Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 25.04.12

Marcel Kint, 1914-2002
Paris-Roubaix was held on this day in 1943 - the latest in the year the race has ever taken place and, since it's now held on the second Sunday in April rather than on Easter Sunday so as to fall one week after the Tour of Flanders, the latest it will ever fall. It was the first time the race had been held since the outbreak of the Second World War and, as France was occupied by the Nazis, many riders stayed away as they also did for the wartime "Tour de France," the Circuit de France run by L'Equipe's rival La France Socialiste (which, in spite of the name, took a very right wing viewpoint and was sympathetic to the fascists). One rider who did not was the Belgian Marcel Kint, who won. Kint also won La Flèche Wallonne that year, as he would again in 1944 and 1945 to become the only man to have ever won three consecutive editions of the event. The start was moved to Saint-Denis in 1943 and would remain there until 1965; the finish was moved to Roubaix Velodrome where, with the exception of 1986, 1987 and 1988 when it was moved to the offices of main sponsor La Redoute, it has remained ever since.

The 23rd edition of La Flèche Wallonne fell on this day in 1959, and for the eleventh year in a row it started in Charleroi and ended in Liège - for the next five years, it was the other way round. The parcours was 218km in length and the fastest rider was Jos Hoevenaers, a rider who was enormously popular among fans for his savage attacking style, yet won far fewer races than he perhaps could have done: one year later, he wore the race leader's maglia rosa at the Giro d'Italia for eight days and it took no less a man than Jacques Anquetil to take it away from him. The 71st edition, which took place in 2007, was also on this date. That year, as all modern editions do, it ran between Charleroi and Huy; changes to the route added half a kilometre to the total distance compared to the previous year. It was won for a second time by Davide Rebellin, who had won three years earlier and would do again two years later when he equalled the record for multiple victories.

The tenth edition of La Flèche Wallonne Féminine took place on this day in 2007, covering a 104km parcours starting and ending at Huy. The winner, for the first time that year, was 19-year-old Marianne Vos who would go on to win for a record-beating (in the men's and women's events) fourth time in 2011.

The Vuelta a Espana began on this day in 1955, 1968, 1978, 1988 and 1994. 1955 marked the first time the race had been held for four years after the original main sponsor and organiser Informaciones (a newspaper) pulled out - they would be replaced by another newspaper, El Correo Español/El Pueblo Vasco, and the race has been held every year since. For the first time, large numbers of foreign riders rode; doubling the start list compared to earlier editions.

Felice Gimondi
By 1968, the Vuelta was known worldwide and had grown enormously in prestige, largely thanks to world class riders such as Rudi Altig and arch-rivals  Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor, the three of them taking turns to win between 1963 and 1965. This year, when the race covered 3,014km in 18 stages, the victor would be Felice Gimondi who, in doing so, became the second rider in history (the first was Anquetil) to have won all three Grand Tours during his career (Gimondi would fail a doping test later in the year at the Giro d'Italia, so there's a reasonable chance that his Vuelta success was achieved with chemical assistance). Only three other men - Merckx, Hinault (who won them all at least twice) and Contador - have matched them. Stage 15 from Vitoria to Pamplona had to be abandoned when it was targeted by a terrorist bomb. Thankfully, nobody was hurt; but many riders threatening to abandon and go home before organisers managed to calm them down.

Trouble came to the race again when it next started on this date, in 1978 - the year that Bernard Hinault won for the first time after 19 stages and 2,995km, then went on to win the Tour de France (his first ever attempt at the race) too. This time, two stages were hit by riots and protests in which barricades were built by Basque separatist groups cross the road; which inspired organisers to declare enough was enough and keep the race away from the Basque Country for 33 years until an eventual return in 2011.

1988 covered 3,425km in 20 stages and brought what remains to date Ireland's only win, courtesy of the legendary Sean Kelly. Once again, the race was hit by the misconduct of outside parties, this time during the Tenerife prologue when nails were spread across the road. 1994 covered 3,531km in 20 stages, won by the Swiss Tony Rominger who entered as a favourite and then secured his eventual victory when he gained a two-minute lead in the Stage 8 time trial at Benidorm, leading the General Classification throughout the race despite the efforts of Laurent Jalabert, who won seven stages. It would be the last time that the race was held in spring as the following year it was rescheduled for late summer so as to avoid clashes with the Giro d'Italia and Classics and has remained the last Grand Tour on the calendar ever since. Rominger was the first man to win three consecutive editions.

