Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 22.07.2014

Wiggins wins
On this day in 2012, Bradley Wiggins became the first British winner in the history of the Tour de France.

Giovanni Battaglin
Born in Marostica on this day in 1951, Giovanni Battaglin became one of the shining lights of Italian cycling at a time when it seemed the Belgians were going to take the sport over completely.

Battaglin first came to note in 1972 when he won the Baby Giro, the amateur version of the Giro d'Italia, which brought immediate offers to turn professional. He chose Jolljceramica and would remain with them for five seasons - and in his first year, aged only 21, amazed the cycling world by finishing third overall in the General Classification (behind Eddy Merckx and Felice Gimondi) and King of the Mountains (behind José Manuel Fuente and Merckx) at the Giro d'Italia. These were truly remarkable results: a serious new talent had arrived and some wondered if Battaglin might even prove a greater rider than Merckx, who was then at the height of his powers.

In 1974 he finished sixth, proving that he could repeat his good performance; in 1975 he won a stage for the first time (Stage 13, an individual time trial) but didn't finish the race, later that year he rode his first Tour de France and finished two stages in the top ten but once again couldn't finish the race. In 1976 he won Stage 2 at the Tour but failed to finish for the second time and in 1978 he won Stages 6, 7 and 8 at the Tour de Suisse.

1979 would be Battaglin's real breakthrough year with General Classification victory at the Tour of the Basque Country and the King of the Mountains at the Tour de France, where he was sixth overall despite receiving a penalty when he failed an anti-doping test. He won Stage 18 and came third overall at the Giro a year later, but his career thus far was merely a run-up to 1981 - the year that he won the Vuelta a Espana courtesy of a superb ride by his Inoxpran team in the Stage 10 mountain team time trial, then began the Giro three days after the Vuelta ended. He took the lead in Stage 19 and kept it for the remainder of the race, becoming the second man (after Merckx in 1973) to win the Vuelta and Giro in a single season.

He rode the Tour again in 1982 and 1984, but had nothing like his earlier success: his best placing was 46th for Stage 3 in 1982. He did, meanwhile, manage third place for Stage 9 at the Giro in 1984, but it was obvious that for Battaglin the best years came early and he retired later that year. The bike company he started in 1982 is still in operation, its products are among the most desirable bikes in the world.

Rasa Leleivytė
Three-time Lithuanian National Champion Rasa Leleivytė, born in Vilnius on this day in 1988, became World Junior Champion in 2006 and won the GP Città di Cornaredo in 2011. On the 18th of July 2012, the UCI revealed that an out-of-competition sample she provided on the 12th of June had tested positive for EPO; she was provisionally suspended pending investigation. When the investigation concluded that she had in fact used the drug, she was fined €5040 and handed a two-year ban, which came to an end nine days before her birthday in 2014.

Pascale Jules, born in La Garenne-Colombes on this day in 1961, won Stage 8 at the 1984 Tour de France. He was a close friend of Laurent Fignon and rode with him on the Renault-Elf team, the pair of them hoping to become the successors to Bernard Hinault, but moved to Seat-Orbea following a row with team manager Cyrille Guimard.

Jean-Claude Leclercq, born in Abbeville on this day in 1962, was French National Road Race Champion in 1985.

Jean-Claude Lebaube, born in Renneville on this day in 1937, wore the yellow jersey of the Tour de France for one day after Stage 11 in 1966. He was fourth in the overall General Classification at the 1963 Tour and fifth in 1965.

Cyclists born on this day: Ryan Anderson (Canada, 1987); Sam Bewley (New Zealand, 1987); Dries Devenyns (Belgium, 1983); Janek Tombak (USSR/Estonia, 1976); Pascal Jules (France, 1961); Patrick McDonough (USA, 1961); Francisco Pérez Sanchez (Spain, 1978); Godtfred Olsen (Denmark, 1883, died 1954); Pakanit Boriharnvanakhet (Thailand, 1949); Akio Kuwazawa (Japan, 1959); José Prieto(Cuba, 1949); Hjalmar Väre (Finland, 1892, died 1952); Max Triebsch (Germany, 1885); Daniel Amardeilh (France, 1959); Frits Schür (Netherlands, 1950); Bojan Udovic (Yugoslavia, 1957); Rufin Molomadan (Central African Republic, 1967); Jukka Heinikainen (Finland, 1972); Koloman Sovic (Yugoslavia, 1899, died 1971); Sjaak Pieters (Netherlands, 1957); Mario Vanegas (Colombia, 1939).

Monday, 21 July 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 21.07.2014

Stefan Schumacher
Stefan Schumacher
Born in Ostfildern-Ruit on this day in 1981, the German rider Stefan Schumacher has achieved many very good results during his ten years as a professional - but has also been connected to doping numerous times. He began with Telekom in 2002 and remained there for two years but didn't perform well, leading the team to drop him; then he moved on to Lamonta and won a handful of criteriums, a stage at the Bayern Rundfahrt and silver in the National Championships. This earned him a contract with Shimano-Memory Corp for 2005, the year he won Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 at the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt. He also fell foul of an anti-doping test for the first time that year, testing positive for the stimulant cathine.

An investigation could find no reason to disagree with Schumacher's explanation that the drug had entered his system via an asthma medicine prescribed to him by his mother, a fully and officially registered physician. She had checked the WADA banned drugs list and the medicine was not on it; he was cleared. All well and good: it appeared justice had been done and a hole in the regulations that might lead to future injustice was closed up. However, two years later he was stopped by police, breathalysed and found to be over the limit for alcohol; he was, therefore, arrested and subjected to a blood test (to confirm the breathalyser result) - and it proved positive for amphetamines. Since amphetamines' physical effects are short-lived, positive out-of-competition tests no longer resulted in an automatic ban; this time the rider claimed he had no idea at all how the drug might have got into his body, once again he escaped punishment and remained with the Gerolsteiner team.

In 2007, Schumacher recorded abnormal blood values (indication of a red blood cell-boosting drug such as EPO or an illegal blood transfusion). In October 2008, news reports emerged claiming that Schumacher had tested positive for CERA, an EPO-variant, at the Tour de France. This time, there was no way out: early in 2009, he was banned from competition for two years. A few months later it was revealed that he had also tested positive for the same drug at the Olympics - he still denies that he is a doper, but dropped his appeal against the ban in April 2010, at which point he had three months until the backdated ban expired.

Schumacher returned to cycling with the Continental-class Miche team and stayed with them until the end of 2011; in 2012 he switched to Christina Watches-Onfone and won the Tour ta'Malta and Serbian Kroz Srbiju, then remained with them in 2013 and won a stage at the Tour of Algeria and another at Romania's Sibiu Tour.

Francis Moreau
Francis Moreau finished in second place at the GP des Nations in 1994. That same year he was 113th at the Tour de France - his father died during Stage 9, but had left a specific order that his son should not abandon.

Hendrikus Johannes Maria Stamsnijder, born in Enter in the Netherlands on this day in 1954 and known as Hennie, is a retired road and cyclo cross rider who won the Superprestige in 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1989 - a record until Sven Nys' fifth victory in 2005 (Nys has since won six more times). Hennie retired from competition in 1989 to care for his sick son Tom; Tom is now a professional rider himself and has ridden five Grand Tours.

Anthony Malarczyk, born in Newport, Wales on this day in 1975, has assembled an impressive palmares in road cycling and mountain biking including third place in the 2000 Manx Trophy, top ten finishes in the National Time Trial Championships and victory in the Masters age group at the National Mountain Bike Championships. In 2003 he was awarded compensation after an incident during a training ride in 2000 when a driver overtook him, dragged him from his bike and assaulted him.

Cyclists born today: Bert de Waele (Belgium, 1975); Suchha Singh (India, 1933); Viktor Logunov (USSR, 1944); Charles Schlee (born Denmark, took US nationality, 1873); Charles Delaporte (France, 1880); Fabrice Colas (France, 1964); Juan Diego Ramírez (Colombia, 1971); Petar Georgiev (Bulgaria, 1929); Oswald Rathmann (Germany, 1891); Boris Dimitrov (Bulgaria, 1912); Ortwin Czarnowski (Germany, 1940); Colin Davidson (Canada, 1969); Kurt Nemetz (Austria, 1926); Georges Wambst (France, 1902, died 1988).

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 20.07.2014

Giovanni Lombardi
Giovanni Lombardi
Born in Pavia on this day in 1969, Giovanni Lombardi suffered from the same problem that many sprinters suffer from today - in almost any other era, he'd have been the best in the world. Whereas modern sprinters are eclipsed by the incredible talent of Mark Cavendish, Lombardi found himself unable to compete with Erik Zabel and the might Mario Cipollini. A sufficiently wise man to realise that his skills could be put to good and productive use even if he was unlikely to ever attain the glory he's undoubtedly have liked, he ended a five-year stint with Italian teams in 1997 and went to Telekom to become Zabel's lead-out man. In return, the team supported him when opportunity arose for him to win, which he did with respectable regularity during the five years he spent with them - including stages at the Volta a Catalunya, the Österreich Rundfahrt, Bicicleta Vasca, Tirreno–Adriatico, the Vuelta a España, the Ronde van Nederland, the Vuelta a Burgos and the Danmark Rundt.

In 2002, he received what was then the ultimate accolade for any lead-out man in the form of an invitation to join Cipollini's Acqua e Sapone, and with them he won another stage at the Vuelta a Espana, two more at the Giro d'Italia and others at the Tour de Romandie, Tour Méditerranéen and Vuelta a Aragón. However, by 2003 Cipollini's powers were already fading; so after two more seasons working for the Lion King Lombardi moved on to Bjarne Riis' CSC team in Denmark and a new job leading out Ian Basso and Carlos Sastre. He was an instrumental part in Basso's second place at the Tour and overall victory at the Giro as well as in Sastre's second place overall and third in the Points competition in 2005, the year in which Lombardi was the only rider to complete all three Grand Tours.

