Monday, 20 February 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 20.02.12

Charles Pélissier
Charles Pélissier, younger son of Francis (who won three National Road Race Championships) and Henri (the most famous of the brothers, winner of the Tour de France in 1923), was born in Paris on this day in 1903. While Henri excelled in the Classics, Charles made a name for himself a a cyclo crosser in his early career - he was National Champion in 1926, 1927 and 1928, a period in which he also performed impressively on road with wins in the Paris-Arras, the Circuit du Cantal, the Mont Faron (a climber's competition) and others during the same period, also winning silver medals for the Road Race and Individual Time Trial races at the Nationals and 3rd place at Paris-Roubaix in 1927. This is the palmares of a very strong, very talented rider; one with a better range of skills than Henri who seems to have ridden well only in road races.

In fact, the younger brother was arguably the better Tour rider too. Henri may have won one overall, but he might not have done had Ottavio Bottecchia not punctured at various inopportune times and then made a complete hash of things when he failed to change gear (in those days achieved by removing the rear wheel and flipping it over to select a cog of a different size) just before a climb - a failure noticed by Pelissier, who took full advantage of it; but Charles won sixteen stages in total, compared to Henri's ten. What's more, eight of those stages were won in one single Tour (Stages 1, 3, 10, 11, 18, 19, 20 and 21 in 1930) - and only two other riders in history have equalled that record, Freddy Maertens in 1976 and Eddy Merckx in 1970 and 1974. We should, then, bear in mind that as Charles was fourteen years younger than Henri he may also have been rather over-awed by him and was this prevented from winning a Tour for himself.

Marie Marvingt
Marie Marvingt
114 cyclists started the Tour de France in 1908, drawn from 162 who had applied for admittance and were then either unable to start or were refused - among those in the latter group was Marie Marvingt, whose application was declined because she was a woman. Born in Aurillac on this day in 1875, Marvingt had been encouraged to take part in a wide selection of sports by her remarkably enlightened father and became an enormously successful athlete who won competitions in equestrian sports, field athletics, tennis, soccer, golf, shooting, water polo, swimming, martial arts, boxing, skiing, bobsleigh, luge, ski jumping, skating, shooting, fencing and mountaineering. Cycling, oddly enough, seems to be a sport in which she showed little previous interest, but she was an avid long distance rider and had ridden from Nancy to Napoli to witness a volcanic eruption - a distance of around 1,400km. Knowing that only rules prevented her from completing the Tour, she rode the entire route after the race - sadly, the time she took to do it doesn't seem to have been recorded and so we'll never know how she might have fared against the men; but as only 36 finished the race she can be said to have out-ridden 78 of them.

Marvingt first flew in a hot air balloon in 1901 and immediately fell in love with it, becoming a qualified balloon pilot in 1907 and flying solo for the first time in 1909; later that year she became the first woman to pilot a balloon over the North Sea from France to Britain. She flew in an aeroplane for the first time a short while later and fell in love with that too, soon becoming the second woman to ever qualify as a monoplane pilot and setting a new record by completing 900 flights without a single crash. She then became fascinated by the idea of using aircraft to rescue injured personnel from battlefields, which she proposed to the French military in 1910 before co-designing the first specialised air ambulance.

When war broke out in 1914, Marvingt disguised herself as a man and with assistance from a sympathetic officer joined the army, seeing active service with the 42ième Bataillon de Chasseurs à Pied before being discovered. She was expelled, but a year later volunteered to fly bombers over Germany and was accepted, becoming the first female pilot in history to fly combat missions, also acting as a war correspondent for newspapers. After the war she devoted her life to the development of air ambulances and traveled the world lecturing on the subject, becoming perhaps the most important figure in their introduction and making two films about them.

Marvingt received more military and civilian honours than any other woman in French history; among many others the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur, Officier de la Légion d'honneur, the Médaille d'Argent du Service de Santé de l'Air, the Médaille de l'Aéronautique, the Palmes Académiques, the palms du Premier Tireur, the Croix de Guerre 1914 -1918 avec palmes and the Médaille de la Paix du Maroc. In 1910, she was awarded a Médaille d'Or "for all sports" by the Académie des Sports - the only time the medal has ever been awarded.

At the age of 80, Marvingt was flown over Nancy in a USAF fighter jet and began studying for her helicopter pilot licence, which would be one of the very few things she set out to achieve but could not, and six years later she cycled the 350km from Nancy to Paris. Having become wealthy, she announced through newspapers in 1922 that she was making a bet that nobody could beat her list of awards in sport, science and the arts, and she provided a prize of US$10,000 for anyone who could. By 1936, nobody had even bothered trying to claim the money; so she reissued the bet - and then reissued it again in 1948 when she still had no takers. It remained unclaimed in 1963, when she died at the age of 88. In addition to her incredible sporting achievements, Marvingt spoke five languages fluently, wrote four best-selling non-fiction books, numerous popular poems and continued having articles published by newspapers and magazines right up until her death.

Jean Dotto
Jean-Baptiste Dotto, who died on this day in 2000, was born in St-Nazaire on the 27th of March in 1928 of Italian nationality and took French citizenship in 1937. He would become known as a powerful climber and won a Mont Ventoux hill climb competition whilst riding as an independent, then turned professional in 1952 and won the first of his two Critérium du Dauphiné victories (the second would be in 1960). He also entered the Tour de France and finished in 8th place overall - an impressive result for a debutante. The next year, he won Stage 19, a stage that included the Galibier.

In 1955, Dotto achieved his greatest claim to immortality on the history of cycling when he became the first Frenchman to win the Vuelta a Espana. His Tour results never quite lived up to the early promise, which had revealed him a possible future winner, but four more top 20 finishes and three in the top 60 were respectable enough. In 1963, his final professional year, he won the Mountains Classification at the Tour de Romandie.

Jan Boven, born on this day in the Dutch city of Delfzijl in 1972, turned professional with Rabobank in 1996 and remained with them until his retirement in 2008.

Bim Diederich, also known as Jean, was born in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg on this day in 1922. He won the Tour of Luxembourg in 1949, Stage 15 at the 1950 Tour de France, Stage 2 and the yellow jersey for three days in 1951, then Stage 5 in 1952.

Giovanni Pettenella, who was born in Caprino Veronese, Italy in 1943 and died on this day in 2010, won one gold and one silver medal at the 1964 Olympics. He also had perhaps the strangest claim to fame of any cyclist: he was the inspiration for a character named Pettenella Giovanni (do you see what they did there?) in a computer game called Mother 2, released in 1995. In the game, Pettenella has lost a contact lens in the sand of a desert. If the player can find it and keep it until reaching a bakery in a town later in the game, they will again meet Pettenella and can return the lens to him. To show his gratitiude, he rewards the player with a pair of stinky socks that can be used to overcome enemies in fights. He also appears in EarthBound, a game created by the same developer, as Penetella Giovanni.

Other births: Johannes van Spengen (Netherlands, 1887, died 1936); James Freeman (USA, 1891, died 1951); Fritz Ganz (Switzerland, 1916, died 1992); Francisco Mujica (Venezuela, 1936); Willy Skibby (Denmark, 1942); Dimitar Gospodinov (Bulgaria, 1972); Jean-Paul Maho (France, 1945); Jan Østergaard (Denmark, 1961); Paul Jennings (Great Britain, 1970); Nicholas Baker (Cayman Islands, 1957).

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