Friday, 2 December 2011

Daily Cycling Facts 02.12.11

Jan Ullrich (image credit: Heidas CC BY-SA 3.0)
Jan Ullrich
Jan Ullrich, born in Rostock on this day in 1973, was the first - and to date, only - German rider to win the Tour de France, his 1997 victory being credited as the inspiration for a massive upturn in interest in the sport in his home nation.

Ullrich - like Viatcheslav Ekimov, Alexandr Vinokourov, Jens Voigt and many other talented riders from the former USSR and Eastern Bloc - is the product of a Soviet sports academy, facilities to which young teenagers displaying athletic promise would be sent in order to be developed into the finest sportsmen and women they possibly could be, ready to go out into the world and demonstrate the glorious might of what passed for Communism in the Bloc. The school somehow carried on for two years after the Wall fell, with Ullrich, several other students and their trainer Peter Sager joining a Hamburg amateur cycling club after it finally closed. In 1994, less than one year later, he was approached by Telekom manager Walter Godefroot with a professional contract and made hi mark almost immediately with a time trial bronze at the World Championships.

Things went quiet for a year and a half after that with the rider only appearing in the cycling press when he stood on the podium at the Tour du Limousin and Tour de Suisse. He wasn't hibernating through the rest of the year, however - he was winning stages and races in Germany and Russia, where the competitive scene was largely ignored by the rest of the world at the time. He also won his Time Trial National Championship in 1995. The rest of the time? Well, he was doing what East European sports academy students do - training, training and training.

Ullrich with Vinokourov (in sunglasses)
(image credit: Der Sascha CC BY-SA 3.0)
Then he entered his first Tour de France in 1996; earning the respect of cycling fans everywhere when he turned down a place at the Olympics because, in cycling, the Tour is the ultimate, the most prestigious event bar none. He finished 2nd overall and won the Youth Category, later rubbishing comments that he'd have won had he not have had to assist Bjarne Riis whom, he said, had inspired the while team. Indurain, winner of five Tours, told the world that Ullrich was also going to win before long. He had, noticeably, suffered in the mountains that year and lost significant amounts of time; so he responded the only way he knew how - he trained in the mountains. On the mountainous Stage 10 from Luchon to Andorra Arcalis in 1997, Riis showed signs of cracking. Realising that his leader was not going to win the stage, Ullrich fell back from the peloton to his team car and ask permission to attack. Permission was granted - and then he dropped Marco Pantani and Richard Virenque, the greatest climbers of the 1990s. He won the stage by more than a minute and wore the yellow jersey for the first time in Stage 11. Stage 12 was an individual time trial, which he won by three minutes. That, along with several other respectable stage results, won him the overall General Classification, the Youth category and 2nd place in the Mountains Classification.

1998 brought the infamous Tour that became known as the Tour de Dopage, in which Ullrich won Stages 7, 17, 20 and a third Youth Category, this time coming 2nd overall behind Pantani. In 1999, he won the Vuelta a Espana and became the World Time Trial Champion, in doing so convincing the world that he had another Tour win in his legs - however, it would not come to pass because in 2000 Lance Armstrong won his first and became, to all intents and purposes, unbeatable for the next six years. Ullrich was condemned to become the Eternal Second which, he says, was a prime factor in the depression he entered and which, as is the way with depression, brought with it a series of physical illnesses. He would also face trouble with the police when he was caught drunk-driving and had his licence suspended. A month later, he was caught out in an anti-doping test that revealed traces of amphetamines and was given a six-month ban - the minimum since the court agreed that he had taken the drug, along with ecstasy, for recreational purposes rather than to improve athletic performance while out with a broken leg and there was no evidence to suggest that he had taken it again since returning to competition.

2003 looked better. For the first time in many years, he was not a favourite to win the Tour and the reduced pressure seemed to suit him well. Things took a downturn in the first week of the Tour when he fell sick, but he recovered well and got to within a minute of Armstrong. At one point, Armstrong crashed hard when his handlebars caught on a bag being waved by a spectator and Ullrich waited for him to catch up. Had he have attacked, he might have won another victory; but he can apparently recognise the difference between an honourable victory and a hollow one. In 2004, he finished 4th overall - a result with which most riders would be pleased but for him, a small disaster as it was the first time he had finished lower than 2nd. In 2005 - after crashing through the back window of his team car when it stopped without warning in front of him and a nasty crash later on a mountain stage that left him with serious and painful bruising - he finished 3rd.

At the Giro d'Italia
(image credit: Rocco Pier Luigi CC BY-SA 2.5)
Armstrong retired in 2005, telling the world that his decision was permanent, and Ullrich decided he'd continue racing for another season or two. Though now 31, the age at which many riders begin to think of retirement (well, except for sports academy cyclists, that is. Ekimov kept going into his late 30s, Vinokourov retired after a crash in the 2011 Tour de France but then returned later in the year when he was 39 and Jens Voigt, at 40, is still mounting the most fearsome repeated attacks in the Grand Tours), he looked to be on better form than ever at the start of the 2006 season - noticeably leaner and with a new springiness in his calves as he turned the cranks. A back problem had forced him to abandon the Giro d'Italia in great pain, but he seemed well-recovered in the week before the Tour. Then, his name having been one of those that came up in Operacion Puerto, he was banned from competition one day before the race was due to start.