Born in Kortezubi, Basque Country on this day in 1960, Federico Echave won stages in a variety of smaller stage races, then took Stage 5 at the 1985 Vuelta a Espana. Two years later he achieved the greatest ride of his life, one that any rider would love to have on his palmares: Stage 20, finishing at the summit of Alpe d'Huez, at the Tour de France. Another few years of stage wins in less prestigious races followed, then he came 6th and 5th overall at the Vuelta a Espana and Giro d'Italia respectively in 1990. In 1992 he was fifth at the Vuelta, but then began to fade away - another rider who got close enough to see the very top level of the sport, but could never quite get there.

On this day in 1985, John Kennedy Howard set a motor-paced bicycle speed record of 245kph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. It would not be bettered for ten years.

Cyclists born on this day: Peter Smessaert (USA, 1908, died 2000); Volker Winkler (East Germany, 1957); Washington Díaz (Uruguay, 1954); Károly Teppert (Hungary, 1891).

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 19.07.2014

Karel Thijs
During the Second World War, La Flèche Wallonne was held on a later date each year than has traditionally been the case. This date, the anniversary of the sixth edition in 1942, is the latest in the race's history. It was 208km long - shorter than before and after the War, but comparable to modern editions - and ran between Mons and Marcinelle. It was the last major victory for Karel Thijs, whose professional career came to an end shortly afterwards.

Percy Stallard
Born above his father's Wolverhampton bike shop on this day in 1909, Percy Thornley Stallard became the man responsible to the reintroduction of mass-start cycling road races in Great Britain.

The ban on road races had come about as the result of an incident in 1890 when a group of cyclists spooked a horse, resulting in an overturned carriage and a complaint to the police; this convinced the National Cyclists' Union that any further complaint would be likely to result in all bikes being banned from the nation's roads and they introduced a rule stating that mass-start races could only be held at velodromes or on sites such as airfields. Individual time trials, in which each cyclist rides alone against the clock, were not banned as the general public are unlikely to realise that a race is even in progress when they see one cyclist and it was easy to hold them in secret; this is the reason that time trials remain more popular in Britain than elsewhere even today and why many cycling clubs like to refer to time trial routes using codes rather than place names - it's also the reason that, until comparatively recently, British cyclists tended to do so badly when they went abroad to compete in road races.

Percy Stallard
In 1936, the Isle of Man held a cycling race on the world famous Tourist Trophy circuit (the Isle has its own government and issues its own passports - NCU laws didn't apply there) and it proved to be a huge success despite the high number of crashes among British cyclists unused to racing in a peloton, rapidly developing into the prestigious Manx International. Stallard took part in the race and finished in 16th place; inspired by it he decided to investigate the possibility of launching a similar event on the British mainland and saw his chance in 1941 when the Second World War caused petrol shortages and traffic levels dropped accordingly, so he wrote to the NCU with his suggestions.

NCU official A.P. Chamberlin was not favourable, writing back to explain the reasons behind the ban and stating that the organisation wouldn't even consider changing its policy. However, now that airfields were being used by the Army and Royal Air Force races were few and far between, so Stallard put the word around that there would be an unofficial meeting at the bottom of Shropshire's Long Mynd, a range of hills that has long been popular among cyclists. It was there that he revealed his plan to hold a 95km on the 7th of July that year from Llangollen in North Wales to Wolverhampton, without the support of the NCU but with the backing of the police - he'd spoken to them to get an idea of how they might react and, rather than threatening a ban, they'd been extremely favourable and offered their help.

The NCU, meanwhile, were furious and set about doing all they could to prevent the race from going ahead, but Stallard would not back down and the race went ahead. A thousand people turned out to see the riders cross the finish line and the event a success by the organisers and the police. Now, the NCU's anger passed beying fury -  Stallard and fifteen others involved in organising the race were handed a sine die ban: one without a specific date upon which it would end but which could be lifted at any time if the subject either successfully appealed or, as the organisation presumably hoped would be the case in this instance, apologised and did as he or she was told. Yet still Stallard would not back down, especially now that he had proved mass-start races could be held on British roads, so in November he helped launch the British League of Racing Cyclists - an organisation of like-minded riders that act as an umbrella body co-ordinating a number of pre-existing groups and would go head-to-head with the cycling establishment.

