission - to see more of
Dymond's excellent photos, click here.)
Born in Llantwit Major on this day in 1992, Welsh cyclist Ruby Miller began her athletic career as a triathlete at the unusually early age of ten, encouraged by her mother - a coach at Cardiff's Maindy Triathlon Club. She soon found that the bike race was her favourite part of the events she entered, joined the Maindy Flyers CC, began competing in cyclo cross and was spotted by a British Cycling scout who recruited her to the BC Wales Talent Team.

In 2007, Miller took first place in the National Youth Cyclo Cross Series, then won it again the following year before also winning the National Youth MTB Cross Country Championship, then three silver medals and one bronze in the Under-16 class at the National Track Championships.

Miller signed up to Horizon Fitness RT (now Matrix Racing Academy) in 2011, a team well-known for taking talented young riders and turning them into world-class athletes, where she was tipped for the top by directeur sportif and manager Stef Wyman. "Ruby is a great prospect and we know that we can help Ruby develop her potential," he said. "She’s always been impressive off road, but some her road results at the end of last season really caught my eye.  The younger riders on the team are a great squad in their own right.  It’ll be interesting how far they can push things in 2011." Wyman knows a thing or two about cycling, which is why his team has become one of the most successful British women's teams of all time - and Miller soon proved he was right: she won two rounds of the Welsh MTB Series; came third at the Tywyn Criteriums; second at the Jif Summer Criterium, Round 4 of the British MTB Cross Country Series and won Race 11 of the Cornish series. In 2012, Miller acted as a torch bearer during the Olympic Torch relay.

Miller at the Dalby Forest round of the British Cross-Country Series, 2012

Jimmy Michael
Jimmy Michael
Another great Welsh cyclist was born - in Aberaman, about 30km from Llantwit Major - on this day, but 115 years before Miller in 1877. He was Jimmy Michael and, because he was only 1.56m tall people laughed at him when they first saw him step out onto the track with his tall and lanky rivals. They shut up when they saw him race, though - because Michael was very, very fast indeed.

Michael started racing when he was 12 and won a number of local events, then entered bigger ones in Cardiff and won those too. In 1894 he went to London to race the Surrey 100 at the Herne Hill Velodrome, where Sporting Cyclist's Mal Rees was present to see him in action. He later recalled,
"Cycling chroniclers of the day, reporting on the event, were astounded as the Welsh boy matched every attack in the hectic early stages. 'Who was this youth who dared to hang on to London's speediest riders?', they wrote. In the first hour, 24 miles 475 yards had been covered and 'the little hero' Jimmy Michael dogged the heels of the leaders until he succeeded in breaking away himself to lap the field at 46 miles.
At two hours, with 48 miles 377 yards covered, he was just outside the record, but at the 50-mile mark was inside with 2h 4m 42s. There seems to have been no serious threat during the second fifty for Michael consolidated his lead and went on to win in 4h 19m 39s with a seven-minute margin from the runner-up. This was a new record."
L-R: Arthur Linton, Choppy Warburton, Jimmy Michael
and Tom Linton
In 1895, Michael received a professional contract with Gladiator, where he rode alongside Arthur Linton who was also from Aberaman; both men were trained by the notorious coach and soigneur Choppy Warburton. Linton had a bad season and became resentful, seemingly blaming Michael for his bad luck and publicly venting his anger in the South Welsh newspapers until Michael finally decided enough was enough and challenged his rival to a duel, to take place at either the Buffalo or Winter velodrome in Paris, whichever Linton preferred - he even put down a payment of £20 to cover Linton's costs. The race never happened: Linton won Bordeaux-Paris that year, then died six weeks later aged only 24. Officially, his death was blamed on typhoid; however, it's also possible that it was due to the strychnine (a stimulant in small doses) that Warburton administered to his riders and, while nothing was ever proved, Linton is often claimed to have been the first cyclist to die as a result of doping.

Charley Barden
Later that same year the Gladiator team was hired by William Spears Simpson, who had invented the Simpson Lever Chain (a rather strange apparatus made up of triangular links, the chainrings engaged with the flat bottom of each triangle and the rear cog with the pointed tops). Renamed after the chain, they were then entered into specially-organised "chain races" at which Simpson offered 10:1 odds against riders on machines fitted with normal chains beating those with his chains. It's not known if Simpson truly believed his chains offered any sort of mechanical advantage - and for anyone with any sort of engineering knowledge, it's difficult to see why he would - but the races were a brilliant way to advertise the product: Michael, Tom Linton (Arthur's brother, who also died young and whose body was also found to contain high levels of strychnine, though his death too was recorded as being due to typhoid), Constant Huret and the legendary track cyclist, stunt rider, aviator, racing car driver and hospital director Hélène Dutrieu (the world's first female cycling star) were all accustomed to racing at the big track meets in Paris, Brussels and Berlin; they were, therefore, much stronger than the provincial heroes that took them on at the chain races. At one event (most accounts say that it was in Catford, but it might actually have been in Germany), Michael was scheduled to compete against Charley Barden in a five-mile race. This was a major draw: Michael was by now extremely famous, Barden - who was born in Canterbury in 1974 (the exact date is not known, nor are many things about Barden's life) - was even more so and was said to have been so good-looking that he was mobbed by women wherever he went. Just before the race, Michael was handed a drink by Warburton. Nobody knows what it was, but almost as soon as he'd swallowed it, the rider became disorientated and began shaking; then rode badly once the race began, fell off, got back up and started riding in the wrong direction. The crowd began chanting "Dope!"

Michael and Choppy Warburton (with greatcoat and hat)
depicted by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Note also the
distinctive Simpson Lever Chain
There is a great deal of speculation as to what actually happened. One possibility is that Warburton was entirely innocent and Michael had been taken ill (it's also possible that the Linton brothers did in fact die of typhoid, though the strychnine in their corpses takes some explaining). The most obvious is that Warburton gave Michael something that he believed would help him win the race, perhaps a drug with pain-killing properties such as laudanum, which can cause similar symptoms to those the rider exhibited. A third, backed up by an unconfirmed contemporary report, is that Warburton wanted to take advantage of those 10:1 odds and had placed a bet against his own rider, then took steps to ensure he wouldn't win; a fourth suggests Warburton had heard that an agent from a wealthy American team was at the race to scout out new talent and was planning to headhunt Michael, so he drugged the rider in an attempt to disguise his talent. Whatever the truth, Michael believed that he had been deliberately drugged and accused Warburton of such; Warburton responded with a libel suit, though it was settled amicably.

In 1896, Michael went to America where a successful track cyclist could live in considerable style. His contract promised him $2,500 for each of nine races, whatever the outcome, guaranteeing him an income of $22,500 that year - this being a time when the average annual salary in the USA was around $411; in addition to which he planned to earn another $30,000 by taking payments from manufacturers in exchange for using their products and then praising them during interviews in the cycling press. Yet, by 1899, he was almost broke, having lost the majority of his fortune through gambling and the purchase of a race horse (which he rode); he then returned to Europe to make a fresh start but, in 1903, fractured his skull in a 97kph crash at a track in Berlin. While recovering, he became friends with a rider named Jean Gougloz. According to Victor Breyer, one of Henri Desgrange's assistants at the Tour de France, Gougolz was "a weak-minded, yet lovable fellow when sober, but was bad under the influence of drink." He added that "Jimmy kept sliding down the toboggan" after meeting him.

