Tuesday 28 February 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 28.02.12

Claudio Chiappucci
Claudio Chiappucci
(image credit: Eric Houdas CC BY-SA 3.0
Claudio Chiappucci was born on this day in 1963 in the Lombardy town of Uboldo and was moulded into the shape of a professional cyclist by his father - a man who was obsessive about the sport even by the standards of the Italian fans, who had befriended none other than Fausti Coppi while the two men languished in a British prisoner of war camp and who would die of cancer the day after his son's inaugural professional race.

Chiapucci jnr. achieved his first notable race success in 1982 when he won the National Amateur Championship, then spent the next eight years quietly winning podium finishes in a huge number of Italian races. Then, in 1990 as he rode the first stage of his second Tour de France, he decided apparently on a whim that he might as well attack the lead group and won an incredible 10 minute advantage which left him looking almost as surprised to be wearing the yellow jersey the next morning as the rest of the world was to see him in it.

That race has become one of the fondly-remembered Tours, because the Italian rider, who would have been virtually unknown had he not have won the Mountains Classification at the Giro d'Italia earlier in the year, managed to fight off the favourite, multiple World Champion and twice (at the time) Tour winner Greg Lemond all the way through to Stage 20 when, finally, the American took back the lead in the individual time trial and grabbed his third win. Chiappucci, now nicknamed Il Diablo, came second; 2'16" down on Lemond, but he'd won something perhaps even greater than a Tour - legendary status. He'd also revealed that he shared the weakness that so many great climbers do: time trials.

The next year, he won Milan-San Remo before going on to the Giro and winning the Points Classification, then won Stage 13, the Mountains Classification and the overall Combativity Award at another remarkable Tour in which he finished 3rd overall behind Gianni Bugno and first place Miguel Indurain. 1992 was equally as promising with the Giro di Trentino, the Mountains Classifications at the Giro d'Italia and the Tour, where he would win his second overall Combativity Award. He also took another one of his legendary victories for Stage 13, mounting an apparently insane attack on the route's first climb and somehow keeping Bugno and even Indurain at bay to the very end.

1993 began in much the same way with Stage 14 and the Mountains at the Giro d'Italia, followed by Stage 17 at the Tour, 2nd in the King of the Mountains and 8th overall - far from his best result, but most riders have an off-year so the world wondered if 1994 would be the year he won his Tour.

It was not to be. Sometime shortly after the Tour, something happened to Chiappucci. Nobody knows what it was, least of all the rider himself, but it caused his immediate and shockingly rapid decline. He had a few more victories in the one-day races and won the Japan Cup later in the year, but it was obvious to those with an eye for form that his days were numbered - it was impossible to pinpoint what had changed, but somehow his legs no longer glowed liked they had once done. He managed a brace of podium finishes at the Giro, but the Tour was a disaster with his best resulting being 9th place on the prologue. He won another Japan Cup and the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, but that was it - his best years were over, and he would never win a Tour.

(image credit: Team Lenox)
Towards the end of Chiappucci's career, the Festina Affair broke after soigneur Willy Voet was caught with a car stuffed full of performance-enhancing drugs. The subsequent investigation revealed for the first time the full extent of doping in professional cycling and turned up the names of several doctors - some real doctors, some with distinctly questionable qualifications and some with no qualifications at all. Among the real doctors was Francesco Conconi, almost certainly the man that first introduced the cycling world to EPO - Chiappucci was one of several riders who had been under his care between 1993 and 1995. At that time, there was no reliable test for EPO - as the doctor was well aware, since he had satisfied himself that such a process was unlikely to become available for some time by attempting to develop one himself, a reasonably accurate indicator since he was arguably the world expert on the drug at the time - and so the UCI relied on haematocrit readings, a red blood cell count, with readings in excess of 50% being considered as evidence that the athlete was likely to be using EPO. Studying Chiappuci's readings from 1993 onwards raised suspicions, but too much time had elapsed for charges to be brought against him - nevertheless, he was labelled "morally guilty."

In 1997, the rider "confessed" to prosecutor Vincenzo Scolastico that he had been using EPO since 1993, but almost immediately formally retracted the statement. This leads to two conclusions: the first is that Chiappucci began doping, as so many riders do, out of desperation when he could no longer achieve the results that he had done during his height; and the second is that he began to use EPO before his decline and the drug caused it. EPO's long term effects are not yet known, but the sheer added stress on the heart and circulatory system as it works to keep unnaturally thick blood is likely to increase wear and tear; leaving us with the possibility that, due to some anomaly of his physical make-up, Chiappucci suffered what lies ahead for an as-yet unknown number of cyclists active during the 1990s and first decade of the 21st Century.

The Tashkent Terror
(image credit: Bundesarchiv CC BY-SA 3.0) 
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, born on this day in the Uzbek captal city Tashkent in 1964, is another example of the iron-hard cyclists that came out of the Soviet sports academies and changed the very nature of European cycling following Perestroika in the early and mid-1990s. Having overcome difficulties caused by his nation's lack of UCI affiliation), his lightning-fast sprint soon earned him the peloton's respect, his somewhat wild technique - the cause of more than a few crashes - earned him his nickname, "The Tashkent Terror."

