Thursday 22 March 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 22.03.12

Marcel Buysse
The second edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen was raced on this day in 1914. Despite 47 riders taking part - an improvement on 1913 when only 37 showed up, the event was not a huge success - years later, organiser Karel van Wijnendaele explained, "Sportwereld was so young and so small for the big Ronde that we wanted. We had bitten off more than we could chew. It was hard, seeing a band of second-class riders riding round Flanders, scraping up a handful of centimes to help cover the costs. The same happened in 1914. No van Hauwaert, no Masselis, no Defraeye, no Mosson, no Mottiat, no van den Berghe, all forbidden to take part by their French bike companies."

However, one rider from a French Team, Alcyon, insisted on being at the race - Belgian Marcel Buysse, brother of Lucien who won the Tour twelve years later. At 280km, the race was considerably shorter than the first edition which had been 324km; this reduction making a notable difference to the winning time of 10h20', compared to 12h3'10" the year before. The finish was moved from Mariakerke to Evergem for one year only.

Henri van Lerberghe - owner of cycling's greatest ever nickname, "The Death Rider of Lictervelde" (see the entry for the 29th of January to find out why he was called that) - took second place in 1914 and due to the outbreak of the First World War had to wait five years before his chance to win in 1919, when the race was again run on the 22nd of March. Van Lerberghe's race was remarkable for many reasons: first of all, he showed up with all the gear he'd need - clothing, spare parts, tools and so on, in short everything he could conceivably need in a bike race with one exception: he didn't have a bike. After asking around, he managed to find someone who was willing to lend him one and organisers let him take part. He was well-known for attacking far too early in races, using up his energy while other riders were pacing themselves for the final sprint which, more often than not, forced him to abandon long before the finish line; so spectators were not at all surprised when he suddenly shot off with 120km still to go. Before too long, he was tired and hungry - but then, he came across a Bianchi-Pirelli official who was waiting with food for Marcel Buysse, and persuaded him that since Buysse had abandoned (Buysse did in fact abandon the race, but whether or not he'd done so at this point is unknown) he might as well have the food instead.

The Death Rider of Lichtervelde
Now revived, he rode off. Some way further on, he came to a level crossing as a train was passing through. Not fancying the wait, he simply shouldered his bike like a cyclo crosser, jumped up and pulled open a train door before running through the carriage and leaping out the other side where he remounted his bike and rode off. Towards the very end of the race, just before he entered the Evergem velodrome that hosted the finish line, van Lerberghe decided he was feeling thirsty. So - as if he hadn't already guaranteed his place as possibly the coolest rider in the history of cycling - our hero stopped at a pub and had a couple of leisurely pints of beer. He might have spent the rest of the afternoon in there too had word not reached his manager who came out to find him and ask him not to throw away the race. This, apparently, seemed a reasonable enough request so he finished his pint, left the pub and rode into the velodrome to win the race and complete his victory lap. Once done and with a completely straight face, he told the packed crowd to "Go home - I'm half a day in front of the field."

The next - and final - time the race was held on this date was in 1931 when it was won by Romain Gijssels, who would win again the next year to become the first man to win two editions.

Mario Cipollini
Mario Cipollini, who was born in Lucca, Italy on this day in 1967, had a career that extended from 1989 to 2004 - much longer than most but more remarkable in that he remained at the top of the sport for the majority of it, still winning races at a time when most other riders would have faded into the amorphous blur of the peloton and been hoping for an occasional lucky top ten finish. Like Fabian Cancellara and other riders we've looked at over the last few days, his name is the best response that can be given to fans who complain that modern cycling lacks the characters of earlier times.

The muscle skinsuit, later auctioned for 100,000,000 Italian
lira - then equal to US$43, 710
(image credit: Cyclostyle)
Cipo's height and weight guaranteed that he stood out among sprinters - at 190cm tall and 79kg, he appeared enormous when compared to rivals. He was also one of cycling's most flamboyant personalities, which won him many fans but frequently brought him into conflict with other riders and with race organisers. Like many sprinters, he suffered badly on mountain stages and would sometimes abandon races when the climbs became too tough - his habit of then releasing photographs to the press of himself relaxing on a sunny beach with a drink in his hand won him friends and enemies in equal habits. He had a fine sense of theatre, persuading the other members of the Saeco team to join him in dressing up as Roman soldiers and partying hard during a rest day at the 1999 Tour de France, guaranteeing press coverage and disapproving grumbles from race officials, and his dress during races was sometimes equally as noticeable - in 2004, when he became race leader, he eschewed the yellow jersey in favour of a yellow all-in-one skinsuit which could best be described as being bias-cut in a way designed to promote his sex-symbol image. Once again, organisers were not impressed and fined him. This led to him being banned from entering for two years - and his insistence that all future contracts included a stipulation that sponsors would pay his fines which, due to the headlines he guaranteed, they were happy to do. Other skinsuit designs included tiger stripes and - most notably of all - one printed with a lifelike representation of the human muscles which created an disturbingly realistic illusion that his skin had been peeled off.

He was widely rumoured to be a womaniser and to live a playboy lifestyle, once telling the world that he believed that "if I hadn’t been a professional cyclist, I’d probably have been a porn star." It was an image that he cultivated until it became legendary - some writers, most notably Lance Armstrong's biographer Daniel Coyle, have argued meanwhile that it was purely an image that he used it to demoralise opponents; well aware that rivals would feel crushed when a rider they believed to have been up partying all night easily sprinted past them the following day. That he possessed the intelligence to use psychological warfare is apparently in little doubt, for he is also widely regarded to have been the inventor of the now-common lead-out train that has seen Mark Cavendish win so many races and a World Championship, tucking in among a group of team mates who wear down the opposition by keeping the pace high, then emerging for an explosive sprint to victory when the finish line comes within a few hundred metres. It still works to this day, but when Cipo introduced the tactic it took the racing world by storm.

