Saturday, 3 March 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 03.03.12

Paris-Nice began on this day in 1985, and would be won that year for a fourth consecutive year by the Irish rider Sean Kelly - thus breaking the three consecutive wins record set by Eddy Merckx in 1971 (what's more, Sean would win the next year to equal Jacques Anquetil's five win record too. Then he won for the next two years as well, setting a seven consecutive victory record that is unlikely to be broken). The classification leadership jerseys of Paris-Nice have changed several times over the years and this year it was the turn of the King of the Mountains, which became blue.

Maurice Garin
Garin with masseur and son, 1903
Maurice-Francois Garin was born in Arvier, Italy on this day in 1871 - a tiny village of just seven families, five of them with the surname Garin - and died on the 19th of February 1957 in France. Garin's father was 36 and his mother 19 when they married and life was difficult - the cottage in which he was born can still be seen in Arvier, a short way from the French border, but it lies in ruins and must have been horrendously cramped when occupied by the couple and their nine children, this no doubt being one of the reasons they emigrated over the border when Maurice was 14. It seems that they did so illegally - legal emigration was possible, but the mayors on the French side had been instructed to make it as difficult as possible and the family members traveled separately to escape detection. According to legend, Maurice was exchanged for a round of cheese at some point along the way - a frequently recounted in support of the (often true) "desperate boys from a harsh background" stereotype that makes up a large part of early cycling's mythos.

In fact, the legend may be true. In those days, a 14-year-old boy was considered to be ready to make his own way in the world and, rather than displaying a lack of care, Garin's parents may have believed that they were doing the right thing. That he was working as a chimney sweep in Reims a year later suggests that they cheese may have been a sort of custody payment from an employer - Garin would, as a result, have been tied to the job for a certain number of years, but better that than no job at all in a world where the concept of state unemployment benefits was a long way off. Also, it paid enough for him to join forces with two of his brothers and set up a bike shop in Roubaix in 1895. The exact date at which he became a naturalised Frenchman is unknown, but is thought to have been either 1892 or 1901, by which time the other members of his family had dispersed around France and his father, having returned to Arvier, was dead.

The shop seems to have been quite successful as it paid Garin enough to buy his first bike in 1889 for 405 old francs, roughly €1,400 today. He had no interest in racing but became known locally for the high speeds at which he cycled around town and earned the nickname "Le Fou," The Madman, which brought him to the attention of a cycling club secretary who pleaded with him to race for the organisation. Garin not only agreed, he also finished a very respectable 5th - not bad at all for a first race and despite suffering from the great heat that day. He realised that racing was something he could be good at, and entered more races. His first win came in 1893 and he sold his bike, combined the proceeds of that with the money he'd won in the race and bought a newer, lighter model for the equivalent of €3,000. It was fitted with the newly-popular pneumatic tyres that had been patented by a Scots-Irish vet three and a half years earlier.

He became a professional that same year, and did so in typically unusual fashion: having turned up for a race in Avesnes-sur-Helpes, he was informed by officials that the event was open only to professional riders. Rather than going home or becoming a spectator, he waited until nobody was looking once the riders had set off and then jumped on his bike and went after them. He crashed twice but dropped them all, finishing the race far ahead of them. The crowd loved it - the organisers, meanwhile, were not so impressed and refused to pay him the prize money; so the spectator had a whip-round and gave him 300 francs, double what the professional winner received. It was not long until a sponsor approached him with a contract, and his first victory as a professional came a short while later at a 24-hour race in Paris during which he covered 701km. A record survives showing what Garin claimed to have eaten during the race and makes for impressive reading even when compared to the vast quantities of food (and, in some cases, intoxicating substances) consumed by rider since: 5 litres of tapioca, 2kg of rice, 45 cutlets of meat, 7 litres of tea, 8 eggs, 19 litres of drinking chocolate, some oysters, a mixture of champagne and coffee and "lots" of strong red wine.

Remarkable though his early life and career may have been, Garin will be forever remembered as the man who won the very first Tour de France in 1903 and then won the second one too but was stripped of the victory for cheating. Originally, the race had been planned as a mammoth five-week ordeal by organiser Henri Desgrange, but only 15 cyclists had liked the sound of that and expressed interest so it was reduced to a six-stage event over 2,428km. Garin won 3,000 francs, but the race had been hard - he told journalist Pierre Chany:
"The 2,500km that I've just ridden seem a long line, grey and monotonous, where nothing stood out from anything else. But I suffered on the road; I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was sleepy, I suffered, I cried between Lyon and Marseille, I had the pride of winning other stages, and at the controls I saw the fine figure of my friend Delattre, who had prepared my sustenance, but I repeat, nothing strikes me particularly.
But wait! I'm completely wrong when I say that nothing strikes me, I'm confusing things or explaining myself badly. I must say that one single thing struck me, that a single thing sticks in my memory: I see myself, from the start of the Tour de France, like a bull pierced by banderillas, who pulls the banderillas with him, never able to rid himself of them."
1904 was harder still. The race remained the same distance, but this time fans remembered the events of the previous year and started vendettas against riders they disliked, felling trees across the road to hold them up and physically beating them given the chance. Garin had apparently incurred their wrath at some point, because he was attacked under cover of darkness during a night stage as he climbed  the Col de la République, suffering  severe beating and being hit in the face with a stone. The mob were wild, braying "Up with local hero, André] Faure! Down with Garin! Kill them!" The Italian rider Paul Gerbi was punched and kicked until he became unconscious and had his fingers broken - which suggested that the death threats may well have been carried out had officials not arrived and dispersed the crows by firing their pistols into the air. Later on in the same stage, they ran into a gang of men on bikes and were attacked again - this time, Garin's arm was injured and he had to steer with one hand to the end of the stage.