Encouraged by their success, the BLRC went on to organise Britain's first multi-stage road race which began in 1944 (Stallard won Stage 1, Les Plume won overall); this led in turn to the five-stage Victory Race between Brighton and Glasgow in 1945, organised to celebrate the end of the war - Robert Batot, a Frenchman, won (the race was not recognised by the UCI; Batot and the other five French riders to finish in the top ten came from the BLRC's French counterpart rebel organisation the Fédération Sportive et Gymnastique du Travail - an association of Communist riders - with whom organisers were put in touch by the French owners of a cafe in London's Soho). In 1946, the Victory (now known as Brighton-Glasgow) was held again, then in 1947 it received financial backing from the News of the World newspaper. Their sponsorship ended after that one event but the race took place again in 1948 and 1949, largely paid for by the organisers as had been the case with the first two editions; then in 1950 it was sponsored by the Sporting Record and in 1951 by the Daily Express (which used to be a great newspaper, rather than the rag it is today) - this edition was the first to be named the Tour of Britain (it was joined by an amateur race sponsored the Butlins firm, known as the Butlin Tour, with each stage running between Butlin's holiday camps). The Express remained on board for three years until the constant infighting between organisers and route officials saw them pull out and begin sponsoring motor racing instead, at which point Quaker Oats took over and continued sponsorship for four years. In 1958, by which time the race had become hugely successful, the Milk Marketing Board became sponsor: it was renamed the Milk Race. The final Milk Race was held in 1993, but would be reborn as the PruTour (sponsored by Prudential Insurance) in 1998 and 1999, then vanished once again. In 2004, British Cycling - whom Stallard had despised so much - teamed up with sports and events marketing firm SweetSpot to bring the race back to life. Once again known as the Tour of Britain, it grew to become the largest cycling event in the country and has become an important part of the UCI's EuropeTour racing series.

Stallard was not fundamentally opposed to the NCU itself, but to the entrenched attitudes and beliefs it held - it didn't take long before he started to feel the same way about the BLRC, and he was briefly banned after criticising it. In time, the NCU and BLRC merged to form the British Cycling Federation, which Stallard saw as treason - when one of his employees, Ralph Jones (who had finished in sixth at the Llangollen-Wolverhampton race) went to Spain as part of the group visiting a UCI meeting that led to the BCF becoming recognised as Britain's cycling governing body, he sacked him the day he got back.

Mauro Ribeiro, born in Curitiba, Brazil on this day in 1964, won Stage 9 at the Tour de France in 1991. He was the first Brazilian stage winner in Tour history.

Other cyclists born on this day: Jocelyn Lovell (Canada, 1950); Gorgi Popstefanov (Yugoslavia - now Macedonia, 1987); Edvandro Cruz (Brazil, 1978); Alois Kaňkovský (Czechoslovakia, 1983); Cipriano Chemello (Italy, 1945); Carlos Zárate Fernández (Spain, 1980); Frank Meissner (USA, 1894, died 1966); Vincent Gomgadja (Central African Republic, 1960); Francisca Campos (Chile, 1985); Liudmyla Vypyrailo (Ukraine, 1979); Laurence Burnside (Bahamas, 1946); Victor Hopkins (USA, 1904, died 1969); Rudi Ceyssens (Belgium, 1962).

Friday, 18 July 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 18.07.2014

Fabio Casartelli
16.08.1970 - 18.07.1995
On this day in 1995, during Stage 15 of the Tour de France, 24-year-old Italian rider Fabio Casartelli 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. 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.

Amy Gillett
09.01.1976 - 18.07.2005
Today is also the anniversary of the death of Amy Gillett, who was born in Adelaide in 1976. Originally a world-class rower, Amy had been identified as a track and road cyclist with enormous potential and was predicted to win medals at the 2006 Commonwealth Games but was killed in Germany when a driver lost control of his car and ploughed into a group of cyclists with whom she was training in 2005. Five of her team mates were seriously injured, two sufficiently so that it was thought they also might die. Amy was 29 when she died and was studying for a PhD. She had been married for less than a year and a half.

The Amy Gillett Foundation was set up in her honour, an organisation that aims to cut cyclist fatalities on the road to zero by encouraging safer cycling and increasing awareness of cyclists among other road users as well as funding two scholarships per annum, one to a young female athlete and one to a researcher whose work will assist in reducing cyclist deaths on the roads. You can learn more about their work here.

Gino Bartali
Often, we describe Tour de France winners as heroes - which to cycling fans they are, but to the rest of the world all they've done is won a bike race. Gino Bartali, however, truly was a hero. Born in Pont a Ema on this day in 1914, he was the third child of a farmer and was raised in a poor household. His family were deeply religious, and his Catholic faith shaped his life every bit as much as his powerful physique and natural talent on a bike.

Gino Bartali, who was said to have "looked like a boxer but
climbed like an angel"
At the age of 13 he began racing after being encouraged by colleagues in a local bike shop where he worked to support his family. Success as an amateur brought his first professional contract with Aquilano in 1931, but his career didn't really take off until he joined Frejus in 1935 - in his first year with them he won a number of one-day races, the Tour of the Basque Country, one stage and the overall King of the Mountains at the Giro d'Italia and the National Road Race Championship. At the Giro the following year he won three stages, the King of the Mountains and the General Classification but almost gave up cycling forever when his brother Giulio was killed in a crash while racing. However, he was convinced to continue, and in 1937 he won another National Championship and the Giro's King of the Mountains for the third time and General Classification for a second time.