Michael behind one of the monstrous pacer motorcycles
used in track racing in his era
Michael's final races were farcical - he didn't even show up to one prestigious event near the Buffalo in 1903. Breyer, who was race organiser, recalled that Gougolz (who seems not to have been an alcoholic, despite his apparent love of getting drunk) thought he might know where the rider was and so they set off to a bar near the Arc de Triomphe, where they found Michael in a state of serious intoxication. In this day and age, he wouldn't have been allowed to race; in those days he was persuaded to honour his contract and the race was postponed by an hour to give him a chance to sober up. The crowd, therefore, were not in the best of moods when he eventually staggered out onto the track; when he trailed in in last place, a big gap between him and the second-to-last rider, they turned on him and he was booed and hissed out of the building. He decided to try again in America the following year, where he hoped that people might have forgotten the bad days and welcome him as a hero; but he died of delirium tremens aboard the Savoie on the 21st of Novermber whilst it was still at sea. He was 27.

Sarah Hammer
Born in Temecula, California on this day in 1983, Sarah Hammer has amassed a palmares since 2005 that would be the envy of any cyclist - she has won no fewer than twenty National titles, four World Track Championship titles, 18 World TrackCycling Cup races and a number of road races. She also competed in the Olympics in 2008 and 2012, and holds the current World Individual Pursuit record. Yet her professional career very nearly ended before really getting started.

Sarah Hammer's website: click here
Hammer has been cycling since she was eight, encouraged to take up the sport by her father, who realised very soon that she was good at it - and in 1995, she won a National Junior title. By 2002 she was good enough to become a professional, riding for the US Diet Rite alongside the young Joanne Kiesanowski and Tina Pic (who was not so young, but was still going to remain a force in American cycling for the next seven years - and 59 victories - until she retired at the age of 43 in 2009); in 2003 she joined Amber Neben, Kristin Armstrong and Dotsie Bausch at the legendary T-Mobile. Then, at the end of the year, she gave it all up. Professional cycling was harder than she had ever imagined and she sold all her equipment, went to college and made ends meet with a succession of uninspiring jobs.

In 2004, Hammer went to the Olympics to watch her former team mates and realised she'd made the wrong decision. Now aware that cycling was to be her life, she made her comeback with a renewed sense of devotion and determination, winning the Pursuit and Points races at the Nationals in 2005, then the Pursuit, Points and Scratch races at the 2006 Nationals and the Pursuit at the Worlds. She successfully defended her World Championship in 2007 and was selected for the Olympics team in 2008 but went home without a medal, which appears to have encouraged her to try her luck on the road instead - in 2009, she won the Red Trolley criterium and the North End Classic and Tour of Murrieta stage races, but then returned to the track in 2010 and took back her World Pursuit title, then won the Elimination, Points, Flying Lap and Pursuit in the Omnium at the Cali round of the World Cup. The next year, at the Manchester round, she won the Elimination, Flying Lap, Pursuit and Scratch; then the Pursuit at the Nationals. With results like these, she was an obvious selection to compete at the London Olympics and didn't disappoint - this time around, she went home with two silver medals won in the Team Pursuit and the Omnium. Her long winning streak continued into 2013 - having won the Pursuit and the Omnium at the World Championships in Belarus, she returned to her home soil and won the Omnium and the Points at the US Grand Prix of Sprinting in July.

Cédric Vasseur
Cédric Vasseur
Cédric Vasseur, born in Hazebrouck, France on this day in 1970, won a large number of races and stages over the years; but he will forever be remembered for Stage 5 at the 1997 Tour de France and his 147km solo break, which won him the stage and kept him in the maillot jaune for five days. Four years later, riding for US Postal, he was left out of the team's Tour de France squad. This may have been due to his poor results that year - he was third in the Calais criterium, his only podium finish of the season - but it was widely suspected that the real reason was "personal differences" with Lance Armstrong, as he himself claimed and was widely reported by the French media. He left the team and went to Cofidis.

Vasseur was arrested as part of the investigation into doping at Cofidis that also led to the arrest and subsequent ban of David Millar in 2004; he was cleared after his B-sample tested negative but too late for the Tour, and claimed in court that parts of his witness statement were forgeries.

Vasseur's father Alain rode professionally for Bic between 1969 and 1974 and had won Stage 8 at the 1970 Tour with his own solo break; an uncle, Sylvaine, rode with Alain for Bic during the same period, then with Super Ser in 1975 and Gitane-Campagnolo in 1976 and 1977. Younger brother Loïc rode for Home Market-Ville de Charleroi in the late 1990s, but seems not to have received his full share of Vasseur talent.

Jürgen Kissner
Jürgen Kissner was born in Germany in 1942 and, after the war was over, became a citizen of the new "Communist" state of East Germany - where he wasn't permitted to become a sports instructor because his family was deemed as being bourgeois. He was a sufficiently talented rider, however, to be selected for the team sent to the All-Germany Championships held in Cologne, in West Germany, in 1964.

Had he have won a race there, he'd have stood a good chance of being selected for the East German Olympic team, but he had other ideas: on the 15th of September, he climbed into a service elevator at the team's hotel and fled, officially defecting to the West a short while later. The East German authorities tried to claim he'd been abducted, but news that he had left of his own free will soon reached the public. His parents were interrogated by the Stasi and his mother was sent to Cologne to beg him to return, but she told him to stay where he was even if it meant they would never see one another again.

In 1968, Kissner went to the Olympics with the West German team; but a mistake on his part in the team sprint led to disqualification. Newspapers printed stories claiming that he was a "ringer," a secret agent sent by the East Germans specifically to sabotage the West German team's chances; however, one year later the race was re-examined and the team was reinstated, then awarded a silver medal.

Lisa Brambani, who was born in Bradford, Great Britain on this day in 1967, won the National Road Race Championship in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989. She was also 11th in the road race at the Olympics in 1988, won the Women's Challenge in 1989 (when the UCI refused to have anything to do with the race, claiming that "excessive climbing, stage distances, number of stages, and duration of event" made it too difficult), and in 1990 she won a silver medal in the road race at the Commonwealth Games. She should be a household name, among cycling households at any rate; had she have been a man and thus able to compete in events to which the media pay attention, she probably would be.

Gordon "Tiny" Thomas, born in Shipley, Great Britain on this day in 1921, competed in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London where he - along with Ian Scott and Bob Maitland - came second on the team road race. In 1952 he won Stage 13 at the Tour of Britain, then won it overall a year later. At the time of writing, he is 91 years old.

Loretto Petrucci, born in Capostrada, Italy on this day in 1929, won Milan-San Remo in 1951, 1952 and 1953.

George Atkins, born in Leicester, Great Britain on this day in 1991, won the National Junior Road Race, Pursuit and - with Dan McClay - Madison championships in 2009. In 2010, he won the Points race at the National Track Championships and came second on Stage 1 at the Under-23 Tour of Berlin, then in 2011 he won the Scottish Hill Climb Championships and was second at the National Under-23 Individual Time Trial Championships and in 2012 he won the Jock Wadley Memorial.

Serge Baguet, born in Opbrakel, Belgium on this day in 1969, won Stage 2 at the 1993 Tour of Britain, Stage 17 at the 2003 Tour de France and the National Road Race Championship in 2005.