At Paris-Nice, 1997
(image credit: Eric Houdas CC BY-SA 3.0)
Yet despite the glorious nicknames - Mario the Magnificent, the Lion King - and the Italian Stallion image, Cipollini was a likable character who could be surprisingly down-to-earth and deferential to those cyclists he considered heroes - in 2003 when he won his 42nd Giro d'Italia stage, breaking the record of 41 set by Alfredo Binda that had stood for seventy years, he told journalists that he would have considered himself fortunate just to polish Binda's shoes. He was also visibly upset by Marco Pantani's death. "I am devastated," he said,  "it's a tragedy of enormous proportions for everyone involved in cycling. I'm lost for words." He frequently became angry at what he saw as injustices in races, either those that resulted in a loss to himself or other riders, and threatened to retire from racing in protest many times. Finally, with a week to go before the 2005 Giro, he really did; saying that injuries sustained in a crash the day after he beat Binda's record were the cause - but just three years later he returned with Rock Racing to compete in the Tour of California. He was due to ride with them in Milan-San Remo that year too, but announced again that he would retire claiming disagreements with the team's management as his reason - perhaps his sartorial tastes were too garish even for them.

Among Cipo's 191 professional victories are the 2002 World Championship, the 1996 National Championship, his 42 Giro stage wins (a record that still stands and which, since it took to long for Binda's previous record to be broken, is likely to do for some time), three Points Classification Giro victories, 12 Tour de France stage wins, 3 Vuelta a Espana stage wins, 12 Tour de Romandie stage wins and one Points Classification win, three victories at Gent-Wevelgem, Milan-San Remo, 11 stage wins at the Volta a Catalunya, 14 stage wins at the Tour Méditerranéen and numerous prestigious one-day races.

Leontien van Moorsel
Van Moorsel conquered depression and anorexia to become
one of the most successful professional cyclists of all time
(image credit: Frans Meijer CC BY 2.0)
Leontien Martha Henrica Petronella van Moorsel, who was born in Boekel, Netherlands on this day in 1970, started racing at the end of the 1980s and rapidly established herself as one of the strongest riders of the day with a World 5km Pursuit Championship (1990) title on track and two World Road Race Championships (1991, 1993) and two Tour de France Féminin overall General Classification victories (1992 and 1993).

In 1994 she was forced to put her promising career on hold as she battled anorexia and depression. Thankfully, the strength that let her beat Jeannie Longo was a match for her inner demons too and she returned to competition in 1997 to win the GP Boekel, the National Track Pursuit Championship and the National Individual Time Trial Championship. She was better still a year later, taking the National titles for the Pursuit, Points Race on the track, the World Individual Time Trial Championship and the National Individual TT and Road Race Championships. She retained them all in 1999 and added the World Road Race Championship, the Greenery International, another GP Boekel and the Holland Ladies' Tour. Over the years until retirement at the end of 2004, she would win 196 professional races, and six Olympic medals (four gold, one silver, one bronze) and in 2000 alone took 34 victories. She remains one of the most successful Dutch athletes of all time.

 Jakob Fuglsang
Jakob Fuglsang
Jakob Fuglsang was born on this day in 1985 in Geneva, to Danish parents and of Danish nationality. He began his professional cycling career as a mountain biker with the Cannondale-Vredestein team, winning two Danish Juniors Cross Country Championships (2002, 2003), a National Cross Country Championship at Elite level in 2006 and then the World Under-23 Cross Country Championship in 2007 before switching to road cycling.

He announced his move in memorable style by winning the Danmark Rundt in 2008, then repeated it in 2009 and added overall victory at the Tour of Slovenia, three podium finishes at the Vuelta a Espana and 6th overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné, then a year later won hi National Time Trial Championship, a third Danmark Rundt, 3rd place at the Tour de Suisse and 4th at the Giro di Lombardia. Later that year, he was given the honour of announcing the formation of Leopard Trek to the world and would ride with them in 2011 and it was with them that he won his first Grand Tour stage -  the Stage 1 Team Time Trial at the Vuelta a Espana. Fuglsang will join the Schlecks and other Leopard team mates at the new RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team formed by Leopard and Radioshack's merger in 2012 - while he currently rides in support of General Classification contender Andy Schleck in Grand Tours, there is every reason to expect him to achieve more personal victories as he enters his best years.

At RadioShack-Nissan-Trek Fuglsang will ride alongside Ben King, with whom he shares his birthday (though King was born in 1989). King won the Junior titles at the US Road and Time Trial Championships in 2007, then became National Road Race Champion in 2007 at Elite and Under-23 level along with Under-23 National Criterium Champion. In 2011, he won the Youth Category at the inaugural Tour of Beijing.

On this day in 1819, the English Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle printed a short article describing a new machine named a Velocipede. "The crowded state of the metropolis," it said, "does not admit of this novel mode of exercise; and it has been put down by the Magistrates of Police; but it contributes to the amusement of the passengers in the street."

Ludovic Turpin, winner of Stage 5 at the 2006 Critérium du Dauphiné, was born in Laval, France in 1975.

Other births: Asmelash Geyesus (Ethiopia, 1968); Johanna Hack (Austria, 1957); Martina Růžičková (Czechoslovakia, 1980); Viola Paulitz (Germany, 1967); Gilberto Chocce (Peru, 1950); Jan Hugens (Netherlands, 1939, died 2011); Zain Safar-ud-Din (Malaysia, 1938); Harold Ade (USA, 1912, died 1988); Gunhild Ørn (Norway, 1970); Aleksey Petrov (USSR, 1937, died 2009); Rudolf Baier (Germany, 1892).

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