Bartali entered the Tour de France for the first time in 1937 and won Stage 7, but on Stage 8 he was in a collision on a narrow wooden bridge and fell three metres into a river where he was very nearly swept away by the current - thankfully, Francesco Camusso was nearby and managed to grab hold of him and haul him out. He continued, but lost significant time in the next stages and abandoned in Stage 12. Having been brought up to be respectful, he went to Tour director Henri Desgrange before publicly announcing his decision to leave and Desgrange was touched that he did, because no other rider had ever thought to do so before: "You are a good man, Gino," he told the rider. "We'll see one another again next year, and you will win."

Bartali in 1938
Desgrange was correct - in 1938, the Italian was able to defeat terrible weather and a very strong Belgian team, winning the toughest stage by a margin of 5'18" and finishing up with an advantage of 18'27". Georges Briquet, a radio commentator at the race, remembered: "These people had found a superman. Outside Bartali's hotel at Aix-les-Bains, an Italian general was shouting 'Don't touch him - he's a god.'"

Back in Italy a public subscription fund was started to reward him, the first man to donate money to it being Mussolini. Bartali's feelings about that haven't been recorded, but it's likely that it was a problem for him because, as he would later show, he was very much opposed to the Fascist leader's policies: it was known after the war that he had assisted in efforts to save the lives of Jewish Italians, but it's only comparatively recently that just how far he was willing to go to rescue a fellow human being from almost certain death has become known - not only did he courier information and fake documents around the Italian countryside, he personally transported Jewish refugees in a specially-designed trailer towed behind his bike across the Alps and into neutral Switzerland (if stopped by police, he explained that the trailer was deliberately constructed to be heavy and that towing it over the mountains was part of his training regime. If stopped, he'd almost certainly have been summarily executed or sent to a concentration camp). He was, therefore, a man whose courage went far beyond anything required in a bike race, as he proved when he was arrested and questioned by officers from the notorious SS secret service the Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS and would tell them nothing other than that he did what he felt was the right thing to do.

It's estimated that he was responsible for saving more than 800 people, yet Bartali never asked for reward nor even recognition, stating years later that "One does these things, and that's that" and insisting that the only medal he expected for what he had done was the one he wore upon his heart. In 2012, Israel's Yad Vashem announced that it was gathering further information in preparation for declaring him Righteous Among The Nations, an honour bestowed upon those who helped defend and save Europe's Jews from Fascist attempts to exterminate them.

When Bartali returned to the Tour in 1948, he found that the riders he'd known in the past had either been killed or injured in the war or were now too old to compete so he memorised the names of several other entrants in order to be able to talk to them during the race. Prior to traveling to France, the Italian team had argued before the race over whether Bartali or Fausto Coppi, who had already won two Giri d'Italia, should be team leader. The Tour organisers wanted both men in the race and even permitted a second Italian team so they could both lead, but eventually Coppi decided to sulk and refused to take part at all. Bartali was no longer a young man and whilst the war had taken its toll on everyone, he especially didn't look to be in good shape. He won the first stage, but then began to struggle and Louison Bobet had little trouble in gaining the overall lead and keeping it - though he collapsed after Stage 11, he recovered in time to win the next day.

After finishing Stage 12 with an overall disadavantage of 20', Bartali told his team mates that he was going to abandon; but they persuaded him to sleep on it and see how he felt the following day. He did so, but during the night was woken by a phonecall from Alcide De Gasperi - the prime minister of Italy. De Gasperi told him that Palmiro Togliatti, chairman of the Communist Party, had been assassinated. Could Bartali try his very best to win the next day, he asked, in the hope that such good news might prevent the populace rising up and thrusting the country into civil war?

Bartali with Fausto Coppi
Bartali assured him that not only would he win the stage, he would win the race - and he kept both promises. Stage 13 was won with a 6'13" lead after he took on and beat no less a rider than Briek Schotte, reducing the gap between himself and Bobet to 1'06". Then he won Stages 14 and 15 too, which gave him an overall lead of 1'47" - and, more importantly, united Italy in their support for him. He finished 32" behind stage winner Edward van Dijck in Stage 16, but because his rivals lost significant time his overall lead grew to 32'20" and from that point onwards. Ten years after his first Tour victory, he had won another - the longest period between two wins by any one individual in the history of the race. What he may have achieved had the War not interrupted his career and stolen his best years can only be guessed at.

