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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
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.
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
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).