Rachel Morris
Rachel Morris, born in Guildford on this day in 1979, was a talented runner and beginning to compete at international events with the ambition of representing her country at the Olympics when an illness made it necessary for both of her legs to be amputated.

Afterwards, she tried sailing but didn't find it challenging enough to keep her interest and instead turned to handcycling - and put in so many miles of training during her first six months that she wore out her bike. She became the first British athlete to compete in the sport at the 2011 World Cup, which she won, and will take part in the 2012 Paralympics.

Alejandro Valverde
(image credit: Fanny Schertzer CC BY-SA 3.0)
Alejandro Valverde
Born in Spain on this day in 1980, Alejandro Valverde is the rarest of the rare among cyclists - a rider who excels on climbs and in sprints. Born into a family who have cycling in their blood - both his father and brother are successful amateurs - Valverde got his first bike when he was six years old and he began racing soon afterwards; coming second in his first race and first in his second. According to local legend in his hometown Las Lumbreras, he won fifty races between the ages of 11 and 13 and earned himself the nickname El Impatido - The Unbeaten One. Whether the story is true or not, he received an invitation to ride for Banesto but recorded poor results and instead went to the Kelme development team, getting his first professional contract with them in 2002 and evidently finding things much more to his liking because, in his second year with them, he won Stages 9, 15, the Combination Classification and third place overall at the Vuelta a Espana and a silver medal at the World Championhips. He showed his gratitude to the team by electing to continue riding for them for a third season, despite their financial difficulties and the offers of better-paid contracts to go elsewhere in 2004.

The team faced further difficulties that year after revelations concerning systematic doping were made public by ex-member Jesús Manzano, resulting in an investigation in which several riders and officials were required to answer questions - among them, the now notorious Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes - and their invitation to compete in the Tour de France that year was withdrawn despite Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc' initial reluctance to believe the accusations. Valverde was one of the riders named in the case and alleged to have used synthetic testosterone when he won his third place at the Vuelta, and Kelme withdrew their support at the end of the season; at which point the team became Comunidad Valenciana-Elche.

Having switched to Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne for 2005, he beat Lance Armstrong to win Stage 10 at the Tour de France - a superb result as this was his first appearance in the race, but he was unable to continue after injuring his knee during Stage 13. Fortunately, he recovered in time to race in the World Championships at the end of the summer, becoming team leader after one of Oscar Freire's many injuries and coming second behind Tom Boonen of Belgium. He remained with Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne until 2010, during which time he added many more successes - in 2006, he began the Tour as a favourite but once again was unable to finish after a Stage 3 crash left him with a broken collarbone, but he was back in time to win Stage 7 at the Vuelta - and was third in the Points and Mountains Classification and second overall. He completed the Tour for the first time in 2007, but came sixth after revealing the chink in his armour - despite spending time training at the Treviso headquarters of Pinarello, he was massively outclassed in the time trial.

At the 2008 Vuelta
(image credit: Tekstman CC BY-SA 3.0
Valverde decided not to take part in the Vuelta in 2007, preferring to concentrate on training for the World Championships as he felt he had a very really chance of victory - however, by this time the full implications of Manzano's allegations was beginning to become clear: it would be a long time until it was over, but Operación Puerto was now in full swing and threatening to rip the heart out of what was left of cycling's credibility in the wake of the Festina Affair in the 1990s and, like many other rides connected to the scandal, Valverde was blocked from taking part. The UCI also requested that the Spanish Cycling Federation took action against the rider, but this was refused as there was as yet no new evidence against him. The case appeared before the Court for Arbitration in Sport which with uncharacteristic swiftness found in his favour and ruled that he be permitted to compete the Championships. 2008 started exceptionally well with victories at Liège–Bastogne–Liège, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the National Championships before victories in Stage 1 at the Tour and Stage 2 at the Vuelta. His best moment that year, meanwhile, came in Stage 13 at the Vuelta when he was second behind Alberto Contador on the Alto de l'Angliru, a mountain that in places approaches a gradient of 24% and which in the past has seen riders struggling unsupported to the summit when team cars were unable to find sufficient traction to get up - an astonishing achievement for a rider who does well in sprints. 2009 didn't start so well, but he rode well in the Critérium du Dauphiné where he led the race after the Mont Ventoux time trial. He was unable to ride in the Tour due to the doping allegations, despite an appeal to the CAS, but took part in the Vuelta where Contador assisted him in withstanding hard and consistent attacks by Cadel Evans and, after three podium finishes, won the General Classification and second place on points.

