(image credit: JohnTheScone CC BY 2.0)
Magnus Bäckstedt, nicknamed Magnus Maximus, was born on this day 1975 in Linköping, Sweden. At 1.93m tall and 94kg in weight, he is often listed among Tour de France superlatives as the biggest rider to have taken part in the event - for comparison, two riders known for being larger than the average cyclist: Piet Moeskops (13.11.1893-16.11.1964) was 1.87m but weighed 100kg, whereas Thor Hushovd is a petite 1.83m and 83kg.
Like many riders, Bäckstedt began cycling as part of fitness regime while specialising in a different sport; in his case, skiing, having been selected to join the national team when he was still only 14 years old. Having discovered his talent, he turned professional with Collstrop in 1996, changing to Palmans and then GAN with whom, in 1998, he came 7th at Paris-Roubaix. Crédit Agricole manager Roger Legeay had watched him race and noticed his strength, predicting after the race that he would be a future winner; as indeed proved to be the case in 2004. In 2005, he moved to Liquigas-Boanchi and entered his first Tour de France, crossing the line in second place at the end of Stage 7. He entered again in 2008 with Garmin-Chipotle, but this time failed to finish a stage before the cut-off time and was eliminated from the competition.
A number of health problems including a melanoma, knee injury and a separated shoulder had plagued him throughout his career and are widely though to have prevented him from achieving his full potential. He retired in 2008, saying that he would concentrate on his coffee business which has grown into a successful company with several franchises in Sweden and the USA. A share of the profits are channeled into Swedish cycling.
Bäckstedt is the older brother of Cecilia, also a professional cyclist, as is wife Megan Hughes who was British National Road Race Champion in 1998, Welsh National Road Race Champion in 1999. They live in Wales with their two daughters. In 2010, Bäckstedt announced that he would be returning to cycling in order to lead the UK Youth Cycling Team.
Roger Hammond, born in Chalfont St. Giles in 1974, is celebrating his birthday today. The cyclo cross and road rider began his professional career after graduating from university in 2000 and, having been Junior National CX Champion as a schoolboy, became National CX Champion that year - a title he retained but for one year until 2007 . He started out with Collstrop-De Federale Verzekeringen, remaining with them until the end of the 2004 when he departed and went to Discovery, where he remained for a year before spending another year with T-Mobile just as the team transformed into Highroad. He then went to the Cervélo Test Team in 2009 and has remained with the Canadian manufacturer ever since, now riding with Garmin-Cervélo. Hammond has performed well in the Tour of Britain, winning two stages and managing podium finishes in several others, as well as once standing on the lowest step of the podium at the Vuelta a Espana (Stage 2, 2009). He also has an aptitude for the Classics, having come 2nd at the 2007 Ghent-Wevelghem, then 10th in 2008, 3rd at Paris-Roubaix in 2004 and then 4th in 2010.
|Mark Bell, 1960-2009|
Bell's amateur career was nothing short of spectacular, with some 200 victories. In 1979, he joined the Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt and rode alongside Robert Millar, Scotland's greatest ever cyclist. He began to show talent on the road at about the same time and in 1981 became National Road Champion and won two stages in the Milk Race, as the Tour of Britain was then known. He became the first foreign winner in the history of the Étoile de Sud in 1983 and then a year later rode in the Olympics - that race, however, proved to be a disaster. He had been told that the course was flat, whereas in reality in included one very challenging hill and for all his talents, Bell was most definitely not a climber. He abandoned the race.
Having turned professional in 1985 to join the Falcon team, he came third in the National Road Race competition. He joined Team Raleigh the following season and won it; his superb sprinting ability showing itself when, as race official and future British Cycling president Brian Cookson remembers, "he simply rode away from some of the greatest names in the sport." He also came second in the Tom Simpson memorial that year, then joined Emmelle-MBK before retiring at the end of the 1988 season.
Life after retirement was not at all kind to Bell. He suffered from poor health and became an alcoholic, which made some of his medical issues worse. In 2008, he said that he "was on top of" his alcoholism, meaning that he had made an effort to bring it under control and, at the time, was managing to do so, like all alcoholics never knowing whether this the end of the war or just another battle. He also revealed that he was suffering from damage caused by deep vein thrombosis in his left leg and required a shoulder joint replacement due to osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone marrow. Sadly, his body gave out before he did and he died on this day in 2009 at the age of 48.
Bill Nickson, born today in 1953, was the overall winner at the 1976 Tour of Britain (then called the Milk Race) and represented Great Britain in the Road Race and 100km Team Time Trial at the 1976 Olympics. He also ran a bike shop named Bill Nickson Cycles in Leyland, Lancashire - it's still there and is now run by his son, Bill Jnr.
Other births: Jason Donald (USA, 1980); Hervé Dagorné (France, 1967); Domingo González (Mexico, 1970); Jerzy Koszutski (Poland, 1905, died 1960); Flavio Anastasia (Italy, 1969); Dave Lettieri (USA, 1964).