Paul Egli
Jeff Williams, who was born on this day in 1958, won the British National Hill Climb Championship in 1979 on the Bovey Tracey-Haytor road in Devon. His time, 12'44", remains the record at the time of writing. In 1982 he won the National Hill Climb and Road Race Championships, the only man to have ever done so.

Paul Egli, born on this day in 1911, was Swiss Amateur Cycle Cross Champion and won a silver medal at the World Amateur Road Race Championship in 1932, the took the gold at the latter event the following year. In 1935 he became the professional National Road Race Champion, a title he defended in 1936, when he also won Stage 1 and wore the maillot jaune at the Tour de France. Racing in the professional World Road Race Championships a year later he won bronze, then silver in 1938.

Other cyclists born on this day: Thomas Kvist (Denmark, 1987); Boontom Prasongquamdee (Thailand, 1946); Alges Maasikmets (Estonia, 1968); John Lieswyn (USA, 1968); Alan McCormack (Ireland, 1956); Gianni Giacomini (Italy, 1958); Theo Nikkessen (Netherlands, 1941).

Daily Cycling Facts 19.08.2014

Iban Mayo at the 2007 Giro d'Italia
Iban Mayo
The French, at one time, elevated cycling to the level of a religion, as did the Italians. The Belgians are still obsessed with it, and the British are becoming so with every year (and every Tour victory) that passes. The Dutch adore the sport too - but no other people have cycling in their blood in quite the same way that the Basques do, and nowhere else is cycling an expression of national identity. There are 2.1 million Basques in their country, Euskadi; according to author Daniel Coyle, 70 of them were riding among the 400 ProTour athletes in 2004, and rider Haimar Zubeldia says that cycling is "an emanation of our people." Iban Mayo, born in Igorre on this day in 1977, was the best of them all during the first five years of the 21st Century.

A few years after leaving school, Mayo became an ambulance driver. One day, the tyres on his ambulance lost their grip and the vehicle smashed headlong into a stone wall, leaving him with two shattered legs that put him in a wheelchair for eight weeks. When he recovered he decided to train as an electrician, because people told him it wouldn't put much strain in his legs and the pay was good. Within a year, he'd surprised doctors by getting on his bike and developing a new style that didn't make his knees hurt quite so much.

Mayo turned professional with Euskaltel-Euskadi in 2000, a team funded partly by commercial sponsorship, partly by public subscription and partly by the Basque government; it is unique in that it functions both as a trade team and as a national team. In his second year with them, he won the GP du Midi-Libre, the Classique des Alpes and a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné; in his third year he completed the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana, coming fifth overall at the latter.

In 2003, Mayo went back to the Tour and won Stage 8 on the Alpe d'Huez, right then and there becoming the biggest threat to Lance Armstrong since Marco Pantani in 1999 (it was also in 2003 that Joseba Beloki, another Basque and one who once claimed that Mayo was a "simple shooting star" who would never complete a Grand Tour, came to the end of his career with a high-speed crash on the Col de la Rochette). He knew, meanwhile, that he wasn't ready to take Armstrong on just yet, so instead he spent the rest of the Tour waging a peculiar reverse-war of attrition against his enemy - which, alongside cycling, is something else that the Basques are very good at doing; because they've been fighting large and powerful foes ever since Roman times, and have outlasted all of them. Without ever letting up, he would allow himself to drift to the back of the peloton and then power up through the ranks, cruising alongside Armstrong for a short while before suddenly thrusting forward - then when the Texan responded and caught him, he'd do it again, and then again and again. Armstrong had no idea what to make of it and spent much of the race looking rather confused, though he won in the end and Mayo was sixth.

Mayo in the unmistakable orange of Eukaltel-Euskadi
The following year, Mayo won the  Dauphiné for a second time, beating both Armstrong and the record on the ascent of Mont Ventoux, and for the first time in half a decade Armstrong' victory did not seem guaranteed before the race even got under way. Unfortunately, Fate had other ideas: Mayo lost a lot of time in a crash early on in the race, then lost even more when the injuries he sustained in the crash prevented him riding to his full ability in the Pyrenees. He then developed glandular fever and didn't start Stage 15.

Almost all riders have one bad year at some point in their career. For Mayo, it was 2005 when he finished the Tour in 60th place and abandoned the Vuelta. He won Stage 6 at Dauphiné in 2006, but the year wasn't to be much of an improvement over the last and he abandoned the Tour before coming 35th at the Vuelta. Nobody - except for Mayo himself - knows when he started doping, but his fans prefer to think that it was at the end of this period and that he frightened Armstrong without needing to cheat (we may, in 2012, be about to find out if Armstrong was himself a cheat, of course); he certainly wouldn't be the first cyclist to resort to the syringe when he found he wasn't living up to earlier promises and dreams. After riding his first Giro d'Italia and winning Stage 19 in 2007 he went to the Tour, which was where he was caught: the UCI revealed on the 30th of July, the day after the final stage, that a sample Mayo provided earlier in the race had tested positive for EPO. He appealed and, on the 22nd of October was cleared by the Spanish Federation when the court heard that the test on his B-sample (tested to confirm or disprove the results of an A-sample if requested by a rider) had been negative; but the UCI insisted that the B-sample had not yet been analysed, refusing to support the Spanish decision. When it was, it was found to be positive; Mayo was banned from competition for two years.

Sun-Geun Gu
Sun-Geun Gu
South Korean Sun-Geun Gu, born on this day in 1984 in Daegu City, won silver medals for the Points and Scratch races at the 2002 World Junior Track Championships and a gold for the Points race at the 2005 Asian Championships. In 2007, after coming second in the time trial and third in the road race at the World B Championships, she qualified for the national team at the 2008 Olympics. During the road race at the Games she became famous around the world for losing control of her bike in the treacherously wet conditions and falling into a shallow concrete drainage channel. After picking herself up and despite obvious pain, she got back on her bike and finished in 59th place.

After winning the silver medal for the road race at the Asian Championships in 2011 (she did so again the following year), Sung-Eun was offered a contract with the Australian Orica-AIS team and thus became South Korea's first professional female cyclist. The move up to world-class road racing has not phased her at all and she has become an integral part of the team - and with results such as second place on Stage 5 at the Energiewacht Tour, statistics seem to show she has a great future ahead.

Ewald Hasler, Alois Lampert and Rolf Graf
Liechtenstein has produced a very small number of professional cyclists. This isn't especially surprising as it's a very small nation, just 160 square kilometres with a population of around 35,000 - and many people there are put off cycling by the mountains, which will always limit the number of people taking up a sport in what is the only nation to lie entirely within the Alps. It is, therefore, curious that two of the most famous, Ewald Hasler and Alois Lampert, were both born in Eschen (which, with a population of a little over 4,000 people, is the nation's fourth-largest city) on this day in 1932. Hasler finished the road race at the 1952 Olympics in 43rd place and turned professional for Gitane-Hutchinson team in 1954 (when he rode with Jean Stablinski, Rik van Looy and Gilbert Bauvin) but switched that same year to the Swiss Cilo team, then retired in 1957 when he rode for König. Lampert became a professional two years later with the German Altenburger team, by which point he had already won Stage 4 at the 1951 Österreich-Rundfahrt and been 30th at the same Olympics Hasler rode, but also rode for the Swiss team Mondia with whom he remained for three years. In 1958 he rode for three teams - Mondia, Allegro and Tigra - then retired at the end of the year.