Considering the eras in which he raced, it's remarkable that Bartali appears to have never resorted to doping. However, he was convinced that Coppi did (with good reason: Coppi later admitted it) and took a dim view of it, which led him to try to find evidence to support his suspicions. During the 1946 Giro he saw Coppi drink the contents of a small glass phial which he then threw into the undergrowth at the side of the road, so he stopped his bike and retrieved it. Later, he gave it to his doctor to investigate but it turned out to have contained a legal tonic. He then began closely monitoring his rival and, while he could never prove anything conclusively, became something of an expert in Coppi's habits and was able to predict how he would ride the following day:
"The first thing was to make sure I always stayed at the same hotel for a race, and to have the room next to his so I could mount a surveillance. I would watch him leave with his mates, then I would tiptoe into the room which ten seconds earlier had been his headquarters. I would rush to the waste bin and the bedside table, go through the bottles, flasks, phials, tubes, cartons, boxes, suppositories – I swept up everything. I had become so expert in interpreting all these pharmaceuticals that I could predict how Fausto would behave during the course of the stage. I would work out, according to the traces of the product I found, how and when he would attack me."
Bartali remained a competitive rider until he was 40, when a road accident ended his career. By that time he had given much of his money away to deserving causes and lost most of what remained in ill-advised investments. Fortunately, his fame was so great that he could earn a living from it, becoming the acerbic host of a popular television show and making a few cameo appearances in films. In old age he developed heart problems (not helped at all by an increasingly sedentary lifestyle - Miguel Indurain's manager once warned the five-time Tour winner to avoid being "like Gino Bartali" in his post-racing life) and underwent bypass surgery in 2000; but the operation was not successful. He was given the last rights and died ten days later, after which an official two-day period of mourning was declared throughout Italy. To this day, historians are still discovering the extents of his heroism - as recently as 2010 new evidence came to light proving that he had concealed a Jewish family in the cellar of his home, saving them from death at the hands of the Fascists he detested so much.

Bartali wins the Tour, 1948

Russell Mockridge
Russell Mockridge was born in Melbourne on this day in 1928 and started his career with the Geelong Amateur CC, where he was nicknamed Little Lord Fauntleroy on account of his accent. Then he began winning races - a lot of races - and people called him The Geelong Flyer instead.

Two years later he rode in the Olympics, but his race was ruined by two punctures; at the British Empire Games two years after that he won two gold medals and a silver. Mockridge was selected for the 1952 Olympic team but initially said he would turn down the invitation due to a requirement that athletes on the team remained amateur for two years - no less a figure than Hubert Opperman personally saw to it that the rule was reduced to one year, and Mockridge won another pair of gold medals. He did indeed turn professional a year later and in 1955 came 64th at the Tour de France - one of only 69 riders from 130 starters to finish the race.

Mockridge died on the 13th of September 1958 when he collided with a bus some 3.2km from the start of the Tour of Gippsland. He was only two months past his birthday and left behind his wife and three-year-old daughter.

On this day in 1947, Federico Bahamontes entered his first race - and won it. On this day in 1959, he won the Tour de France.

Leandro Faggin, born in Padua in this day in 1933, won two Olympic gold medals and held three World Championship titles over the course of his career. He died at the age of 37 of cancer on the 6th of December 1970, and since 2000 is frequently included on lists of probable dopers.

Other cyclists born today: Rafał Furman (Poland, 1985); Martin Stenzel (West Germany, 1946); Sergey Kucherov (Russia, 1980); Joseph Racine (France, 1891, died 1914); Stephen Hodge (Australia, 1961); Michael Neel (USA, 1951); José Velásquez (Colombia, 1970).

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 17.07.2014

Noemi Cantele
Noemi Cantele
Born in Varese, Italy on this day in 1981, Noemi Cantele competed in swimming and athletics as a child - but cycling was in her blood; her family having been fans and cyclists for generations. Her grandfather gave her a bike when she was 12 and, almost immediately, she found that she could beat her older brother, who took part in local races.

Having fallen in love with cycling, she joined local club JuSport Gorla Minore where she met Ugo Menoncin - whom she describes as "the man who shaped me, taught me to live and win." With him, she began to win. Not only local races, but big, prestigious ones - like a bronze medal at the Junior World Championships of 1999. In 2002, she joined the Acca Due O team and began taking part in Elite level competition. As is common with most athletes when they first make the transition to the top level of their sport, she says that the increased competition - "promettevo molto e forse non ho vinto in proporzione" ("I promised lots, but my wins were not in proportion") - took her by surprise, but in the first year she won a stage at the Eko Tour Dookla Polski and came third overall. 2003 was far quieter, but in 2004 she went to the Olympics and came 13th in the road race.

2005 would prove to be Cantele's real breakthrough year with second place at Albstadt and the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, then victory at the GP Ouest France (GP de Plouay); results that brought an invitation to join the world famous Bigla team. She would remain with them for the next four years. Now that she had the support of a world-class team, Cantele began bringing in victory after victory - in 2006, she would win stages at the Route du France, Trophée d'Or and the Giro della Toscana, some of the best-known women's races in the world. The year after that she won the GPs Brissago and Raffeisen, another GP Ouest France and the General Classifications at the Trophée d'Or and Giro della Toscana. She concentrated on the Olympics in 2008 and came 15th, then began to work on her time trial ability, which led to victory at the National Time Trial Championship race in 2009. That same year, she won silver for the time trial at the Worlds (an bronze in the road race), also winning the Emakumeen Saria and - for the first time - a stage at the Giro Donne.

