Monday, 21 May 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 21.05.12

The Giro d'Italia began on this date six times - in 1919, 1949, 1954, 1972, 1976 and 1987. 1919 covered 2,984km in ten stages and saw an example of one of the greatest dominations by a single rider over any Grand Tour - Costante Girardengo led the General Classification throughout and won seven stages. Oscar Egg became the first Swiss rider to win a stage, the Belgian Marcel Buysse became the first non-Italian to stand on the podium when he took third place overall and Gaetano Belloni won a stage for the first time (Belloni would become known as Eterno Secondo, the implication being that he'd never beat Girardengo. However, he seems to have been happy enough with the races he did win - including the 1920 Giro, three editions of the Giro di Lombardia and a Milan-San Remo - and the two men were close friends). It was the first edition of the race since the First World War and was used to make a political point when it visited Trieste and Trento, annexed by Italy from the Austro-Hungarian Empire as it collapsed at the end of the conflict.

1949 brought Fausto Coppi's third win and saw him hammer home his status as the new master of Italian cycling when he score a spectacular victory after an extremely difficult Stage 17 that included Maddalena Pass, the Col de Vars, the Col d'Izoard, the Col de Montgenèvre and Sestriere - having escaped the peloton, he rode on alone over the mountains and finished the stage with an 11'52" lead on Gino Bartali. At the end of the race, after 19 stages and 4,088km, Coppi's advantage over his aging rival was 23'47". A new era, represented by Coppi, had begun when he won his first Giro back in 1940. Now the preceding one, represented by Bartali, finally came to an end.

Carlo Clerici
There seems to be some confusion as to how long it actually was (4,331, 4,337 and 4,396km are all commonly given figures), but 1954 is likely to forever be remembered as the longest edition ever - like the other Grand Tours, the trend for many years has been for total distance to equal around 3,500km. The surprise winner was the Swiss Carlo Clerici, who made full use of a serious tactical error by the favourites which allowed him and the Italian Nino Assirelli to finish Stage 6 with a 25' advantage, then the race with 24'16" over his nearest rival. "They never should have been allowed such a lead," said Fausto Coppi. "But, after that stage, the race was over." Assirelli soon tired and couldn't keep up with Clerici, finishing 26'28" behind him - still good enough for third and,more impressively, one place up on Coppi. Another Swiss, Hugo Koblet, was 2'12" faster than Assirelli; completing the parcours in 129h37'23" - had it not have been for Clerici's good fortune, it's probably safe to assume Koblet would have won a third Grand Tour.

Having stayed out of the 1971 edition as he concentrated on winning a third Tour de France, Eddy Merckx came back in 1972 and, being Eddy Merckx, thrashed the competition. Marino Basso started off with the General Classification leadership and held it for the first two stages, then passed it on to Ugo Colombo for Stage 3 before José Manuel Fuente took it for the next four stages. In Stage 7, Merckx joined forces with the previous year's winner Gösta Pettersson, who apparently had no illusions that he could beat Merckx and was happy to take the stage win - a rather uncharacteristic gesture of gratitude by The Cannibal. From that point onwards, the race was as good as won: Fuente attacked again and again and on every single climb but he couldn't even dent the surpremacy of Merckx, who led all the way to the end and finished the 23 stages (two split) and 3,725km with a 5'30" advantage.

1976 saw another record; set by the Spaniard Antonio Menendez Gonzalez, a lowly domestique riding with KAS-Campagnolo, broke away from the peloton the moment Stage 11 got underway in Terni and then rode solo all the way to victory in Gabbice Mare 222km away - the longest solo break in the history of the race. Whilst the middle of the race was dominated by Felice Gimondi, GC leader between Stages 8 and18, the final part broke down into a nervous duel between him and the Belgian Johan de Muynck who had taken the lead in Stage 19 and kept it until Gimondi got the better of him in Stage 22a, a 28km individual time trial and a discipline in which the Italian easily outclassed the Belgian. The race included 24 stages (two split) and covered 4,161km, Gimondi's winning time being 119h58'15" and de Muynck's 19" slower.

Giro 1987 - the Marmalade Massacre
1987 was a superb year from a Celtic point of view: Stephen Roche became the first (and to date, only) Irishman to win a Giro when he finished the 24 stages and 3,915km in 105h39'42" (he'd also win the Tour de France that year, then the World Championships; making him one of only two men to have won the fabled Triple Crown - cycling's most prestigious and entirely unofficial prize, for which there is no trophy) and the Scotsman Robert Millar was second - for many years, the best ever Grand Tour result by a British rider until Chris Froome equalled it at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana.

Stephen Roche
It was the year of one of the most vicious battles in the history of the race - the one that broke out between team mates Roche and Roberto Visentini, the 1986 winner and team leader.  Visentini arrived at the race with every intention of taking a second victory and looked more than capable of doing so in the Prologue and Stage 1a, but Roche beat him the Stage 1b individual time trial and then took the leadership when their Carrera Jeans-Vagabond won the Stage 3 team time trial. In Stage 13, by which time Visentini was again in the lead, Roche ignored an order from team management and attacked his leader to win back the GC.