Rolf Graf was born in Unterentfelden, Switzerland, also on this day in 1932 - and rode with Lampert for Tigra and Allegro on 1958. He began his professional career with Tebag in 1952 when he was 17th in the Olympic road race; then switched to Guerra, Fiorelli and La Française-Dunlop in 1954, the year that he won Gent-Wevelgem. He continued riding for Fiorelli in 1955 but also represented Tebag, where 1950 Tour de France winner and 1951 World Champion Ferdinand Kübler rode as his domestique, then began to ride for Splendid-d'Alessandro as well the next year, 1956, when he took the first of his three National Championships (the others were in 1959 and 1962) and won the Tour de Suisse.

In 1959, Graf went to the Giro d'Italia and won Stage 22, then to the Tour de France where he won Stages 12 and 19; in 1960, he returned to the Tour and won Stage 19. Nine victories in the next two years suggest that his career had at least a few more years to run, but it was cruelly ended by a serious car accident in 1963 from which he never fully recovered. He officially announced his retirement in 1964.

Hasler, Lampert and Graf (and Kübler, for that matter) are all still alive.

Ezio Cecchi finished the Giro d'Italia in second place twice; first in 1938 behind Giovanni Valetti and then in 1948 behind Fiorenzi Magni. The gap between first and second place in 1948, 11 seconds, the the smallest winning margin in the history of the race.

Alphonse Antoine was born on this day in 1915 in the French village of Corny, but later took Belgian nationality and won the Belgian National Championship in 1935. In 1937, he won Stage 12a at the Tour de France.

As a Paris-Roubaix winner, Paul Maye is commemorated
on the Chemin des Géants.
Paul Maye, who was born in Bayonne on this day in 1913, won the French Amateur Championship in 1934 and the French Military Championship a year later. In 1936, having left the Army, he joined the Armor-Dunlop (and spent most of his career riding either for them or for Alcyon-Dunlop) and won Stages 10 and 19c at the Tour de France. In 1938, he won the National Championships, this time at Elite Professional level; he would win it again five years later. Maye won Paris-Tours in 1941, then again in 1942 and 1942 - he thus shares the record with Gustave Danneels (1934, 1936, 1937), Guido Reybrouck (1964, 1966, 1968) and Erik Zabel (1994, 2003, 2005). In 1945, he also won Paris-Roubaix, the race considered by many to be the hardest of them all.

Lucien Vlaemynck, born in Izenberge, Belgium on this day in 1914, became a professional rider with Alcyon-Dunlop in 1935 and stayed with them until his retirement in 1949 - he would, therefore, have known Paul Maye. Vlaemynck specialised in shorter stage races and criteriums; however, he rode the Tour de France once - in 1939, when he came third overall

A Wright Cycle Co. racing machine
Orville Wright, a bicycle builder, was born in the USA on this day in 1871. He's better known - alongside brother Wilbur - as the inventor of the first working heavier-then-air aircraft, and as the brothers never made bikes in any great quantity they probably wouldn't be any better-remembered  than any other small-scale turn-of-the-last-century manufacturers had it not have been for their aircraft. However, we owe them thanks for one innovation: they were the first to come up with the idea of machining the threads of the left-hand side of the bottom bracket and crank in an anti-clockwise direction, thus preventing the crank from loosening in use.

Other cyclists born on this day: Kazimierz Jasiński (Poland, 1946); Ján Valach (Czechoslovakia, now Slovakia, 1973); Hernán Medina (Colombia, 1937); Miklós Somogyi (Hungary, 1962); Andrzej Bławdzin (Poland, 1938); Gerard Veldscholten (Belgium, 1959); Jiří Prchal (Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic, 1948).

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 17.08.2014

Filippo Simeoni
Filippo Simeoni
Born in Desio on this day in 1971, Filippo Simeoni was taken on as a trainee by Carrera Jeans-Tassoni in 1994 and showed sufficient promise to receive a professional contract the following year, then spent all but twp of the next fourteen series riding for a sucession of Italian teams (in 2005, he raced for Swiss-based Naturino-Sapore di Mare, the team relocated to Italy in 2006; in 2008 for Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce who, for that one year, were based in Ireland before they too relocated to Italy). During that time, he became known as a super-domestique, a rider who could chase down attacks and still deliver his team leader to the best spot to win a race, but also one who could take a few victories of his own when given opportunity to do so. His best results were his two stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana; one in 2001 and one in 2003, and he also became Italian Road Race Champion in 2008, the year before he retired.

Simeoni's palmares, if we are truthful, is not especially impressive - despite a long career, he achieved just eight victories as a professional and his best Grand Tour result was 55th overall at the 1998 Tour de France. However, he was a character and is fondly remembered for his occasionally rebellious nature: when he won his first Vuelta stage, he stopped shortly before the finish line and walked across holding his bike above his head. Many interpreted this as an ungracious act designed to show rivals that he could still win even if he walked, others said that he was trying to show that the bicycle, rather than the rider, is the most important part of a race. Simeoni himself said that he had intended it to be a tribute to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which had taken place sixteen days earlier. Nevertheless, the UCI fined him.

Later, he became involved in a long-running battle with Lance Armstrong. Simeoni was caught out by a doping control in 2001 and received a relatively short ban after wisely deciding that the best way forward was to co-operate with the investigation and make a full confession; and with cycling finally waking up in the wake of the Festina Affair to how serious a problem doping had become and following a number of deaths attributed to EPO, Simeoni's testimony would rock cycling - especially when he stated that he had been prescribed EPO and growth hormones by the highly-respected sports doctor Michele Ferrari in 1996 and 1997. Dr. Ferrari's highest-profile client was Armstrong, who publicly called Simeoni a liar in an article published by Le Monde in 2003. Armstrong had become a little too used to those he saw as his enemies backing down the moment he called them out by that time, but Simeoni was made of sterner stuff - he launched a defamation suit, seeking to sue for €100,000 and stating that any money awarded to him would be donated to charitable causes (the case would later be dropped, however). During Stage 18 at the Tour the following year, Simeoni bridged to a six-strong breakaway group. Though neither he nor any other member of the group posed any threat to Armstrong's lead, the American went after him, which in turn forced US Postal's rivals T-Mobile to respond and destroyed any chance the riders in the break had of winning the stage. They begged Armstrong to return to the peloton and let them have their opportunity to shine, an opportunity offered to the best of the non-GC contenders in any Tour, but he would not. Eventually, Simeoni buckled under the pressure and dropped back to the main group where he was met with a barrage of abuse from several riders who had allied themselves with Armstrong, among them Danielle Nardello, Filippo Pozzato and Andrea Peron.

Traditionally, riders do not compete with one another until the sprinters try to be first to the finish line during the final stage of the Tour; instead, they pose for the press and the leader basks in his hard-earned glory. Simeoni's rebelliousness once again came to the fore, because he wanted to show that he was not cowed by Armstrong's bullying tactics, and he attacked the leader time and time again. Each time, US Postal chased him down and brought him back; and each time Simeoni was subjected to more abuse and, shamefully, a barrage of spit from several riders. It was not one of professional cycling's finest moments.