At the Giro del Trentino, 2012
In 2010, Cantele joined the legendary HTC-Colombia team and won more Giro della Toascana stages with them; in 2011 she moved on to the British-based Garmin-Cervelo and rode alongside some of the most famous names in the history of women's professional cycling, riders such as Iris Slappendel, Carla Ryan, Sharon Laws, Lizzie Armitstead and Emma Pooley, and she became Italian Champion in both the road race and the time trial that year. Sadly, Garmin-Cervelo's women's team came to an end at the end of the year when a sponsor withdrew backing (the fact that continuing the women's team would have required the diversion of only a tiny percentage of funds going to the men's team was not missed by fans, though manager Jonathan Vaughters argued this was not possible) and the riders were left in an uncertain position for a while; fortunately the British riders, Australian Ryan and Belgian Jessie Daams all found new homes with AA Drink-Leontien.nl, Alexis Rhodes went to GreenEDGE, Slappendel to Rabobank and Cantele to a new position as captain of the Italian BePink team. With them, she has ventured into new territory and won the GP el Salvador and a stage at the Vuelta Ciclista Femenina el Salvador in South America, as well as the GP Liberazione in Italy and a stage at the Giro del Trentino Alto Adige-Südtirol. She remains with BePink - now Astana-BePink - to this day, and won the Grand Prix de Oriente and two stages (in addition to her team's victory in the team time trial) and the General Classification at the Vuelta Ciclista Femenina a el Salvador  in 2013.

Cantele is a regular on Twitter, where she regularly chats with fans and posts interesting insights into races. She also has an excellent and informative website.

Belgian rider Eric Leman, who was born in Ledegem on this day in 1946. During the late 1960s and first half of the 1970s he became one of the world's top Classics riders with victories at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (1968), the Dwars door Vlaanderen (1969) and the Ronde van Vlaanderen, for which he shares the record of three wins (1970, 1972 and 1973). Leman was also an effective rider in stage races, winning a total of five stages at the Tour de France, ten at Paris-Nice and one at the Vuelta a Espana.

Jaan Kirsipuu, born in Tartu on this day in 1969, was Estonian time trial champion seven times and road race champion three times. He also won four stages of the Tour de France between 1999 (when he led the race for six days) and 2004 and one at the Vuelta a Espana in 1998. With 130 professional victories he is regarded in Estonia as the nation's finest ever cyclist; elsewhere he is primarily known for abandoning the Tour a record twelve times.

Many cyclists are superstitious but Nico Mattan, born in Belgium on this day in 1971, took it further than most: in addition to a dislike of the number 13 that borders on being an actual phobia (if assigned it - or even a number such as 49, in which the two digits can be added to make 13 - as a race number he would try to convince organisers to assign him a different number, and if unsuccessful would wear it upside-down), he believes that 17 is lucky and would request it - or numbers such as 89 - when possible. Mattan's greatest victory was the 2005 Gent-Wevelgem, one of the prestigious Flanders Classics races, but it was a controversial win as many believed he'd drafted behind a team car in order to slingshot past leader Juan-Antonio Flecha.

Edgar Laurence Gray - born on this day in 1906 and known as Dunc - won a bronze medal for the 1000m time trial at the 1928 Olympics. This was the first Olympic medal ever won by an Australian cyclist.

Other cyclists born on this day: Alfred Achermann (Switzerland, 1959); Li Yan (China, 1978); Arles Castro (Colombia, 1979); Karl Barton (Great Britain, 1937); Wiktor Hoechsmann (Poland, 1894, died 1977); Kazuaki Sasaki (Japan, 1967); Vyacheslav German (Belarus, 1972); Monty Southall (Great Britain, 1907, died 1993); Vatche Zadourian (Lebanon, 1974); Syd Cozens (Great Britain, 1908, died 1985); Hans Lienhart (Austria, 1960); Rafael Narváez (Colombia, 1950); Jacinta Coleman (New Zealand, 1974).

Monday, 14 July 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 14.07.2014

Octave Lapize in 1910
The Tour de France ended on this day in 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1966 - the four earliest end dates in the history of the race. 1963 and 1964 were won by Jacques Anquetil and 1966 by Lucien Aimar, which caused much rejoicing in France as today is also Bastille Day.

Octave Lapize - winner of the 1910 Tour de France and the man who famously screamed "Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!" at route officials when he reached the summit of Tourmalet when it was climbed for the first time in the race that year - died on this day in 1917, aged 29. Like so many (their names still known if they won a Tour and long-forgotten if they didn't) his cycling career came to an end in the First World War: his fighter plane was shot down over Flirey in Meurthe-et-Moselle, a village that was completely destroyed during the conflict, and he died in hospital shortly afterwards.

Sheldon Brown
Sheldon Brown, born in Boston, Massachusetts on this day in 1944, was parts manager at the Harris Cyclery bike shop in his home state. Whilst there, his superb memory and eye for detail allowed him to build up a vast  knowledge of bike components which he would use to create an encyclopedic website for his employer. The website grew until it included technical information, workshop advice and tips on modification for (probably) almost every bike and bike component ever manufactured, while Brown himself became a world-recognised expert on the subject and wrote several books. His writing on hub gears, especially Sturmey-Archer models, is considered authoritative.

Sheldon Brown
In the final years of his life, Brown suffered serious nerve deterioration as a result of his illness, going back some time before MS was diagnosed and gradually destroying his balance so that he could no longer ride a conventional bike. He continued cycling on a recumbent tricycle until, eventually, he lost the use of his lower limbs.

