Saturday, 12 May 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 12.05.12

Alfredo Binda
The Giro d'Italia has begun on this date five times; 1928, 1953, 1983, 1986, and 2007. 1928 covered 3,044km over twelve stages, six of them won by Alfredo Binda who led the General Classification from the fourth stage to the end. Albino Binda won Stage 8 after Alfredo, his brother, urged him to attack as the peloton slowed to wait for him to change a tyre. By 1953 the race had adopted the 21-stage format that it has today and covered a total of 4,035km - it also saw the first inclusion of the Passo di Stelvio, at 2,757m the second-highest pass in the Alps, which Fausto Coppi used to his tactical advantage by attacking leader Hugo Koblet and going on to win outright.

30 years later in 1983, the race had increased to 22 stages but shrunk to 3,916km. The winner was Giuseppe Saronni, who had also won Milan-San Remo that year; however, had Saronni not have won stage bonuses, Roberto Visentini would have won - as he did in 1986 when he beat Saronni by more than a minute. Once again, there were 22 stages and the length shrunk to 3,858km; the race being shaken by controversy when the American Greg Lemond made an official complaint to organisers that Italian riders had illegally drafted behind him in the Stage 11 individual time trial and the (Italian) organisers chose to overlook the incident.

The 2007 Giro d'Italia
In 2007, the race was held for the 90th time. Back down to 21 stages, it covered 3,486km and included three stages on Sardinia. Danilo di Luca won the General Classification while Andy Schleck took second place and won the Youth Category. Three doping scandals hit the race that year: Iban Mayo was found to have abnormally high testosterone levels, but the Basque rider was rapidly cleared when his Saunier Duval-Prodir team produced evidence to show that not only was this natural, they'd also already informed the UCI of it and provided evidence from a doctor confirming it.

Danilo di Luca
(image credit: Pitert CC BY-SA 3.0)
A sample provided by Swiss-born Italian Leonardo Piepoli was found to contain 1,800 nanograms per milliliter of the asthma drug Salbutamol, a considerably higher level than would be expected through normal medical usage (the maximum amount permitted in samples provided by athletes who have a genuine medical reason to use the drug is 1,000 nanograms per milliliter), but he was cleared by the Italian Federation (two years later, he would be banned for two years after he confessed to using EPO). Alessandro Pettachi was not so fortunate - he too tested positive for an abnormally high level of Salbutamol with 1,352 nanograms per milliliter. The Italian Federation also refused to sanction him, but although the figure was lower and the Court of Arbitration in Sport found that he had probably not intentionally doped (while declaring him negligent in not observing the "utmost caution" required of all athletes when using medicines), he was stripped of his five stages wins and banned for one year. He was subsequently fired by his Milram team, but would later make a triumphant return to professional cycling with three stage wins at the 2008 Tour of Britain and then, in 2009, two at the Giro. One year after that, he won the Points Competition at the Tour de France.

Winner Danilo di Luca also provided a suspicious sample. Having been found to be clean in a test taken immediately after Stage 17, he was then subjected to a random control some hours later. Doctors claimed that hormone levels in the second sample were like "those of a child," thus leading them to suspect that he was either using a masking agent to disguise the presence of some other, unknown drug or that he had received a blood transfusion in the intervening time after the first test. However, they could not provide sufficient evidence for him to be disqualified and his results remained intact - but 2008 would be a quiet year as many races, loathe to risk scandal, chose not to invite his LPR Brakes-Ballan team to take part. In 2009, they received a wildcard entry to race in the Giro and his luck ran out - he tested positive for EPO after Stages 11 and 18, which led to a two-year ban (reduced on appeal to nine months and seven days) and a €280,000 fine (reduced to €106,400).

Beryl Burton, one of the greatest British athletes of all time
(unknown copyright)
Beryl Burton
On this day in 1937, Beryl Charnock was born in Halton near Leeds. She was not a healthy child and suffered a series of chronic illnesses, once remaining in hospital for fifteen months with rheumatic fever, a  sometimes fatal disease that can leave patients permanently disabled.