He incurred the wrath of the tifosi for ever more, but earned the eternal friendship of many others - especially as he'd done so with virtually no support, Eddy Schepers being the only team member whom he could trust. Instead, he enlisted the aid of old friends Millar and Phil Anderson (both with Panasonic-Isostar, but with whom he had ridden when the trio were first trying to break into European cycling with the legendary Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt. Schepers, Millar and Anderson broke ranks and encircled Roche on the ascent of Marmaloda, protecting him from attacks and ensuring that he finished with a time sufficient to guarantee his victory. The event, one of the most remarkable in Giro history, has become known as the Marmalade Massacre.

Mark Cavendish
Born in Douglas on the Isle of Man on this day in 1925, fell in love with cycling during childhood and immediately became involved racing - though by his own admission, BMX was not his area of excellence: "I was always riding a bike, getting dropped in little races," he says. After badgering his parents, he got a mountain bike for his 13th birthday and the next day was unable to find anyone capable of beating him.

As a young teenager Cav met David Millar who was then the great hope of British cycling, in the years before his arrest, disgrace and eventual rise to become one of the peloton's most trusted elder statesmen. Millar inspired him, bringing him to a realisation that if he trained hard enough his juvenile talent might prove to be the foundation upon which a professional cycling career could be built. When he left school, he found a job in a bank and stuck it out for two years, saving the money he knew he'd need in the future.

With his naturally compact yet powerful physique, Cav soon found a contract with the British Cycling Track Team and frequently rode Madisons with Rob Hayles; the two of them winning gold at the UCI World Championships in 2005, the same year that Cav became European Points Race Champion. Both would prove relatively unimportant when compared to a pivotal decision he made that year, however - to start road racing, which he did with Sparkasse at the Tours of Berlin and Britain. In 2006, Cav started to get fast. Seriously, blisteringly fast, as he proved when he won two stages and the Points competition at the Tour of Berlin and lapped Ashley Hutchinson, James McCallum and his old mate Rob Hayles at the Commonwealth Games. Sparkasse acted as a feeder squad for the legendary T-Mobile team and he was offered a trainee contract with them in August, which he accepted before going on to win the Points competition at the Tour of Britain - in 2007, he was a fully-professional member of the team and repaid the gesture by winning the Scheldeprijs Classic.

2008 was his real breakthrough year. In addition to winning the World Madison Championship with Bradley Wiggins, Cav won his first Grand Tour stage - Stage 4 at the Giro d'Italia. Then he won Stage 13 too; and then Stages 5, 8, 12 and 13 at the Tour de France. British fans began to hope that he might one day be a Tour winner, but Cav has never been under any illusion that he could be: "I'm an old-school sprinter," he says. "I can't climb a mountain but if I am in front with 200 metres to go then there's nobody who can beat me."

When HTC-Highroad came to an end at the close of the 2011 season, many people felt that Cav would not be able to continue his success without his lead-out man Mark Renshaw and predicted that the wins would dry up if they went separate ways; as indeed turned out to be the case when Cav - after much petty intrigue - went as everyone always knew he would to Sky and Renshaw went to Rabobank. However,  because the pair won so many races when they working together, people tend to forget that Cav was winning races long before riding with Renshaw - it wasn't until 2009 that the partnership was formed. Nevertheless, it would prove devastatingly effective and at the Tour that summer Cav won six stages; in doing so becoming the first British rider to wear the green jersey for two days in a row and equalled, then beat Barry Hoban's British record of eight stage wins in total.

Problems with his teeth caused a less than satisfactory start to 2010 and his growing number of detractors started to whisper that his career so far had been lucky, that his glory days were still over, which is why he famously stuck two fingers up as he won Stage 2 at the Tour de Romandie that year (in Britain, the gesture can be politely described as meaning "I disagree with what you have said, and disapprove of you in general" - or, more accurately, as "Fuck you!"). The UCI, with their customary tolerance, were less than impressed and the team were forced to withdraw him from the race. It would not be the last time he got in trouble - a common accusation is that he's uncouth and arrogant. Those who know him disagree: Cav is a rough diamond, they say (and many find his outspokeness and "passionate" language refreshing), and explain his supposed arrogance as being simply an awareness that he's the best in the world at was he does.

Cav still can't climb - he was twice docked points at the 2011 Tour when he finished outside the time limit for Stages 18 and 19 (escaping disqualification as both stages were mountainous, causing organisers to extend the original limits when 50% of the peloton also finished outside the allotted time) - and he never will be able to, but for a sprint specialist such as him the race is about the Points competition rather than the General Classification, and it was that year that he became the first British rider to have won it; in addition to winning five stages (for a total of 20 in his career, making him the most successful British Tour rider by some way) and  becoming the second man to have won the Tour's final stage for three years in a row. The only other rider to have done so was Eddy Merckx, widely considered the greatest cyclist to have ever lived.