In time, it would become apparent that Armstrong had made a serious mistake - Simeoni was still a prosecution witness in an investigation into Dr. Ferrari at the time of the 2004 Tour, and lawyers involved with the case felt that Armstrong's actions constituted witness intimidation. He was questioned over the incidents early the next year, but no further action was taken; then in December he was indicted and ordered to face charges of defamation dating from the 2003 Le Monde article. That case was also dropped, in April 2006. Armstrong escaped prosecution but, it seemed to many fans and other riders, by the narrowest of margins, and the Cult of Lance began to crumble. Finally, years later, Armstrong was found out: Simeoni's palmares might not be particularly impressive, but his two Vuelta a Espana stages wins and the 2008 National Road Race Championship shine out; Armstrong, meanwhile, was stripped of all results gained since August 1999 and, without them, his palmares is little more extraordinary than Simeoni's.

Thomas Gascoyne
Thomas Gascoyne
Thomas Jepson Gascoyne - various known as Thomas Jeb Gascoyne, Thomas Jefferson Gascoyne or Thomas Mills - was born in Whittington, Derbyshire on this day in 1876 and became a cyclist in 1893. Three years later he made an attempt on the World 25-mile record, the first time he had ever attempted to beat a record greater than 10 miles, and did it in 57'18.4" - 1'43.2" faster than the previous holder's 59'01.6". According to contemporary reports, he was paced by a three-man tandem but overtook it because the combined effort of the riders was too slow for him.

Gascoyne would go on to set numerous other records, including the two miles on a tandem and the flying quarter mile. This led to widespread fame, and when he went to the USA in 1901 his arrival was reported by the New York Times, which seems to have been the first time he was called Thomas Jefferson Gascoyne. The newspaper stated that he had never been beaten in a pursuit race, and on the 20th of July he beat the famous "Major" Marshall Taylor twice in Boston. The following day, having first won a half-mile handicap, he took part in a pursuit without taking a rest break in between and was beaten for the first time.

For reasons unknown, Gascoyne chose to walk away from professional cycling a short while after his return to Europe and emigrated to Australia with a friend (also a cyclist) named Brown. Rather than continue making a living from their sport, they found badly-paid manual jobs and kept them for several years before entering amateur races under false names; Gascoyne became Thomas Mills and Brown became Atkinson. Neither man was race fit; however, Gascoyne's natural talent was sufficient that before too long rumours began to circulate and both men were forced to reveal their true identities - fortunately, the Australian public did not consider their actions dishonest, probably because they'd worked hard for little pay before returning to racing, and Gascoyne in particular became something of a hero.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Gascoyne enlisted in the Australian army and was posted to the trenches of West Flanders. He died there during the Battle of Passchendaele at Ypres on the 4th of October 1917, when he was 41. His body was not recovered and presumably lies where it fell, his memory is preserved at the Memin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres.

Phillip Lavery

Born in Dublin on this day in 1990, Phillip Lavery scored good results ever since he came second in the National Junior Road Race Championship in 2007. 2012, which he spent with the Node4-Giordana team, was the best of his career to date with victories at the GP Stephen Roche, the Shay Elliot Memorial, the Under-23 Nationals and a bronze at the Nationals in the Elite class, and he began 2013 as a guest rider with Team H&R Block from Canada.

From the 1st of August, having impressed with a stage win at the Tour de France Comté Cycliste, the silver medal in the Road Race at the Irish National Championships and a victory a La Chapelle-lès-Luxeuil, he moved to Pro Continental squad Cofidis with a trial contract. Cofidis believed it would be given a Pro licence for 2014, but did not receive one.

Unable to secure a place with a Pro team due to the large number of top-class riders then looking for contracts in the wake of the collapse of several teams, Lavery became disillusioned and decided that he - like the vast majority of cyclists that ever dare to dream of it - was not destined to make it as a professional. He sold his bikes and got a job, turning to running to maintain his fitness. Salvation came from an unexpected source - Azerbaijan, where David McQuaid, himself an Irishman, managed the Synergy Baku team that, in addition to several local riders, boasted a number of Australians and Irishmen Connor McConvey and Matt Brammeier on its roster. The team had started the year with no spare places, but one of the Australians, Will Walker, had been forced into early retirement due to a heart condition; McQuaid heard about Lavery and got in contact, offering him a place with the team.

Álvaro Pino, born in Ponteareas, Spain on this day in 1956, is a rider who is chiefly famous for his success in the Vuelta a Espana - he was 22nd in 1981, tenth in 1982, fourth in 1983, eighth in 1985 and 1988 and fifth in 1989. His best result - and the race for which he is best remembered - was the 1986 Vuelta, which he won against the favourites Laurent Fignon of France, Sean Kelly of Ireland and Robert Millar of Scotland.

Magali le Floc'h, born in France on this day in 1975, won some 28 races during her long career from 1994 to 2008. She was National Road Race Champion in 2002 and 2005 and won the Coupe de France in 2001, 2005 and 2008.

Massimo Strazzer, born in Italy in this day in 1969, managed numerous podium stage finishes at the Giro d'Italia and, in 2001, won the Points competition.

Other cyclists born on this day: Sin Dae-Cheol (South Korea, 1959); Rinus Paul (Netherlands, 1941); Roland Zöffel (Switzerland, 1938); Julio Rubiano (Colombia, 1953); Algis Oleknavicius (West Germany, 1947); Les Ingman (Great Britain, 1927, died 1990); Jean Bourlès (France, 1930); Bojan Ropret (Yugoslavia, 1952); George Cameron (USA, 1881, died 1968); Carl Naibo (France, 1982); Kenneth Røpke (Denmark, 1965); Michael Hepburn (Australia, 1991).

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 16.08.2014

Desgrange was a successful rider in his
own right and won many races - such as
the 1893 National Tricycle Championship
On this day in 1940 Henri Desgrange - Father of the Tour de France, its director from inauguration in 1903 until 1936 and the inventor of modern bicyce stage and Audax racing - died at his Mediterranean villa. He had undergone a prostate operation shortly before the Tour in 1936, then persuaded doctors to give him their permission to follow the race in a car filled with cushions; but suffered great agony during the first stage and gave up the next day, handing over control of the race to Jacques Goddet. (For more on Desgrange's life and why it might have been him - rather than, as many people claim, Géo Lefèvre - that first came up with the idea of holding a bike race to advertise the L'Auto newspaper, click here.)

Fabio Casartelli
Born in Como on this day in 1970, Fabio Casartelli started cycling when he was nine, encouraged by his father who was a good amateur rider. He won a gold medal at the Olympics during his own amateur career (road race 1992; the first Italian to win since 1968) and turned professional with Ariostea the following year, when he finished in the top three on three stages at the Tour de Suisse. A rider with enormous potential, Casartelli was a fine climber who also performed well on other stages - and was soon being tipped for future Grand Tour success. He moved to ZG Mobili in 1994, then to the US-based Motorola in 1995.

Fabio Casartelli
16.08.1970 - 18.07.1995
On the 18th of July 1995, during Stage 15 of the Tour de France, he lost control of his bike whilst descending the Col du Portet d'Aspet at high speed. Several other riders were also involved in the crash but got away with injuries of varying severity; Casartelli's head struck the low wall running alongside the road. Doctors reached him within ten seconds, but although television cameras showed him lying on the tarmac in a pool of blood for only a second or two it was obvious to fans that he had suffered massive head injuries and was very badly hurt indeed. Aged 24, he died in the helicopter on the way to hospital.

The next day, his Motorola team crossed the finish line together with the other riders following slowly behind them. Prizes were handed out as normal, then all recipients pooled them and donated them to Casartelli's family. Lance Armstrong, also with Motorola, dedicated his Stage 18 to him and there is now a memorial at the spot where he fell. Since 1997, the Youth category at the Tour has been known officially as the Souvenir Fabio Casartelli.

