Monday, 23 April 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 23.04.12

Louis Trousselier, 1905
Paris-Roubaix took place on this day in 1905,  won by Louis Trousselier when he finished in 8h4'20" with an advantage of 7' over 2nd place René Pottier. Later that year, Trousselier would also win the Tour de France and thus become the first rider to enjoy victory in both races in a single season (Pottier won the Tour a year later). Trou-Trou, as he was known to his fellow riders, was the exception to the rule that successful cyclists were "hungry boys from poor backgrounds" who rode bikes because, like working class Londoners and boxing, it was the only way they could escape poverty - he came from a wealthy family that owned a flower merchant business in Paris; which explains the nickname Henri Desgrange gave him, "The Florist." He died one day after the anniversary of his Paris-Roubaix victory in 1939 (and for that reason, we'll have much more information about him and his life in the Daily Cycling Facts tomorrow).

67 years later, another Classic took place on this day - the 36th edition of La Flèche Wallonne in 1972. It ran for 249.5km (the longest parcours since 1947) between Verviers and Marcinelle and the winner was Eddy Merckx, who then won Liège-Bastogne-Liège a few days later to become the third man to win the Ardennes Double. In 2003, the 67th edition also fell on this date. That year, it ran over 199.5km between Charleroi and Huy and was won by Igor Astarloa, the first Basque rider to achieve victory in this race. The 72nd edition, which took place in 2008, was the last time that the race fell on this date. It ran again between Charleroi and Huy and used a very similar route, once again measured at 199.5km, and it was won by Kim Kirchen whose career ended two years later when he suffered a heart attack during the Tour de Suisse.

Nicole Cooke
(image credit: Gsl CC BY-SA 2.5)
The sixth edition of La Flèche Wallonne Féminine took place on this day in 2003, starting and finishing at the same points as the men's race but taking a different route in between to reduce distance to 97.5km. It was won by Welsh rider Nicole Cooke, who was destined to win on two more occasions in the future and therefore equal the men's record of three victories. Since 1999, the race had formed part of the UCI Women's Road World Cup - and that year, Cooke won that as well. For the eleventh edition in 2008, the format differed - rather than running between the same towns as the men's event, the race both started and ended at Huy. The winner, for a second consecutive year, was the Dutch superstar Marianne Vos.

The Vuelta a Espana has started on this date five times - in 1969, 1970, 1974, 1985 and 1987. The 1969 edition was unusually short at "just" 2,921.4km, which were covered in 18 stages. Frenchman Roger Pingeon won and would have won the Tour de France that year too had it not have been for Eddy Merckx. In fifth place was Michael Wright, the English rider who didn't speak English - soon after Wright's birth in Bishop's Stortford, his father was killed during the Second World War. His mother later remarried to a Belgian soldier and the family relocated to Liège. It took some time for the Belgian love of cycling to take hold, however: he had originally wanted to be a footballer and it was only when his stepfather died that he switched to cycling in order to be able to support his mother and siblings.

1970 was extended to 19 stages and covered 3,568km and Agustín Tamames emerged from nowhere to announce himself as a future great - in his very first Vuelta, he led all the way until the Stage 19b individual time trial where Luis Ocaña took the overall victory. Tamames would win five years later. 1974 was another comparatively short edition, the 19 stages covering 2,987km. The winner was José Manuel Fuente, a highly respected climber who also won in 1972 and took the King of the Mountains four times altogether. Just a year later, still seemingly at the height of his powers, he would be forced to retire with the kidney disease that killed him in 1996.

Robin Morton
(unknown copyright)
1985 saw 19 stages and 3,474km, and would prove to be an interesting edition for three reasons. Firstly, a Soviet team participated for the first time, it being very unusual in those times for Soviet athletes to take part in any non-amateur sporting events. Secondly, a US-based team took part for the first time - the Rank Xerox-sponsored Philadelphia Lasers; a team that also earned their place in history by being the first men's professional cycling team to be sponsored by a woman, Robin Morton. The Grand Tours remain a male-dominated world, but in those days Morton faced some obstacles that seem ridiculous today - as an example, there was a UCI rule than banned women from the "caravan" of cars that follows the race and as a result the directors of each race her team entered would take a vote before the event took place to decide whether or not she would be permitted to follow the race in the team car. Thirdly, 1985 very nearly saw the first British victory. Scotsman Robert Millar took the lead in Stage 10 and, phenomenal climber that he was, retained it until the penultimate edition when it seemed that only the Colombian Francisco Rodríguez had a hope of getting anywhere near him. The two men were together when Millar had a puncture, but when they began working to catch up with the Pedro Delgado-led lead group Rodriguez's (Spanish) team manager ordered him to give up his own chances by refusing to help the Scotsman. Millar soon found himself surrounded by riders from various Spanish teams who seemed dedicated in holding him back and, as a result, Delgado took the race leadership and eventually won overall. The incident remains controversial today, and many people suspect there was a collusion between the Spanish teams.