During the 1991 seaon - his second as a professional - Abdoujaparov left the world in no doubt that he was a major new talent by winning Gent–Wevelgem, the Giro del Piemonte, the G.P. Montreal, four stages at other races, and Stages 1 and 4 and the Points Classification at the Tour de France. In 1992, he won four stafes at the Vuelta a Espana and the Points Classification; then Stages 3, 18 and 20 and another Points Classification at the Tour, three stages at the Vuelta, one stage at the Tour de Suisse and three major criterium races in 1993. 1994 saw him take the Points Classifications again at both the Giro (with one stage) and the Tour (two stages) in addition to the Intergiro; two stages at the Tour of Holland, the Three Days of De Panne and Paris-Nice and another host of criterium wins.

Like Chiappucci, Abdoujaparov was at the top of his game for a relatively short period and declined sharply after 1994. In 1995, he won a single stage at the Tour and none of the classifications, though he led the Points competition for three days and came 2nd behind Laurent Jalabert on points at the end of the race. The next year he was 4th on Points and didn't wear the green jersey at any time in the race. However, he won a remarkable Stage 14 victory by mounting an attack on the climbs, an incredible achievement for a sprinter. He entered the Tour for the final time in 1997 but failed an anti-doping test after Stage 2 which revealed traces of the banned bronchodilator Clenbuterol and other drugs. He announced his retirement a short while later.

Abdoujaparov has three unusual claims to fame. The first is one of the most spectacular crashes of modern times when he hit a giant promotional soft drink can as he sprinted to the finish line of the final stage at the 1991 Tour, smashing himself face-first into the road.. His team, having established that no lasting damage had been done, put him back on his bike and he crossed the line at walking pace accompanied by doctors. The second is that he is one of only four riders to have won the Points Classifications in all three Grand Tours (the other three, incidentally, are Laurent Jalabert, Alessandro Petacchi and Eddy Merckx). The third is that there's a band named after him, headed by Les Carter of the acclaimed 1990s British indie band Carter USM.

Abdoujaparov's famous 1992 crash

Ernest J. Clements
Falcon Cycles - designed by
Ernie Clements
(image credit: Andrew Dressell
CC BY-SA 3.0)
Ernest J. Clements - known as Ernie - was a cyclist who rose to prominence during the first official road races to take place in Britain since the late 19th Century. Born on this day in 1922 in Hadley, Shropshire, he came of cycling age just as the British League of Racing Cyclists gained sufficient strength to organise races independently of the National Cycling Union that had banned road racing for fear that police disapproval would lead to a blanket ban on all bikes on public roads (in fact, when the BLRC organised its first race, the police supported them). He won the BLRC National Road Race championship in 1943, came second the following year and then won again in 1945, before finding a way round the NCU's rules preventing BLRC members from taking part in their races and won their National Championship as well in 1946. Now that he was an NCU member, he could be selected to ride in the Olympics and did so in 1948, where he won silver.

In 1947, the NCU and other organisations began to consider the possibility of sending a British team to the Tour de France and approached Clements, inviting him to turn professional and form part of the team. However, mindful of the fact that the rules of the day prevented any cyclist who had been professional from competing in amateur events after retirement, he refused - and the Tour idea fizzled out anyway. Instead, he opened and ran a cycling shop to support himself, learning the art of frame building and becoming highly reputed for it. He would later become managing director of Falcon Cycles which, as older veteran cyclists can tell you, was once the producer of some of the best bikes in the world, rather than a name on the down tube of Far Eastern £50 supermarket specials. He held the position until the 1970s.

After retiring from Falcon, Clements opened another bike shop in 1990 so that he'd be able to keep in touch with the sport and young people taking it up for the first time. In later life, he developed Parkinson's Disease which led to his death on the 3rd of February in 2009, when he was 83.

Fernand Sanz (full name Fernando Sanz y Martínez de Arizala), born in Madrid on this day in 1881 and won a silver medal in the Men's Sprint at the 1900 Olympics when he represented France. However, he has a far better claim to fame than that: he was the illegitimate son of Alfonso XII, King of Spain. He died on the 8th of January in 1925.

Other births: Dmitry Kosyakov (USSR, 1986); Pedro Bonilla (Colombia, 1967); Esteban López (Colombia, 1974); Nataliya Karimova (USSR, 1974); Dino Porrini (Italy, 1953); August Nogara (USA, 1896, died 1984); Mārtiņš Mazūrs (Latvia, 1908, died 1995); César Muciño (Mexico, 1972, died 2003); Zygmunt Hanusik (Poland, 1945).

29th of February

Dave Brailsford
Ruben Plaza, born in Ibi, Spain on this day in 1980, became National Under-19 Champion in 1997 and then Elite Champion in 2003. 2005 brought his first Grand Tour success with an impressive Stage 20 win against a strong field led by Carlos Sastre and a 5th place finish overall. The remaining highlights of his palmares have been one-day races, a second Elite National Championship in 2009 and 3rd place in Stage 16 at the 2010 Tour de France.

Dave Brailsford was born in Derby, England on this day in 1964 but grew up in Deiniolen, Wales, where he learned to speak Welsh fluently. As a professional cyclist, he spent four years racing in France before returning to Britain to study psychology and sports science degree, later adding an Master of Business Administration degree. He was later recruited by British Cycling as programme director, the performance director, a role that led to an MBE for services to the sport. In 2010, it was announced that he would be taking on duties as general manager of Team Sky with the aim of achieving the first Tour de France overall General Classification win by a British Rider within five years.

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