Katarzyna Pawlowska
Born in Przygodzice on this day in 1989, Katarzyna Pawlowska made her first mark on the cycling world when she won the bronze medal at the Polish Individual Time Trial Championship of 2009, and then proved that she had talent on the track too when she rode with the Team Pursuit squad that took 12th at the Worlds and sixth at the European Championships a year later.

2011 brought more excellent results on road and track with seventh place at the Puchar Prezesa race in Poland and a fine selection of medals at the European track championships including silver for the Under-23 Team and Individual Pursuits and another for the Elite Points race. In 2012 she became World Scratch Champion, then took her best road race victory thus far when she won the National Championship; later in the year she finished the road race at the Olympics in 11th place, then returned to the track for another silver in the Team Pursuit and a bronze in the Omnium at the European Championships.

Pawlowska won more track glory in 2013 and successfully defended her World Scratch Champion title, Over the course of the previous year, her results on the road had brought her to the attention of the Elite teams and she had accepted the offer of a contract from GSD Gestion-Kallisto - with them, she has shown exceptional promise: fifth at the Ronde van Gelderland, ninth at the Omloop van Borsele, fifth at the Dwars door Westhoek, fourth overall (and third on Stage 1) at the GP Elsy Jacobs, third at the Chrono des Gatineau, first on Stage 3 at the Tour de Bretagne (and second on Stages 2 and 4) and then her first General Classification victory when she won the Tour en Limousin, also taking Stages 3 and 4. She would enjoy more success at the National Championships that year too, winning the ITT and coming third in the road race; at the National Track Championships she won the Individual Pursuit and the Omnium.

2014 brought Pawlowska a contract with the Dutch team Boels-Dolmans, also home to Lizzie Armistead, Ellen van Dijk and Megan Guarnier; with them, she has continued to enjoy great success on road and track - at the Guadadajara round of the World Track Cup she won the Omnium and at the World Championships she came second in the Scratch; then she was fifth at the Boels Rental Hills Classic before going on to win the Scratch and Omnium at the Grand Prix Galychyna.

Éric Caritoux
Éric Caritoux, who was born on this day in 1960, had to become a cyclist - he came into the world at Carpentras on Provence, at the foot of cycling's holiest mountain Ventoux. Having begun his career with a local club, the old volcano became a regular feature of his training rides.

Eric Caritoux, Tour 1993
In 1982, Caritoux won the amateurs' Tour de Vaucluse, beating Laurent Fignon and getting noticed by Sem-France Loire boss Jean de Gribaldy, who signed him up for 1983. De Gribaldy was seen as something of an unorthodox character by other managers for his habit of offering contracts to riders that no other teams wanted, especially those reaching typical requirement age. However, Sean Kelly says "he was a long way ahead of his time. He had some great ideas. He was 10 years ahead of everyone else on diet. He was clear about what you could and couldn’t eat 10 years before the other teams started to think about it" - thus, aging riders discovered a new lease of competitive life with de Gribaldy, and good young riders became great (for the story of how de Gribaldy signed up Kelly, click here). Caritoux flourished; that same year he rode his first Tour de France and came 24th overall - a superb result for a debutant and one that elevated him from Kelly's domestique to a team leader.

Caritoux fulfilled that very role at the Vuelta a Espana in 1984, and won overall - a surprise not only because it was his second professional year, but because up until one week before the race began neither he nor the team - now re-named Skil-Reydem - had not planned to be there. De Gribaldy, in his usual eccentric fashion, had completely forgotten that he'd promised the race organisers that he would send a team. They, meanwhile, had not and threatened him with a breach of contract case worth £50,000; so he put a team together as rapidly as possible, phoning Caritoux, who was on holiday at the time, and asking him to fly to the south of Spain where the race was due to begin. In the circumstances, nobody expected Skil-Reydem to do well; but Caritoux unexpectedly found form and won the first mountain stage, then took the leader's jersey - which at that time was yellow, rather than gold as it is today - from Pedro Delgado during Stage 12. Caritoux was every bit as surprised as Delgado was when he then kept it for the rest of the race, especially when he did well enough in the final time trial to hold off nearest rival Alberto Fernández Blanco, who was by far the more talented time trial rider (and who, with his wife, was tragically killed in a car crash on the 14th of December that same year, one month before his 30th birthday). Caritoux's winning margin, 6", is the smallest in the history of the Vuelta.

In 1986, Caritoux joined Fagor, a team that looked set for considerable success but which suffered from its managers' lack of organisational skills; his results suffered as a result, which explains why he was 20th at the Tour - a good result, but not as good as might be expected of a rider who had won a Grand Tour in his second year. His two years with the team brought only one race win, the 1986 Trophée des Grimpeurs (which, first run in 1913 as the Polymultipliée, was last held in 2009 and seems sadly to have vanished forever), though 23rd at the 1987 Tour was another respectable enough result, if not quite up to his abilities. In 1988 he went to Kas-Canal 10, where he would once again ride with Sean Kelly, and his results improved immediately: he won the criteriums at Aulnat, Riom-en-Montagne, Toulouse and Lamballe,  18th place at the Tour and - best of all - the National Road Race Championship. Kas had returned to cycling in 1986, having been dissolved after twenty years in 1979; it would disappear again at the end of the 1988 season, leaving Caritoux in search of another team. This time, he chose R.M.O, where he would stay for four seasons during which he won another National Championship and more respectable Tour placings, then went to Chazal-Vetta-MBK when R.M.O was dissolved at the end of 1992. It was increasingly obvious that his best years were drawing to a close, but Caritoux remained a strong rider: he was 37th at the Tour in 1993, then 22nd in 1994. At the end of the year, he announced his retirement and returned to Carpentras where he now owns a holiday business and a vineyard. Just as it is for all the people who live around Ventoux, cycling remains part of his life.

Piet Rooijakkers
Piet Rooijakkers
Born in Gerwen, Netherlands on this day in 1980, Piet Rooijakkers completed a university degree in business in 2002, then decided to try to make a career from cycling rather than going straight into management. He joined the UCI Category 3 Löwik-Tegeltoko team in 2003 and went to the Olympia's Tour, but his season was ruined by a crash during Stage 5.

Rooijakkers remained with Löwik on 2004 and won the bronze medal at the National Championship for Elite riders without professional contracts, then went to the Continental-class AXA Procycling in 2005 and started showing some serious promise with stage wins at the Olympia's Tour and the Ronde van Midden-Brabant; which earned him a contract with Pro-Continental Skil-Shimano in 2006. That year passed without victory, as is often the case when a cyclist first moves into the upper ranks; 2007 brought him third place at the Berlare criterium. The following year he managed third place on Stage 3 at the Tour of Qatar which, along with tenth place overall at the 2009 Tour Méditerranéen will have helped persuade managers to select him for their Tour de France squad when the team received a wildcard entry - unfortunately, a crash during the Stage 4 time trial left him with a broken arm.

Rooijakkers was undoubtedly a good rider, but he was never able to live up to the promise he'd once shown. In 2010, when his best result was fifth for Stage 1 at the Giro Trentino, Skil decided not to extend his contract and he retired.

Daniel Willems
Daniel Willems, born in Herentals, Belgium on this day in 1956, won 75 professional victories between 1978 (when he joined IJsboerke-Gios) and 1983 (when he rode for Safir-Van de Ven) - he was also extremely successful before turning professional, winning the road races at the National Military Championship in 1976 and the National Amateur Championship a year later.