1987 covered 3,921km in 22 stages. Irishman Sean Kelly, one of the favourites, won two stages, wore the gold race leader's jersey for four and looked very much as though he was going to win his first Grand Tour until he was forced to abandon with a painful boil on his perineum during Stage 19. Laurent Fignon won the stage, but the Colombian Luis Herrera took over the leadership and won the race overall - the first ever Grand Tour victory by a South American rider.

Tony Martin
Tony Martin
(image credit: Petit Brun CC BY-SA 2.0)
Born in Cottbus, East Germany on this day in 1985, Tony Martin was four years old when his family escaped to the West - just a short while before the unthinkable happened and the Berlin Wall fell. Ironically, he would later return to what had been the Deutsche Demokratische Republik some years later when he won a place at a specialist sports academy in Erfurt.

Martin won the National Junior Individual Time Trial title in 2003 and rode with the winning Team Pursuit squad ain the Team Pursuit Championship a year later. He joined  Gerolsteiner as a trainee in August 2005, then moved on to Thüringer Energie for the next two seasons during which we won the Under-23 categories at the Thüringen-Rundfahrt (2006 and 2007) and National ITT Championships (2006), results sufficiently impressive to earn him his first full professional contract with Bob Stapleton's legendary Team Highroad for 2008. He remained with the team as it went through the transformation from Team Columbia, Columbia-HTC and HTC-Columbia to HTC-Highroad, the name under which the outfit raced its final season in 2011 before lack of sponsorship brought it to an end.

During his first professional year he won three time trials, then in 2009 he won the time trials at both the Critérium International and Bayern-Rundfahrt and a bronze medal racing at Elite level at the World Time Trial Championship where he finished 2'30.18" behind Fabian Cancellara. He also revealed a talent that is almost unique among time trial specialists - his ability to climb, and climb fast; as was proven when he won the King of the Mountains at Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse and, perhaps most telling of all, 2nd place behind Juan Manuel Gárate in a very tough Stage 20 at the Tour de France which finished at the top of cycling's most feared climb, Mont Ventoux.

Martin wins the 2011 ITT Championship
(image credit: Mogens Engelund CC BY-SA 3.0)
Martin started 2010 with victory in the Stage 7 ITT at the Tour of California, following that with another win for the ITT at the Tour de Suisse; then won the National Championship and finished 2nd at the Tour de France prologue and Stage 19 ITT before winning the General Classification at the Tour of the Benelux. Once again, he had to settle for bronze at the Worlds when he finished 1'12.49" behind Cancellara. Finally, after winning the Volta a Algarve and the ITTs at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, his moment came - at the Worlds in 2011, he beat Cancellara by 1'20.59" (and 2nd place Bradley Wiggins by 1'15.83"). Later that year, he also won the General Classification at the inaugural Tour of Beijing.

Cancellara remains a formidable opponent in a time trial, winning the Swiss National Championship in 2011 and while the rest of the year was far from his best there's every reason to expect a return to form in 2012. Whether he can regain his World title remains to be seen, but it's safe to say that at 31 his career is far from over. Martin, however, is 26 and, arguably, by far a better all-rounder despite Cancellara's Classics success; and if he continues improving at the rate he has done over the last three years it wouldn't be at all reasonable to predict a Grand Tour victory within five years.

Other births: Gintarė Gaivenytė (Lithuania, 1986); Simone Mori (Italy, 1972); Kathy Lynch (New Zealand, 1957); Jack Hartman (USA, 1937); Jure Pavlič (Yugoslavia, 1963); Tore Milsett (Norway, 1944); Paul Nixon (USA, 1914, died 2008); Kenneth Sutherland (Belize, 1943); Aimé Fritz (Germany, 1884, died 1950); Marcel Stäuble (Switzerland, 1961); Charles Hansen (Denmark, 1891); Luigi Magnotti (Italy, 1895, died 1948); Eduardo Bustos (Colombia, 1937).

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