Brown, who died of a heart attack on the 4th of February in 2008, was universally liked by all who met him, cyclists and the general public, his cheery personality proving infectious. As he neared the end of his life, he wrote:
"Multiple Sclerosis is a nasty, rare, incurable disease, but there are lots of nasty rare incurable diseases out there. As nasty, rare, incurable diseases go, it's one of the better ones. If you must acquire a nasty, rare, incurable disease, MS is one of the best things going!... I think of it as not so much a "tragedy" as a Really Major Inconvenience... Another great thing about MS is that it's guilt free and blame free! Since nobody knows what causes it, nobody thinks it's because you didn't eat your vegtables, or had sex with the wrong person, or took inappropriate drugs, or lived in a place you shouldn't have, or didn't go to the gym as often as you should have!"

Odile Defraye (Odiel Defraeye)
Odile Defraye
Born in Rumbeke, Belgium on this day in 1888, Odile Defraye was invited at the last moment to join the French bike manufacturer Alcyon's team for the 1912 Tour de France - the team, previously made up entirely of French riders, was initially reluctant to take him on. However, the company's Belgian representative, in charge of sales in the lucrative Belgian market, applied pressure and Defraye was taken on; his job being to help 1911 winner Gustave Garrigou take another victory.

Despite immediately proving to be the stronger rider, Defraye performed his task faithfully and, when Garrigou punctured on nails spread across the road by spectators, the Belgian was the only rider to stop and wait, then try to help him back to the peloton. Garrigou then showed an admirable lack of selfishness: realising that the Belgian had a better chance of catching them without him, he told him to go on alone. Defraye won the stage; while Garrigou did manage to catch up and took second place, the team managers decided that Defraye should become team leader (Garrigou, again proving himself to be free of prima donna tendencies, accepted this). That put him in a very good position indeed - he had the strong Alcyon team riding for him and, since he was the first Belgian with a good chance of winning, all the other Belgian riders too.

Defraye with spare tyres around
his shoulders
A series of punctures and knee problems later in the race nearly put him out of contention and Octave Lapize (who would die on Defraye's birthday five years later, see above) came very close to taking over the lead, but Defraye recovered and launched an attack on the Col de Portet d'Aspet that left Lapize far behind - he abandoned that day, complaining that he couldn't win due to the Belgians all riding for Defraye. Marcel Godivier and Charles Crupelandt, the remaining members of his La Française team, left in solidarity with him the following day.

Once Lapize had gone, Eugène Christophe became Defraye's greatest rival. Christophe was a superbly talented climber but, like most climbers, couldn't sprint; his preferred technique was to mount enormously long solo breaks on the mountain stages (this would have been even more successful when the Tour returned to the accumulated time format the following year, rather than deciding the winner by points, had Christophe not have experienced perhaps the most infuriating and long-running period of bad luck in Tour history) - including, this year, one of 315km, which remains the longest solo break in the history of the race. However, with no mountain stages left and a whole army of helpers willing to chase down an attack, his opportunities had all be used up. Had the race have been decided according to accumulated time, Christophe would in fact have been in the lead; this remained the case until the final time when he eventually gave up, accepted he was beaten and allowed Defraye to become the first ever Belgian winner of the Tour without further challenge.

Mauro Simonetti, who was born in Livorno on this day in 1948, won a bronze medal in the team road race at the 1968 Olympics and Stage 6b at the 1971 Tour de France.

Paul Choque, born in Viroflay on this day in 1910, won a silver medal for the Team Pursuit at the 1932 Olympics. He later twice became French Cyclo Cross Champion (1933 and 1938), won the Critérium International twice (1933 and 1936) and won two stages (16 and 18b) at the 1937 Tour de France, when he was also seventh overall.

On this day in 2012, at the Tour de France, Frank Schleck provided a sample to doping control that tested positive for Xipamide, a diuretic also known as Aquaphor or Aquaphoril. The drug is a diuretic, working by reducing the kidneys' ability to absorb water and thus diluting the urine; this has no performance-enhancing effect but can be used to mask the presence of other substances. As it is not on the UCI's list of banned drugs the rider would not face a suspension, nevertheless his beleaguered RadioShack-Nissan team (caught up in a legal case surrounding retired seven-time Tou winner Lance Armstrong and team manager Johan Bruyneel) withdrew him from the race.

Other cyclists born on this day: Iryna Yanovych (USSR, 1976); Joby Ingram-Dodd (Great Britain, 1980); Gunnar Göransson (Sweden, 1933); Teddy Billington (USA, 1882, died 1966); Mannie Heymans (Namibia, 1971); Tadesse Mekonnen (Ethiopia, 1958); Hipólito Pozo (Ecuador, 1941); Dirk Jan van Hameren (Netherlands, 1965); Jazy Garcia (Guam, 1967); Mark Kingsland (Australia, 1970); Ion Ioniţă (Romania, 1928); Stefan Brykt (Sweden, 1964); Fritz Joost (Switzerland, 1954).