Ullrich successfully obtained a gagging order from a German court against a journalist who claimed - with little evidence - that the rider had made a payment of €35,000 into a bank account belonging to the notorious Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes; but while he was on his honeymoon later that year his house was raided by anti-doping officials who obtained DNA samples subsequently used to prove "beyond doubt" that nine bags of blood discovered in Fuentes' offices belonged to the rider, who announced his retirement on the 26th of February in 2007. He continued to insist that he had never doped, and was allowed to keep an Olympic medal when an IOC investigation found insufficient evidence to suggest that he had cheated in the 2000 Games. However, at the time of writing (Decemeber 2011), he is undergoing trial at the Court for Arbitration in Sport and it is widely rumoured that he may be about to confess to using drugs throughout his career.

Vladimir Efimkin, was born in Kuybyshev, Russia on this day in 1981. His professional career began with Barloworld in 2005, the year he won both the General Classification and Youth Category at the Volta a Portugal after the more experienced riders in the peloton failed to take the virtually unknown Russian seriously. In 2006, he came 2nd in Stage 10 at the Giro d'Italia and then won Stage 4 at the Vuelta a Espana one year later. finishing in 6th place overall. He finished Stage 9 of the Tour de France in 2nd place in 2008, coming second to Riccardo Riccò who was subsequently disqualified during one of the most notorious doping scandals since Operacion Puerto. In 2011, now racing with US-based Pro Continental Team Type 1, he came 5th overall at the Tour of Hainan and 9th in the Tour of China.

Eric Boyer was born on this day in Choisy-le-Roi, France in 1963. During his professional racing career, he finished the 1988 Tour de France in 5th place overall, won Stages 2 and 15 at the 1990 Giro d'Italia and Stage 4 in 1991. In 1992, he won the Tour du Limousin and Stage 8 at the Tour de Suisse, then the Route du Sud in 1993. After retiring at the end of the 1995 Season, Boyer worked as a journalist and later became manager of the Cofidis team.

Gilbert Glaus
Gilbery Glaus
(image credit: de Wielersite)
Gilbert Glaus, born in Thun, Switzerland on this day in 1955 (some sources claim he was born a day later) won an impressive string of victories early in his career including twelve prestigious races in his home nation and became an Amateur World Champion in 1978. He became National Champion four years later, after turning professional and won Stage 10 at the Tour de l'Avenir, a race that serves as a means to find riders likely to perform well in Grand Tours of the future. Winning Stage 7a at the Critérium du Dauphiné in 1982 seemed to confirm that he'd impress in his first Tour de France later that season, as indeed proved to be the case - three top 20 finishes wasn't a bad result at all for a debutante. In 1983, he won the final stage into Paris, came 2nd in Stage 4, 3rd in Stage 7 and 4th in Stage 20.

It was obvious that 1984 would bring good things - especially when he won the GP Kanton Genève and GP Kanton Zurich and six other podium finishes early int he season. He rode the Giro d'Italia and finished Stage 6 in 2nd place, but otherwise resisted temptation to ride hard and thus preserved his legs for the Tour. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out - although he finished 3rd in Stage 6 and 6th in Stages 21 and 23, sixteen stages in which he finished outside the first 100 riders left him with an abysmal total elapsed time more than four hours behind winner Laurent Fignon; and so he became Lanterne Rouge.

His career wasn't finished yet, however - being Lanterne Rouge has its advantages, for a start, and any rider "lucky" enough to receive the "honour" can make a good living from the pay he receives to appear at local criterium races. Also, failure in the Tour de France does not mean failure as a cyclist - the Grand Tours are so far beyond anything else that merely finishing one, with any time, is indication of a rider's strength and talent; so Glaus continued to race. In 1985, he won the Swiss Aarwangen and Meyrin races and 1986 brought perhaps his greatest victory, Bordeaux-Paris. He entered the Tour twice more, in 1986 and 1987, but never again got near the podium, then finished off his career as he'd started with a string of victories in Swiss events and retired in 1982.

Dennis van Winden, a rider with Rabobank, was born in Delft on this day in 1997. At the current time, he is very much an up-and-coming rider; having turned professional in 2006 with B&E before signing up to the Rabobank Continental team for three seasons, then taking his place on the ProTour team for 2010. In 2009, he became National Under-23 Champion and won Stage 9 at the Tour de l'Avenir and in 2011 finished the prologue of the Tour de Romandie in 6th place.

On this day in 1950, an unknown 16-year-old French hopeful named Jacques Anquetil became the proud owner of his very first racing licence.

On this day in 2011, Mexico City awoke to discover that cycling activists had painted a 5km long "guerilla cycle lane" leading into the centre of the city. The lane took eight hours to paint and road signs alerting motorists and cyclists to its presence had also been erected. As the lane was designed to draw attention to the fact that the Mexican government has reneged on its promise to create official cycle lanes, it ended at Congress Hall.

Other births: Nicolas Edet (France, 1987); Paul Rowney (Australia,1970); Maximo Junta (Philippines, 1950); Tinus van Gelder (Netherlands, 1911, died 1999); Neil Lyster (New Zealand, 1947); Gianni Sartori (Italy, 1946); Paavo Kuusinen (Finland, 1914, died 1979); Damian Zieliński (Poland, 1981).

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