His professional career got off to an excellent start with victory in the Promises category at the Omloop Het Volk. He lived up to it, going on to win the Brabantse Pijl and Scheldeprijs and taking  third place at the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1979; then in 1980 revealed that he was a stage racer of considerable note too when he won the Prologue and five consecutive stages at the Tour de Suisse and the General Classification at the Vuelta a Andalucia. In 1981 he won the Waalse Pijl, then went to the Tour de France where he finished third in the Prologue, won Stages 11 and19 and finished in the top ten on eight other stages before abandoning in the penultimate stage. The following year he was 23rd in the Prologue and won Stages 3 and 20 but only finished top ten on two stages - however, he did better overall and was seventh in the General Classification and fourth in the Points competition. In 1983 he was 17th in the Prologue and looked all set to do well again, perhaps even bettering his previous results, but after experiencing problems on several stages was in 61st place by the end of Stage 16 and abandoned soon afterwards. Sadly, he would never again find the form he had once enjoyed and began to be plagued by bad health; after going without victory in 1984 and 1985, he retired.

Aksel Gresvig
Aksel Gresvig
Born Aksel Johan Andersen in Græsvig, Norway on this day in 1875, Aksel Gresvig was the son of a village shopkeeper who died when he was six years old; after which the family moved first to Fredrikstad and then to Christiania in Oslo. He bought his first bike when he was 18 and fell in love with it, spending his free time training around the Akerhus Festning castle, which had become a popular spot with competitive cyclists - including World Champion Wilhelm Henie, with who Gresvig became friends - whilst the old race track at Bygdøy was being redeveloped into a proper velodrome. They invited to join their club and, once the new velodrome was complete, his road bike was exchanged for a track bike; he would go on to win three National and two Scandinavian Championships titles between 1897 and 1900.

Gresvig began working as an insurance clerk in 1893, but very soon decided he'd rather try to make his living by selling bikes and spent the next few years working in bike shops, learning how to run a retail business and bike mechanics. He opened his own shop in 1901, then seven years later began to produce bikes - he was a sufficiently gifted businessman and designer for the company to actually grow during the Great Depression, taking over failed shops and manufacturers and rejuvenating them.

Gresvig died on the 16th of December 1958. His company, now trading as G-Sport, Intersport and Super-G, has some 330 outlets and is now the largest chain of sports supplies shops in Scandinavia.

Jonathan Bellis, born in Douglas, Isle of Man on this day in 1988, became National Junior Individual Pursuit Champion in 2006 and rode with the winning pursuit team at the European Junior Championships, also winning Stage 4 at the Junior Tour of Wales for the second year running; then a year later won the European Under-23 Points and Scratch Race Championships. In 2009, Bellis was critically injured when he crashed his scooter near Team GB's training camp in Quarrata, spending four weeks in an induced coma. He returned to SaxoBank after recovering, but found the pressures of ProTour racing too great and transferred to the Continental An Post-Sean Kelly team for 2012.

Arnaldo Pambianco, born in Betinoro, Italy on this day in 1935, spent eight days in the maglia rosa before winning the 1961 Giro d'Italia - he had been seventh overall at the Giro and the Tour de France the previous year. Despite the old stereotype stating that Italian riders couldn't perform well in the often cold and wet races of Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Pambianco could: he won the Brabantse Pijl in 1964.

Six-time French National MTB Cross Country Champion (2003-2008) Julien Absalon was born in Remiremont on this day in 1980. He also won the European Championship in 2006, the World Championship 2004-2007, the World Cup in 2003, 2006 and 2007 and gold medals at the Olympics of 2004 and 2008. Still racing today, for Orbea (his home since 2008), he has won eight races thus far in 2012.

Alvaro Tardáguila
Uruguayan Alvaro Tardáguila, who was born on this day in 1975, won the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay in 2005 - 33 years after his father, Walter, won the same race. Later that same year, he tested positive for anabolic steroids and EPO at Milwaukee's Great Downer Avenue Race and received a two-year ban; he returned to competition in 2008 and continues racing in South America to this day.

Jelle Nijdam, born in Zundert, Netherlands on this day in 1963, rode ten Tours de France between 1985 and 1995 - he won the Prologue in 1987,  Stage 5 in 1988, Stages 4 and 14 in 1989, Stage 6 in 1990 and Stage 5 in 1991. Other highlights of his career included the National Pursuit Championship and Tour of Luxembourg in 1985, the National Derny Championship and Postgirot Open in 1986, the Dwars door Vlaanderen in 1987, the Amstel Gold Race in 1988, Paris-Brussels and Paris-Tours in 1989and numerous other stage races and criteriums.

Born in Springfield, Missouri on this day in 1947, John Kennedy Howard was US National Road Race Champion in 1968, 1972, 1973 and 1975, took part in the Olympics of 1968, 1972 and 1976, won the first two Red Zinger Classics and came second at the first ever Race Across America in 1982 (then known as The Great American Bike Race, only four riders took part). In 1985, Howard set a new motor-paced bicycle speed record at 245kph on the Bonneville Salt Flats; it would remain intact for ten years.

Marc Sergeant was born in Aalst on this day in 1959 and became Belgian Amateur Road Race Champion in 1981. The year after that he won the Vuelta a Andalucia, then in 1983 came third at the Ronde van Vlaanderen and then Elite National Champion in 1984, also entering the Tour de France that year and coming 48th. In 1986 he won the Nationals again, then won Stage 5 at the Tour a year later - his only stage win in twelve Tours. Following his retirement in 1996, Sergeant became a manager at Lotto-Belisol.

Other cyclists born on this day: Paul Deem (USA, 1957); Brian McDonough (USA, 1965); Richie Thomson (New Zealand, 1940, died 2012); Gheorghe Bădără (Romania, 1941); Johnnie Matthews (Great Britain, 1884, died 1969); César Daneliczen (Brazil, 1962); Teodor Vasile (Romania, 1947); Mario Beccia (Italy, 1955); Kiril Georgiev (Bulgaria, 1971).

Friday, 15 August 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 15.08.2014

Régis Clère
Régis Clère, who was born in Langres, France on this day in 1956, got his first professional contract with Miko-Mercier-Vivagel in 1981 after winning two stages at the Tour de l'Avenir in the previous years; that very same season, he became National Champion in Pursuit and the Points race, won the Prologue and Stage 15 at the Vuelta a Espana and came 51st at the Tour de France - during which he managed to get himself onto the podium after coming third on Stage 1b. He had been born into a family of peasant farmers and, like so many cyclists before and since, his determination when racing stemmed from a determination to make a better life for himself than his ancestors had known - and he soon picked up a reputation for being an aggressive, combative rider who forced himself to keep riding hard when others had gone into survival mode.

In 1982, Clère won the National Road Race Championship; then he went back to the Tour and came fifth in the Prologue and top ten on two stages, finishing up in 45th place overall, and the year after that he won Stage 11 before abandoning a few days later. In 1987 he won Stages 16 and 23, and in 1989 he won the bronze medal in the World Pursuit Championship race, but was forced to retire after a car in which he was traveling crashed, leaving him with facial injuries and two smashed femurs. In retirement, he returned to run the farm from which cycling had offered an escape and remained there for the rest of his life, sometimes racing for a local amateur team. Clère died of heart failure while undergoing an operation in Dijon on the 9th of June 2012.