However, Beryl got better and, having been introduced to the sport by her husband Charlie Burton, began cycling. She turned out to have quite a considerable talent for it, too - in fact, she won seven World Championships and more than 90 National titles, in addition to winning a World title in track cycling almost every year for 30 years. In the British time trial scene, Burton was quite literally unbeatable when she was at her best and she remained at her best for a very long time, winning the Road Time Trials Council’s British Best All-Rounder Competition for an incredible 25 consecutive years.

Beryl Burton, 12.05.1937 - 08.05.1996
As well as racing, Burton set new records with around 50 to her name, including 10, 25 and 50-mile records that would not be broken for 20 years, a 100-mile record that stood for 28 years and in 1967 a 12-hour record that still stands today. Whilst setting it, she caught and passed Mike McNamara as he was riding to a new men's 12-hour record and passed him a licorice allsort. McNamara covered 276.52 (445.02km) miles for his record. Burton covered  277.25 miles (446.19km). No man would beat her for two years.

In common with many people who have suffered rheumatic fever, Burton experienced heart complaints throughout her life and had to learn to live with arrhythmia. Yet, it was not in the heat of competition that she died - while out on her bike delivering birthday party invitations on the 8th of May in 1996, four days before she turned 59, she had a heart attack.

Burton was added to the Cycling Weekly's Golden Book of Cycling - a single-copy manuscript that pays homage to Britain's best cyclists - in 1960. By 1991, she had won so many races that it became necessary to give her a second page, something that had never happened before in the book's six-decade history nor in the 21 years since. She is now widely recognised as the greatest athlete Britain has ever produced.

Cath Swinnerton
Burton was not the only successful female British cyclist born on this day - 21 years after she was born, Cath Swinnerton came into the world at Fenton in Staffordshire. Swinnerton was twice a bronze medal winner at the National Road Race Championships and twice silver - and won the gold in 1977 and 1984.

With her brother Paul (a racing cyclist himself) and their extended cycling family, she now runs Swinnerton Cycles - a chain of bike shops established by their grandparents in 1915. The first shop is still in business and can be found at 69 Victoria Road, Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent (53° 0'6.74"N 2° 9'41.86"W).

Adelin Benoit, 12.05.1900 - 18.06.1954
Belgian Adelin Benoit, born in Châtelet (where René Magritte spent much of his childhood) on this day in 1900, was an all-but-unknown newcomer at the 1925 Tour de France. The peloton was therefore surprised when he held the maillot jaune through stages 3, 4, 5 and 6, then  took eleven minutes from the great Ottavio Bottecchia in the Pyrénées to wear it for a fifth and final day. He never managed anything quite so spectacular again, though three stage wins in later editions and one victory at the 560km one-day Bordeaux-Paris are impressive.

On this day in 2002, Frenchman Eric Barone set a new record for highest downhill speed achieved on a standard production bicycle at 163kph on the slopes of Cerro Negro, a volcano in Nicaragua. The record would not be beaten until 2011, and then by less than 2kph. Barone holds the current record for custom-built bikes too, having reached 222kph in 2000.

Damian McDonald was an Australian cyclist born in Wangaratta, Victoria in 1972 and a gold medalist in the 2004 Commonwealth Games. He died on the 23rd of March 2007 in the Burnley Tunnel Explosion that occurred after a crash and fire in the Melbourne tunnel.

Other births: Andreas Hestler (Canada, 1970); Suwan Ornkerd (Thailand, 1941); Lieselot Decroix (Belgium, 1987); Jozef Schoeters (Belgium, 1947); Gunnar Andersen (Denmark, 1911, died 1981); Zeragaber Gebrehiwot (Ethiopia, 1956); Gustaaf Hermans (Belgium, 1951); Héctor Palacio (Colombia, 1969); Jürgen Barth (Germany, 1943, died 2011).

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