|Tommy Simpson, 1937-1966|
Today is a holy day in cycling - it would have been the 74th birthday of legendary, tragic Tommy Simpson - perhaps Britain's best ever hope for a Tour de France overall General Classification winner and the only British World Champion until Mark Cavendish took the title this year. Tommy's death, caused by sheer exhaustion, alcohol, amphetamines and Mont Ventoux has become one of professional cycling's greatest and most-told stories, the memorial on the mountain where he died a place of pilgrimage for cyclists from around the world. Simpson did not die in vain: his death was the wake-up call that alerted the world to the prevalence and dangers of doping and forced organisers to begin to consider ways to control it. Simpson would be the last British-born World Champion in 2011, when Mark Cavendish won the title in Copenhagen. In recognition of his achievement, Cavendish was awarded an MBE by the Queen on Simpson's birthday that year.
Laurent Jalabert, born in Mazamet on this day in 1968, is a retired French cyclist and one of the few to have become a well-known character among the non-cycling public outside the cycling nations of France, Italy, Spain and the Benelux. As a result, it frequently comes as a surprise to many when they learn that Jaja never won cycling's most famous race, the Tour de France. However, stage wins on Bastille Day in 1995 and 2001 earned him the thanks of French fans, restoring to them some of the pride lost during the long years since Bernard Hinault last took overall Tour victory.
|The outcome of The Policeman's Crash|
Sylvie, Jalabert's wife to whom he is still married, was understandably concerned that her husband had been so badly hurt in such an unpredictable accident. He promised her that he would find a way to continue racing that didn't require him to be in the high-speed tussle of a final sprint. Thus began his transformation into one of the finest all-rounders of his generation, a change that turned him from a sprinter able to grab glory in individual sprints to a rider who had a real chance at topping general classifications. Just a year later, he proved his new status at the Vuelta a Espana when he won the Points classification, the King of the Mountains and the General Classification - the trifecta, the only man to have done so in the Vuelta and an honour he shares in the Grand Tours with only Tony Rominger and the legendary Eddy Merckx. In that same Vuelta, he cemented his popularity among fans by allowing a little-known German rider named Bert Dietz to win the sought-after summit finish at Sierra Nevada: Dietz had ridden much of the race in a solo break but, after chasing for many kilometres, Jalabert caught him on the mountain. The outcome of the stage was, apparently, settled - but then Jaja was seen to hold back, refusing to overtake. "I never thought we'd catch him, and when I saw he was ready to drop I felt sorry for him," he later told reporters.
(image credit: Cycling Art)
|Maurice Garin in 1897|
On this day in 1904, four months after the end of the race, the Union Velocipedique de France announced that it would be stripping Maurice Garin of his Tour de France win and banning him for two years as part of its disciplinary action against 30 riders found to have cheated. Second place Lucien Pothier was also disqualified, allowing Henri Cornet (real name Henri Jardry) to become the youngest winner in Tour history at 19.
Garin had also won the first Tour in 1903, but spectators claimed to have seen him take a train rather than ride one stage the following year - he denied doing so at the time, but admitted it in old age according to a man who had once run errands for his garage and later ended up working as the gravedigger and attendant at the Cimetiere Est where Garin was buried in 1957. The organisers, despite suspicions that they had permitted Garin to cheat because his personal sponsor was also a race sponsor, appear to have grounds to have banned him immediately and would have been keen to do so had not angry spectators been likely to turn into a lynch mob if they'd done so.
In fact, aggression and cheating by spectators had been rife throughout the race that year - they'd felled trees to block riders they disliked and at one point Garin was savagely beaten by a crowd who had to be dispersed with pistol shots. This, combined with cheating among the entrants, was sufficient for Henri Desgrange to announce that the 1904 Tour would be the last. Thankfully, he was convinced to run the event again the following year with different, stricter rules.
Knud Enemark Jensen
Knud Enemark Jensen, born in Århus, Denmark on this day in 1930, achieved cycling fame in the very worst way possible - he was one of the earliest cyclists whose death was connected to doping when he collapsed in the 42C heat and fractured his skull during the team time trial event on the 26th of August at the 1960 Olympics. He went into a coma and died a few hours later in hospital.
Witnesses claimed that Jensen had swallowed eight pills believed to be phenylisopropylamine, an amphetamine-like drug, and another fifteen containing amphetamine and caffeine in the run-up to the race. His trainer initially said that he had administered Roniacol (nicotynol alcohol), a vasodilator, to the team but formally retracted his statement soon after. An autopsy confirmed the presence of both Roniacol and amphetamines in his body, but doctors concluded that his collapse had been caused by the heat rather than the drugs and his family were awarded one million lire compensation.
There are obvious comparisons between the deaths of Jensen and the British rider Tom Simpson, with whom he shared his birthday. Jensen's death encouraged the International Olympic Committee to accept that there was a problem with doping in sport and to establish a medical council in 1967, the year that Simpson died. Anti-doping controls would be put into place the following year, paving the way for similar controls to be introduced at the Tour de France and other races.
(image credit: sports.fr)
Born in Rabat, Morroco on this day in 1922, Custodio Dos Reis had Portuguese nationality but became a French citizen at the age of nine - and turned out to be a worthwhile catch by France, because he won Stage 14 of the Tour de France in 1950.
Charles Henry Bartlett died on this day in 1968 in Enfield, London. In 1908, he rode 100km in 2h41'48.6" on the track at the Olympics in London and won a gold medal for his achievement. He was born on the 6th of February 1885 in Bermondsey, also in London, making him 85 when he died.
Other births: Domenico Pozzovivo (Italy, 1982); Arthur Griffiths (Great Britain, 1881); Martin Hvastija (Slovenia, 1969); István Liszkay (Hungary, 1912); Armand Putzeyse (Belgium, 1916, died 2003); Franck Perque (France, 1974); Kyriaki Konstantinidou (Greece, 1984); Andrés Torres (Guatemala, 1966); Álvaro Pachón (Colombia, 1945).