In 2010, it all went wrong. He had been banned by the Italian Olympic Commission in 2009 (this was the reason he missed the Tour, which crossed the Italian border that year) and UCI had contested the Spanish Federation's earlier decision not to take action against him, especially as he had now been linked to three bags of preserved blood (labelled Valv, Piti and 18) found at Fuentes' laboratory. What's more, the blood tested positive for EPO. The UCI and World Anti-Doping Authority based an appeal around this evidence and, on the 31st of May in 2010, the CAS found against the rider and banned him from competition for two years. The UCI had also asked for all his results thus far be disqualified, but this was not successful and he lost only those results gained since the date the ban became effective, which was set as the 1st of January that year.

Alejandro Valverde
(image credit: Thomas Ducroquet CC BY 3.0
Valverde made his return to cycling at the 2012 Tour Down Under with the Basque Movistar team, which faced criticism for offering him a contract so soon after his ban expired from some quarters and congratulations for risking controversy by giving a rider who has lived out his punishment a second chance from others. In Stage 5 - the most important of the event - he beat GreenEDGE rider Simon Gerrans in the final sprint. Gerrans later said "I bet in that year and a half ban he hasn't missed a day's training. It doesn't surprise me at all that he's back to such good level already."

"This win is for all the people who've supported me during my time off," Valverde said after his win. "It's a perfect comeback for me." He continues to deny that he has ever doped.

Paul Deman, 1889-1961
Paul Deman, winner of the first edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 1913, was born on this day in 1889. Deman would also win the 592km Bordeaux-Paris the following year before becoming involved in espionage during the First World War when he acted as a cycle courier smuggling top secret documents into the Netherlands, which remained neutral. He was eventually caught by the Germans and imprisoned in Leuven to await execution - fortunately, the Armistice was declared just in time to save him and he returned to cycling; winning Paris-Roubaix in 1920 and Paris-Tours three years later. Deman died on the 31st of July in 1961.

Jean-Baptiste Dortignacq, born in Arudy on this day in 1886, was a French cyclist who enjoyed a successful career early in the 20th Century when he won seven stages in four editions of the Tour de France. He rode in the first edition, 1903, when he came 11th for Stage 4, but did much better the following year when he won Stages 5 and 6 (which were 425km and 471km respectively) and finished in second place overall after Maurice Garin, Lucien Pothier, César Garin and Hippolyte Aucouturier had all been disqualified from the top four places for cheating. In 1905 he won Stages 6, 10 and 11 before coming third overall behind winner Louis Trousselier and Aucouturier, then won Stage 8 in 1906 and Stage 5 in 1908, both times failing to finish the race, then won Stage 2 at the 1910 Giro d'Italia to become the first foreign stage winner in the race. He retired shortly afterwards and died aged 44 on the 13th of May in 1928.

Pavel Buran, a Czech track rider born in Brno on this day in 1973, earned numerous podium finishes during the 1990s and first five years of the 21st Century along with a European Omnium title in 2001. According to legend, Buran performed a track stand (keeping the bike stationary without putting a foot on the floor, a tactic used in track cycling so that the rider can wait for an opponent to start moving and then ride in their slipstream) that lasted so long during a race as a junior that the UCI introduced a new law limiting the time a rider could remain standing still.

Alejandro Borrajo, born on this day in 1980, is an Argentinian cyclist who won a gold medal at the 2006 South American Games and has been victorious in numerous races in both South and North America. In 2010, his older brother was kidnapped for two days, the tragically committed suicide - Alejandro broke his arm trying to prevent him.

Other births: Ahmad Haidar Anuawar (Malaysia, 1986); Anton Shantyr (Russian, born in Hungary, 1974); Andreas Aeschbach (Switzerland, 1970); Jenny Fähndrich (Switzerland, 1989); Renato Seabra (Brazil, 1978); Kanellos Kanellopoulos (Greece, 1957); Guy Claud (France, 1936); Marco Zaragoza (Mexico, 1973); Julio Munguía (Mexico, 1942); Saulius Šarkauskas (Lithuania, 1970); Stephen Spratt (Ireland, 1960); Steve Hromjak (USA, 1930); Vladimir Leonov (USSR, 1937).

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