|Rik van Looy, the Emeror of Herentals and the King of the
King of the Classics Rik van Looy was born on this day in 1933 in the town that bears everyone's favourite Belgian placename, Grobbendonk. Rik became the first man to win all five Monuments - Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Giro di Lombardia, a feat since repeated by only Roger De Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx.
In addition, he won nineteen stages at the Vuelta a Espana (including eight in 1965 alone, also overall Points classification in 1959 and 1965), twelve stages at the Giro d'Italia (and Mountains classification in 1960), seven stages at the Tour de France (and overall Points classification in 1963) and many other races; yet never won a Grand Tour with his best results being 3rd overall in the Vuelta for 1959 and 1965. He was also a skilled track rider, winning eleven six-day events.
Van Looy grew up with a love of cycling and took a paper-round during his youth so that he could save up for a second-hand racing bike. In his first race, he was lapped five times and left in a bad mood, vowing that he would never race again - however, at some point it occurred to him that a far better course of action would be to train hard and ensure he never again suffered such a humiliating defeat. That drive to win would manifest itself again in his professional career when he became a team leader - colleagues remember him as a hard taskmaster who expected all members to ride for him at all times and would not tolerate anything other than total, unquestioning obedience.
Known for his lightning-fast sprint, van Looy - like many sprinters - was simply to heavy on account of his muscular physique to win a Tour because he suffered in the mountains. Yet, he won the Mountains Classification at the 1960 Giro d'Italia, a feat that cannot be easily explained. All in all, he is thought to have won around 500 races during a career that spanned 17 years and came to an end only because of his anger at younger cyclists who, in his opinion, failed to show him the respect he felt he deserved.
18.10.1882 - 20.12.1917
On this day in 1917 Lucien Georges Mazan was killed when he crashed into a car near the WW1 front at Troyes. He had emigrated to Argentina with his family when he was six years old. Some time in 1898/9, he won a bicycle in a lottery competition and began racing under the false name Louis Breton so he could keep his sport secret from his father who wanted him to get a "proper job."
Despite taking Argentine nationality, Mazan was drafted into the French Army in 1902 and returned to his native country to serve. He continued racing, winning the Bol d'Or in 1904, but had to change his name once again, adopting Petit so avoid confusion with another rider name Lucien Breton. In 1907, he won the first Milan-San Remo and then entered the Tour de France. By the end of Stage 5, he was far down the leadership and appeared to have no chance of a good result - the race was decided on points in those days and, while Petit-Breton was in second place, leader Emile Georget was way ahead. Then, in Stage 9, Georget's bike broke and he had to finish on a replacement. Since the rules of the day demanded that riders fixed broken bikes without assistance unless the bike had been declared beyond repair by judges, which it had not, he was fined 500 francs. Then, in Stage 10, organisers rather unfairly decided that their previous decision was an insufficiently harsh punishment and docked him 44 points by relegating him to last place for the stage - putting him in 3rd place overall and Petit-Breton in first, a position he held for the remainder of the race.
In 1978, six decades after his death, Petit-Breton became the hero of a rather peculiar episode of the TV drama series Les Brigades du Tigre in which he was played by Jacques Giraud. In it, two detectives are assigned to follow the 1908 Tour where a mystery man has been murdering cyclists, leading most of them to want to abandon the race for their own safety. Petit-Breton, meanwhile, is far braver than the rest and manages to persuade them to continue. The series is available on DVD but, to be fair, only really worth seeking out by obsessive Petit-Breton fans, if such people still exist.
Born in Mendrisio, Switzerland on this day in 1980, Michael Albasini is a rare climber who can also sprint; a combination that saw him win the Mountains and Points competitions at the Tour de Suisse in 2006. He had first come to note when he won the Under-19 National Road Race Championship in 1998, then became Under-23 European Champion four years later before going on to win the Points competition at the Tour de Suisse in 2005. In 2009 he won the Tour of Austria and was ninth at La Flèche Wallonne; a year later he won the Tour of Britain and in 2011 the Mountains competition at the Tour of the Basque Country.
Albasini joined the Australian GreenEDGE team for 2012 and was selected to race at the Volta a Catalunya. Although he was not one of the favourites for the race, after he won Stages 1 and 2 the team made a magnificent job of protecting him throughout the remaining five stages and, despite finishing outside the top ten on all but one of those five stages, he ultimately finished in first place overall with an advantage of 1'32" - which had not changed since the end of the second stage.
Paralympian cyclist Matthew Gray was born in Perth, Australia on this day in 1977. At the 2000 Paralympic Games he won gold medals in the LC1-3 Sprint and LC1 Time Trial, setting a new world record in the latter. He was later awarded the Order of Australia for his efforts.
Karel Kaers, a Belgian professional, died on this day in 1972. Among Kaers' 30 wins were a World Road Championship title (aged just 20, he won the first time he entered and became the youngest ever world champ), National Pursuit and Road Champion titles, the Six Days of Paris, Copenhagen, London and Brussels, a Tour of Flanders and the Circuit de Paris. He was born on the 3rd of June 1914, making him 58 when he died,
It's the anniversary of the death of Albert van Vlierberghe in 1991, the Belgian professional rider and winner of three stages in the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia. Vlierberghe's sixth place result after one stage of the 1979 Deutschland Tour is controversial since notorious ex-soigneur Willy Voets claimed that he gave the rider a lift in his car so as to avoid a hilly section - whether or not this is true will probably never be known and opinions must be based entirely on personal opinions of Voet and his capacity for lying.
Other cyclists born on this day: