Sunday 15 April 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 15.04.12

Emile Bouhours
Paris-Roubaix was held on this date in 1900, 1973, 2001 and 2007. Emile Bouhours won with an average speed of 37.352kph in 1900, extraordinarily fast for the time but far short of the record he set at the 24 Hours of Paris six years later when he covered 1312km in - as one might suspect - 24 hours, an average speed of 54.667kmh. On the 10th of November 1905, he covered the 100km between Orleans and Vierzon at an average speed of 61.291kph. The start was moved to Saint-Germain in 1900, but went back to Porte Maillot the next.

1973 brought a third and final win for Eddy Merckx, who had been victorious in 1968 and 1970, when he beat 2nd place Walter Godefroot by 2'20". Three new cobbled sections came into use - the 1.8km Viesly (rue de la chapelle) to Quievy, the 3.7km Quievy to Saint Python and the 1.5km Saint-Python. The latter part of Quievy to Saint Python features a tight right bend followed by a 2km climb which, though gentle, is said by riders to be one of the most draining parts of the race.

Servais Knaven
(image credit: Ralf Seger CC BY-SA 3.0)
Servais Knaven scored the first of his two wins in 2001, closely followed by his team mates Johan Museeuw and Romāns Vainšteins. Two new cobbled sections were used, the first being the 1.6km stretch from Maing to Monchaux sur Ecaillon and the second the 2.5km Wallers Haveluy, often the muddiest part of the race and which on the 28th of March 2005 was renamed "Bernard Hinault" after the great Breton rider who won Paris-Roubaix once and the Tour de France five times. Philippe Gaumont suffered a bad crash on the Trouée d'Arenberg and had to have a 40mm section fitted to his shattered femur with a 12mm screw, then spent six weeks in bed recovering. He later described the experience: "What I went through, only I will ever know. My knee cap completely turned to the right, a ball of blood forming on my leg and the bone that broke, without being able to move my body. And the pain, a pain that I wouldn't wish on anyone... Breaking a femur is always serious in itself but an open break in an athlete of high level going flat out, that tears the muscles. At 180 beats [heart rate], there was a colossal amount of blood being pumped, which meant my leg was full of blood..."

In 2007, Stuart O'Grady became the first Australian to win the race when he beat Juan Antonio Flecha by 52". The conditions that year were unusually warm with 27.9C recorded at Lille, leading to a great deal of dust along the route. Beuvry-la-Forêt to Orchies, a brand new 1.4km cobbled section created using traditional techniques and materials, was used for the first time and dedicated to Marc Madiot. The second half of the 1.2km cobbled section from Auchy-lez-Orchies to Bersee was left out for the first time since 1980 due to deterioration, and wasn't used again until it had been repaired in time for 2009.

La Flèche Wallonne, another Classic (though not, like Paris-Roubaix, a Monument) has also been held on this day - in 1976, 1982, 1987, 1992 and 1998. 1976 was the 40th edition and, for third year running, the race both started and finished at Verviers, covering 227km in total. The winner was Joop Zoetemelk - the first and to date the only Dutch winner. The 46th edition in 1982 started at Charleroi and ended at Spa, covering 251km, and it was won by Mario Becca. The 51st edition in 1987 started in Huy and travelled 245km to Spa, with Jean-Claude Leclercq bringing the French their seventh victory in this race. In 1992 the 56th edition reversed the start and finish towns, starting in Spa and ending in Huy, but the route was changed considerably and ended up 38km shorter than 1987 at 207km. Winner Giorgio Furlan also won the Giro di Toscana and the Tour de Suisse that year. The last time the race fell on this day was in 1998, the 62nd edition, and it started in Charleroi and ended in Huy just as every edition since then has done. It was 201km long, about average by modern standards, and the winner was Bo Hamburger who moved his native Denmark into joint third place (with Switzerland and Spain) among the most successful Flèche Wallonne nations.

In 1998, the men's race was joined for the first time by a women's event - La Flèche Wallonne Féminine - which was won by the Italian Fabiana Luperini. She won again in 2001 and 2002, thus equalling the men's record for multiple wins; but she's better known as the winner of a record five editions of the Giro Donne - since the demise of the Tour de France Feminin, women's cycling's most prestigious event.

Frank Schleck
Frank Schleck
(image credit: Noel Reynolds CC BY 2.0)
Born on this this day in Lëtzebuerg, the capital city of the tiny and extremely wealthy Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Frank Schleck is the son of Johny Schleck who rode several Grand Tours between 1965 and 1974. Frank began his competitive cycling career with the Luxembourgian Army before relocating to join the Italy-based Slovakian team De Nardi-Pasta Montegrappa. He was with them for under a year (in which he came 3rd in the National Road Race and Time Trial Championship) before signing a stagiaire contract with the ill-fated Festina, then moved on to Bjarne Riis' CSC-Tiscali when Festina folded at the end of 2001 after being put in contact with them by Marcel Gilles who, as coach of the ACC Contern amateur/youth team, was a trusted supplier of talent to both Festina and CSC.

Schleck earned his first full professional contract a year later when Riis declined to take on Jan Ullrich after the German rider had been banned after a drink driving conviction and an anti-doping test that proved positive for amphetamines. He rode his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a Espana, that year; but abandoned after Stage 7 with a best result of 37th in Stage 4 but later finished 3rd for Stage 4 at the Giro della Provincia di Lucca. In 2004, he was 2nd in the National Road Race Championship and added podium finishes at the Critérium International and the Tour de Suisse, beginning to show signs of what was to come.

His big breakthrough came in 2005, the year getting off to a promising start when he was 2nd in the General Classification at the Tour Méditerranéen before he rode in the Giro d'Italia for the first time and came 5th for Stage 16. He then won the National Championship and, late in the season, scored five podium finishes including 3rd at the Luxembourgian Gala Tour de France, 2nd at the Giro dell'Emilia and, best of all, 3rd at the Giro di Lombardia. His results through the year had been sufficient to move him up to 13th in the world on the UCI ProTour rankings and won him a three-year contract with CSC, one of only three riders in the team to whom such a deal was offered.

Frank's early career sometimes suggested he
was destined to become a time trial specialist,
but he made his name in the mountains
(image credit: Elyob CC BY-SA 2.0)
2006 started in a similarly promising manner when he was 5th over in the Paris-Nice stage race. His Vuelta al País Vasco was ended by a crash in which he sustained concussion, but less than a month later he won the greatest victory he'd yet had with an overall win at the Amstel Gold Race. Later that year, he rode his first Tour de France and won Stage 15. For a rider to win a stage at his first Tour is remarkable; that Schleck won on the Alpe d'Huez - one of the most difficult and prestigious climbs in cycling - was sensational. The time he took to get up the mountain, 40'46", was the slowest since 1994; however, the lightning-fast times recorded between the mid-1990s and the first five years of the 21st century are considered by many to be a result of EPO. Pantani, Riis, Ullrich, Landis, Virenque, Klöden, Mayo, Indurain and Zülle, each of whom recorded better times in the twelve years since 1994 all subequently received suspensions for doping, confessed to doping or are strongly suspected to have doped. Azevedo is the only one whose name seems to be in the clear. Lance Armstrong, who set the second fastest time ever in 2004, has famously never been found to have doped and should be given the right of being assumed innocent unless prove guilty - and anyway, Armstrong is not as other men; what he achieved can be set apart. That year, Schleck was 11th in the overall General Classification.

His 2007 Tour didn't go quite so well, but 17th overall is a result with which the vast majority of professional cyclists would consider themselves fortunate. Earlier in the year, he'd managed 3rd at Liège-Bastogne-Liège despite a fractured vertebrae sustained in a crash at the Amstel Gold and had won Stage 3 at the Tour de Suisse. One year later, at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he was joined by his younger brother Andy. The two men worked closely as a team, not so much beating their opponents on the climbs but refusing permission for anyone other than Davide Rebellin and Alejandro Valverde to even challenge them. As the end approached Andy, still only 22, couldn't keep up the pace; gradually falling back but with enough of an advantage over the peloton to take 4th place. Frank would be beaten into 3rd in a final sprint, but the brothers' efforts were both spectacular and portentous. That same year, Frank won another National Championship a week after an accident at the Tour de Suisse catapulted him over the edge of a ravine and he miraculously escaped injury and he rode his best Tour de France yet, coming 6th overall and 3rd in the King of the Mountains. After the first mountains in Stage 9, he had been 2nd in the leadership, just one second down on Cadel Evans. Then, in Stage 14, he took the yellow jersey and held onto it for two days.

Frank and Andy at the Tour de France, 2009
(image credit: Oneofthose CC BY-SA 3.0)
In 2009, he crashed again in the Amstel Gold and suffered another concussion, but went on to become the first Luxembourgian rider to win the Tour of Luxembourg in 15 years and won the mountainous Stage 17 at the Tour de France, crossing the line just ahead of Andy and Alberto Contador - another omen of things to come. The following year, the Tour paid tribute to the tough cobbled Classics of Flanders and the notorious, dangerous Paris-Roubaix by beginning on the harsh roads used by those venerated races; a feature that caused many riders to go home early - Frank included, after he broke a collar bone in a crash during Stage 3. On the 29th of June, the brothers announced that they would be leaving CSC - which by this time had become Saxobank - at the end of the season. Rumours began to circulate that they would be the star riders of a new Luxembourg-based team, but little was known about it. In October, details began to emerge via a website belonging to Leopard True Racing, leading to speculation that this would be the new team's name.

On the 6th of January in 2011, at an extravagant ceremony, Leopard Trek was presented to the world. The team's roster was centred on the Schlecks with Andy, who had placed 2nd overall at the Tour for the previous two years, being the main focus. With them were some of the finest names in racing, the cream of the crop plucked from right across Europe, indication that the team had an enormous budget. Among them were the legendary Fabian Cancellara, then the most devastatingly effective time trial rider in the world; Jakob Fuglsang who, despite his youth, was achieving superb results and leaving nobody in any doubt that he was destined to become a serious talent; Daniele Bennati who had won stages at many of Europe's most prestigious races, including twelve at the Grand Tours; and the veteran Jens Voigt who, at the age of 38, remained one of the fastest riders in the peloton and a man who was capable of launching repeated, savage attacks on any rider with a chance of challenging his team leaders. Frank's results that year were superb, with overall victory in the Critérium International, a third National Championship, two podium finishes during the Tour de France with 3rd overall (behind Cadel Evans in 1st and Andy in 2nd places) and 5th in the King of the Mountains. At the end of the season, rumours began to circulate that Leopard Trek was to merge with Johan Bruyneel's Radioshack. The rumours were later confirmed, and Frank will ride with Andy in the new team in 2012.

Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes
(image credit: HonkBonkMan)
In the summer of 2008, two days before the end of the Tour de France, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung published a story containing an allegation that Schleck had contacts with Eufemiano Fuentes, a Spanish doctor who had been investigated by Spanish police after suspicions that he had supplied doping products and illegal operations to athletes - the case that blew up into Operación Puerto. During the Tour de France that year, Johny Schleck's car had been impounded by French police and subjected to an extremely detailed search, apparently some way beyond the routine searches that many official vehicles at the Tour will undergo, which may be seen as evidence that Frank was indeed under suspicion. However, the newspaper was at that time unable to produce proof that the link existed.

Two months later, just before the World Championships (which might be seen as a suggestion that the newspaper was using sensationalism to boost sales), Süddeutsche Zeitung published a second article on Schleck, this time saying that it had been permitted access to proof that the rider had paid €7000 into a Swiss account owned by Fuentes. The rider chose not to deny the claim, which proved to be a wise course of action because German police then produced confirmation, and on the 3rd of October he admitted that he had in fact made the payment but insisted that he had not doped and that the payment had been in return for training services, a feasible explanation since the doctor was a highly respected expert in sports science prior to Puerto and Operación Galgo in 2010. He was then suspended by Saxobank pending investigation. It took Luxembourgian authorities the uncharacteristically short time of just two months to clear the rider of all allegations, freeing him to return to competition at the start of the next season.

Sean Eadie
Sean Eadie's beard is the reason for his
nickname: Captain Haddock
(image credit: Nicola CC BY-SA 3.0)
Australian track star Sean Eadie was born in Sydney on this day in 1969 and, prior to signing his first professional cycling contract, was a kindergarten teacher and holds a Diploma of Teaching from the Australian Catholic University. In addition to his palmares, which includes several National and World titles, Eadie is known for his large beard and sense of humour: when asked by a journalist why he shaved his legs but not his beard, he pointed out that the beard had not affected his aerodynamics so much as to prevent his World Sprint title and claimed that the real reason he shaved his legs was because "it feels great in bed."

Eadie has twice been involved in anti-doping investigations, both in 2004. The first came when in June when he was once of the four cyclists accused by team mate of being co-owners of several phials of an equine growth hormone and medical equipment, including used syringes, discovered in a boarding room at the Australian Institute of Sport and of regularly using the room to inject drugs; the accusation being made by the room's occupant Mark French. All the men French accused were subsequently cleared (though one, Jobie Dajka, would be found guilty of lying when giving evidence and received a ban that led to his downfall and untimely death), as would French after an appeal during which the prosecution failed to provide evidence that French had ever doped or owned the phials and equipment. The second came months later when customs officials intercepted a parcel containing a human growth hormone. He denied all knowledge of the parcel, which had been sent from San Diego in California, and provided banking records to prove he hadn't paid for the drugs. The Court for Arbitration in Sport found in his favour and cleared him of all charges. Eadie never failed an anti-doping test during his 12 year career.

Anita Zenani was born in Khayelitsha - a partially informal South African township where some 70% of residents live in shacks and 33% at least 200m from the nearest drinkable water - on this day in 1998. She began riding BMX in 2009 and just two years later was invited to take part in the UCI World Championships in Denmark on the 27th of July, 2011. Zenani plans to one day become a lawyer and in the coming years, she hopes to combine a professional BMX contract with her studies.

Latvian Gatis Smukulis, who was born on this day in Valka, won his National Road Race and Time Trial Championships as an Under-23 in 2006, then won the U-23 TT for a second time two years later and the Elite title in 2011. In 2010, he also won the U-23 category at the Tour of Flanders and then in 2011 Stage 1 at the Volta a Catalunya - suggesting that as he enters his best years, he is likely to become a very successful rider.

Federico Gay
Federico Gay, who was born on the 16th of July 1896, was an Italian cyclist who came 11th in the 1922 Tour de France (and won Stage 14) and 10th in 1925. He won Stages 2, 3, 5 and 6th at the 1924 Giro d'Italia and was 2nd in the overall General Classification. He died in Turin, the city of his birth, on this day in 1989.

Gabriel Sella, born in Cavarzere on this day in 1963, was an Italian track cyclist who specialised in Sprint and Tandem. During his career, he won six National titles and competed in the Olympics but never turned professional. After retiring from competition, he was employed by the Centro di Avviamento al Ciclismo, an organisation based in Padua that promotes cycling both as a sport and as a means of transport. He died aged 47 on the 2nd of June 2010 after losing control of his Kawasaki ZX-R motorbike (also known as a Kawasaki Ninja) and crashed into the wall of a house. Police believe he was speeding at the time.

Other births: Martin Pedersen (Denmark, 1983); Alain Ayissi (Cameroon, 1962); Reidar Raaen (Norway, 1897, died 1964); Rogelio Salcedo (Chile, 1925, died 1955); Jan Henriksen (Norway, 1946); Miklós Németh (Hungary, 1910); Harald Bundli (Norway, 1953); Werner Otto (East Germany, 1948); Roberto Roxas (Philippines, 1946); Hyeon Byeong-Cheol (South Korea, 1974).

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