Jérôme Neuville
Jérôme Neuville, born in Saint-Martin d'Hères on this day in 1975, won the European Omnium Championship in 1996 and 1997, won the National Madison Championship in 1997, 1999, 2003 and 2005, the National Pursuit Championship in 2001 and 2003, the World Madison Championship in 2001 and 2002 and the World Scratch Championship in 2006. In 1998, Neuville crossed over to road cycling with a trainee contract at Crédit Agricole, doing sufficiently well to be kept on as a neo-pro the next year. However, he failed to replicate his track success on the road and the team terminated his contract in 2003.

José Antonio Momeñe, who was born in Zierbena on this day in 1940, won the Vuelta a Andalucia in 1962, Stage 3 at the Vuelta a Espana in 1966 and Stage 6 at the Giro d'Italia in 1968. He also came  fifth overall at the Vuelta a Espana and fourth overall at the Tour de France in 1966

Yoshiuki Abe, born in Osaka in this day in 1969, turned professional with the Italian Panaria-Vinavil team in 1996, then went with team manager Maurizio Piovani when he switched to Mapei in 1997 - the year he became the only Japanese rider to win the Japan Cup (he still is) and also took the gold medal at the National Road Race Championships. He won the National Time Trial Championship two years later, the the National Road Race for a second time. In 2003 he joined the Japanese Shimano Racing team and won the Tour of China. The Shimano team became based in the Netherlands in 2005 after securing a co-sponsor, Memory Corps; Abe remained with them until 2008, by which time the organisation had become Skil-Shimano, then returned to Japanese racing with Matrix-Powertag in 2011.

Giampaolo Caruso, who was born in Avola, Italy on this day in 1980, was European Under-23 Road Race Champion and took the silver medal at the U-23 Worlds in 2001. In 2004 he completed the Vuelta a Espana, then in 2005 went to the Giro d'Italia and came nineteenth - and then twelfth in 2006, his best ever Grand Tour result. He was one of the many riders implicated during Operacion Puerto but the investigation into him was dropped by the Spanish Federation; the Italian Olympic Committee was unsatisfied with this result and went to the Court of Arbitration in Sport seeking a two-year suspension, but he was again cleared. Caruso rode his first Tour de France with Katusha in 2012, and came 37th. Still riding for Katusha, Caruso is now coming to the end of his career but remains competitive: in 2013 he was fourth overall at the Vuelta a Burgos and in 2014 fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Dimitri Fofonov, born in Almaty, then USSR on this day in 1976, won a series of Kazakh national track titles around the turn of the century and performed sufficiently well on the road to earn a contract with Cofidis in 2001. He rode the Vuelta a Espana with them that year but didn't finish, then came ninth on Stage 13 in 2002 and rode the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in subsequent years, managing nineteenth overall at the Tour in 2008. After the Tour, it was announced that a ample he provided shortly after Stage 18 had tested positive for vasodilator heptaminol, a drug that had been removed from WADA's banned list in 2004 but then reinstated two years later; he was sacked by Crédit Agricole on the 27th of July. Fofonov joined Astana when his two-year ban expired and remains with them to this day - he returned to the Vuelta that year and came 57th, then finished the World Championship road race in twelfth place; in 2011 he ride the Tour and was sixth on Stage 17, coming 106th overall, then he came tenth of Stage 10 and 63rd overall in 2012.

Other cyclists born on this day: Mercedes Cagigas (Spain, 1979); Alejandro Ramírez (Colombia, 1981); Selenge Kimoto (Kinshasa, 1966); Christophe Capelle (France, 1967); Sam Willoughby (Australia, 1991); Lionel van Brabant (Belgium, 1926, died 2004); Chad Beyer (USA, 1986); Ragnvald Martinsen (Norway, 1906, died 1987); Adam Craig (USA, 1981); Mieczysław Kapiak (Poland, 1911, died 1975); Jesús Escalona (Venezuela, 1953); Delmo Delmastro (Argentina, 1936); Claude Brugerolles (France, 1931, died 1978); Charles Hill (Great Britain, 1886); Raúl Domínguez (Cuba, 1972); Gaston Gerosa (Switzerland, 1923); Erik Andersen (Denmark, 1902, died 1980); Jean-Pierre van Zyl (South Africa, 1975).

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 07.08.2014

Steven Rooks
Rooks at the Tour, 1988
Steven Rooks, born in Oterleek, Netherlands on this day in 1960, turned professional with the legendary Ti-Raleigh team in 1982, then switched to Sem-France Loire the following year and won Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In 1985 he was 25th overall at the Tour de France; then ninth in 1986 and second in 1988 after winning Stage 12 on Alpe d'Huez - and he also won the King of the Mountains and was second overall in the Points competition. He would never do quite so well in the Tour again but remained competitive for a few more years, coming seventh overall and third in the King of the Mountains and Points in 1989, 33rd overall in 1990, 26th in 1991 and seventeenth in 1992. He rode it again in 1993 and 1994, failing to finish on both occasions.

Away from the Tour, Rooks won the Tour de Luxembourg and the Amstel Gold Race in 1986, the National Derny Championship in 1987 and the National Road Race Championship in 1991 and 1994 before retiring in 1995. In 1999, Rooks, Peter Winnen and Maarten Ducrot decided it was time to clear their consciences with regard to doping, doing so publicly on the Dutch TV show Reporter and saying that they were doing so to highlight how widespread the problem had become. Rooks admitted that he had used amphetamines and testosterone throughout his career; in 2009 he confessed in a book written by journalist Marc Smeets that he'd also use EPO since 1989 - around the time that the drug first found its way into the cycling world. "It was necessary [to do so in order] to finish high up in the classifications," he said.

Adriano Baffi, born in Vailate, Italy on this day in 1962, won Stages 2, 8, 18 and the Points competition at the Giro d'Italia in 1993 and Stage 19 at the Vuelta a Espana in 1995, along with numerous other races (including a National Points Championship on the track in 1999) before he retired in 2002. He then became a directeur sportif, working with various teams and was recruited by LeopardTrek for the 2011 season. His father, Pierino, was also a professional cyclist and in 1958 became the second man in history (after Miguel Poblet) to win stages in all three Grand Tours in a single season.

Edward Klabiński, more commonly known as Édouard Klabinski in France, was born in Herne, Germany on this day in 1920 but was of Polish nationality. He rode as an independent immediately after the Second World War before signing to Stanord-Wolber in 1946. In 1947, riding for Mercier-Hutchinson, he became the first Pole to ride in the Tour de France and came 34th overall; in 1948 he was eighteenth overall.

Andriy Hryvko, born in Simferopol, Ukraine on this day in 1983, was National Time Trial Champion in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012. In 2012, he also won the National Road Race Championship.

Michele Merlo was born in Casaleone, Italy on this day in 1984. He won Stage 8 at the 2009 Tour of Britain and finished Stage 2 of the 2011 Giro d'Italia in twelfth place.

Other cyclists born on this day: Francisco Chamorro (Argentina, 1981); Travis Brown (USA, 1969); Iryna Chuzhynova (Ukraine, 1972); Mario Scirea (Italy, 1964); Roberto Brito (Mexico, 1947); Francisco Coronel (Mexico, 1942); Suriya Chiarasapawong (Thailand, 1949); Werner Wägelin (Switzerland, 1913, died 1991); Yahya Ahmad (Malaysia, 1954).