As if the spectators hadn't been trouble enough, there was widespread cheating among the riders that year (some of them may even have paid for the nails that the spectators threw into the road to cause punctures). No fewer than nine had been kicked out during the race, mostly for "illegal use of cars and trains" (Lucien Petit-Breton said that he'd seen a rider he preferred not to name publicly getting towed by a motorbike, but when he tried to remonstrate with the man, he pointed a pistol at him) and more complaints came in when the race was over. The Union Vélocipédique Française started an investigation, details of which were lost when records were transported to the South of France for safe-keeping during the Nazi Occupation, and in the end a further 20 riders were disqualified. Among them were Garin, who had won the race, 2nd place Lucien Pothier, 3rd place César Garin (Maurice's brother) and 4th place Hippolyte Aucouturier. 19-year-old Henri Cornet, real name Henri Jardry, had been given an official warning after he was spotted getting a lift in a car during the race but, perhaps on account of his youthful inexperience, was not disqualified and thus his 5th place finish was upgraded to 1st. He remains the youngest winner in Tour de France history. However, Garin did not confess.

Retirement was good for Garin - he ran a garage in Lens and, though not rich and rarely recognised even though a velodrome was named in his honour in 1933 and he received a gold medal for his services to sport five year later, seems to have been happy with it and was comfortable (the garage still stands at 116 Rue de Lille, but is much modernised). He retained his interest in cycling throughout his life and started a professional team after the Second World War. He lived to see the 50th anniversary of the Tour, watching the finish from a special podium with several other stars of the races from days gone by, and died four years later at the age of 85. After his death, the world began to take an interest and film crews started to document his life. In the Nord-Pas-de-Calais cemetery where he is buried, they discovered that the cemetery attendant was from Lens and had been familiar with Garin and his garage during his boyhood - and revealed that, as an old man, Garin freely admitted to his cheating in the 1904 Tour.

Even without his Tour success, Garin was a phenomenally talented rider who more than lived up to the promise he showed when he was an amateur and beat the professionals. He won Paris-Roubaix twice (d came 3rd twice), Paris-Saint-Malo, Guingamp-Morlaix-Guingamp, Paris-Le Mans, Paris-Mons, Liège-Thuin, Paris-Royan, Paris-Cabourg, Tourcoing-Béthune-Tourcoing (twice), Valenciennes-Nouvion-Valenciennes, Douai-Doullens-Douai, Paris–Brest–Paris, Bordeaux–Paris and set a world record for riding 500km behind a human pacer (ie, a series of cyclists) in 15h2'32". The money he won would have bought his parents a lot of cheese.

Caroline Alexander, a mountain biker born in Millom, Great Britain on this day in 1968, won the British Cross Country Championship in 1999, 2000 and 2002. She also enjyed success in cyclo cross, winning the National Championship in 1995 and 1996, and on road where she won a silver medal at the 2000 National Championships and 2002 finished La Flèche Wallonne Féminine in 7th place overall. Alexander also competed for Scotland in the Mountain Bike Cross Country event at the Commonwealth Games in 2002, the first time mountain bike races had ever formed a part of the event. She retired two years later and was inducted onto the British Cycling Hall of Fame in 2009.

Raul Alcala
(image credit: Eric Houdas CC BY-SA 3.0
Raúl Alcalá
Born on this day in Monterrey, Mexico in 1964, Raúl Alcalá became the first Mexican to compete in the Tour de France in 1986. He won no stages and came 114th overall. The next year, however, he finished in 9th position overall and won the Youth Classification. 1988 wasn't so good with 20th overall, but 8th overall plus Stage 3 in 1989 and 8th again with Stage 7 in 1990 proved his earlier results were more than beginner's luck (for those with the peculiar belief that the Tour grants such favours to new riders, anyway).

He retired at the end of the 1994 season, but then resurfaced as a mountain biker with the GT team four years later before a second retirement. Then, in 2008 he popped up again at the Vuelta Chihuahua and began a third career that culminated in 2010 when he became National Time Trial Champion at the age of 46.

Samantha Cools has been Canadian National BMX Champion thirteen times and a World Champion at Junior level five times. She was born in Calgary on this day in 1986.

Romāns Vainšteins, born in Talsi, Latvia on this day in 1973, had an extensive but relatively undistinguished career for his first few years, then won a National Championship, Paris-Brussels, the GP Kanton Aargau, the Settimana internazionale di Coppi e Bartali, the World Championship, Coppa Bernocchi and stages in several classics all within a two-season period over 1999 and 2000. In 2001, he was 3rd at Paris-Roubaix but never achieved anything quite like those two years ever again.

Other births: Radoslav Rogina (Croatia, 1979); Jean Barnabe (Congo, 1949); Aleksandr Petrovsky (USSR, 1989); Ray Hicks (Great Britain, 1917, died 1974); Dimitar Kotev (Bulgaria, 1941); Rubén Darío Gómez (Colombia, 1940, died 2010); Per Sarto Jørgensen (Denmark, 1944); Paul Nyman (Finland, 1929); Lars Jensen (Denmark, 1964); Jürgen Schütze (East Germany, 1951, died 2000); Régis Ovion (France, 1949); Hussein Monsalve (Venezuela, 1969); Laurence Byers (New Zealand, 1941); Gennadi Simov (Bulgaria, 1907).

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