He wasn't finished yet, though. When the Grand Tours were over, the World Championships took place in Copenhagen. The British team worked hard to retain control of the Road Race from start to finish, then succeeded in getting Cav to an ideal position within a few hundred metres of the finish line before they lit the blue touch paper and retired to await the inevitable... and Mark Cavendish became the first British World Road Racing Champion since Tom Simpson almost half a century earlier.

Mark Cavendish, World Champion 2011
Jean Stablinski
Born Jean Stablewski to Polish immigrant parents on this day, 1932, in Thun-Saint-Amand, France (in a region so close to Belgium that some inhabitants to this day speak French Flemish as their first language), Jean Stablinski was forced to find work in the coal mines to support his family when he was 14 after his father died. That same year, he won a bicycle when he came first in an accordion competition and fell so in love with it that his mother worried he'd skip work to ride it, so she vandalised it. He was not discouraged.

Jean Stablinski
She couldn't know, of course, that her son was destined for greatness and would earn a far better living from cycling than he ever could have done as a miner. When he was 16, he took French citizenship and began entering official amateur races, including the Peace Race - it was there that a journalist mis-spelled his surname, rendering it as Stablinski and creating the name by which he would become world famous. At the age if 21 he turned professional with Gitane-Hutchinson and remained with them for three seasons before departing for Helyet-Potin for a year, then Essor-Leroux for four years. In 1960, the team merged with Helyet-Fynsec to become Helyett-Leroux-Fynsec-Hutchinson-A.C.B.B and Stablinski found himself riding as a domestique for Jacques Anquetil. He was arguably wasted in this role - after all, he won four National Championships and took silver medals at two more in a six-year period, an achievement that remains unmatched, but by all accounts he seems to have been happy with the arrangement. Until, that is, Anquetil wrote a series of critical newspaper articles that appeared to target his team mates - Stablinski was not alone in believing that some of the worst attacks were directed specifically at him and in 1968 he left to join Mercier-BP-Hutchinson while Anquetil remained with Bic, but he retired from competition at the end of the year.

Stablinski was, it has to be said, far from the most graceful rider to have ever swung his leg over a bike. In fact, if anyone were to watch a video of him in action without knowing who he was nor what he achieved, they could be forgiven for thinking him a rank amateur and quite possibly a little drunk. However, he had a sharp mind and intuitively make detailed race plans, changing them on the road as necessary; and he displayed an almost supernatural knack of knowing which breakaway was going to survive to the end of a race, then attaching himself to it. He was, therefore, prime manager material and it was he in his role as Sonolor-Lejeune who recognised that two unknown young riders named Lucien van Impe and Bernard Hinault were worth signing up.

Unlike Hinault, who claims not to have ridden a bike since he retired, Stablinski never fell out of love with the simple joy of non-competitive cycling and continued to ride until the last days of his life. He had spent so many years riding flat out with his head down, he explained on French television, that he'd not had as much opportunity to view the countryide and enjoy riding for the sake of riding as he would have liked during his youth. Like all cyclists, a major contributing factor to his enjoyment of these rides was the cafes he found along the way and more than one unsuspecting stranger was surprised to find themselves in conversation with a four-time World Champion. He also became involved with Les Amis de Paris–Roubaix, the "friends" of the race who restore and repair the cobbled sections that have made it the most famous of the Monuments. It was he that alerted them to the existence of a road running through the forest over the mines he'd worked in all those years before; a harsh, dead-straight road that has come to symbolise the entire race - the Trouée d'Arenberg.

Stablinski died after a long illness on the 22nd of July, 2007.

Nicole Freedman is now a "bike czar,"
assisting architects and urban planners
in producing cycling-friendly town plans
Sprinter Nicole Freedman, born in Massachusetts on this day in 1972, discovered cycling whilst at university (she went to MIT and Stanford) as has been the case with many great female cyclists. She won numerous stages in North American races between 1999 and 2005, also taking one at the 2005 Tour of New Zealand and coming second on Stage 7 of the 2003 Holland Ladies' Tour. In 2000, she won the National Road Race and a year the National Criterium title. After being invited to compete for Israel and awarded dual citizenship, she won the silver medal in the Israeli National Championships in 2003.

Pierre Molinéris, who was born in Nice on this day in 1920, won the Boucles de Sospel and 30 other races including Stage 4 at the 1952 Tour de France before he retired in 1955. At the time of writing, he's 91 and very much alive.

Other births: Lori-Ann Muenzer (Canada, 1966); Stephen Fairless (Australia, 1962); Martin Penc (Czechoslovakia, 1957); Evert Grift (Netherlands, 1922, died 2009); Mehari Okubamicael (Ethiopia, 1945); Roger Young (USA, 1953); Gianni Ghidini (Italy, 1930, died 1995); Mino de Rossi (Italy, 1931).

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