Wednesday 23 May 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 23.05.12

The seventh edition of La Flèche Wallonne took place on this day in 1943. The parcours was the same length as the previous year at 208km, but the route differed - both races began at Mons, but this edition finished at Charleroi rather than at Marcinelle. Marcel Kint won, the first of his three consecutive victories, and became the first rider to win this and Paris-Roubaix in the same year.

Angelo Gremo, 1914
The Giro d'Italia began on this day four times - 1920, 1923, 1988 and 1993. 1920, which included eight stages and covered 2,632km, was won by Gaetano Belloni, one of only ten riders (from 49 starters) to complete the race. The edition saw a classic battle between Belloni and Angelo Gremo, the latter turning a five minute disadvantage into a fourteen minute lead in Stage 5 when he escaped the peloton as part of a group of five and took the General Classification leadership. With only three stages to go, most riders would have given up any hope of winning after that - but not Belloni, who simply increased the frequency and severity of his attacks in an effort to claw his way back. In the penultimate stage he had the ride of his life, escaping solo and crossing the finish line alone and 42 minutes ahead of his rival. At the end of the final stage, his time was 102h44'33"; 32'24" faster than Gremo. (Note: Giovanni Rossignoli is sometimes incorrectly listed as having become the oldest ever Giro stage winner this year at the age of 37 years and 188 days. In actual fact, he was not in the race that year.)

1923 consisted of ten stages over 3,202km - eight of them won by Costante Girardengo, who had also won in 1919 and taken the third of his six Milan-San Remo victories and the seventh of his nine National Championships that year. In fifth place, finishing 45'49" behind Girardengo's time of 122h58'17", was a young man named Ottavio Bottecchia who was then an unknown independent rider. His success brought him to the attention of Henri Pélissier who arranged for him to receive an invite to join the Automoto-Hutchinson team with whom he would win the Tour de France for the next two consecutive years.

Andy Hampsten and the '88 Giro
Andy Hampsten at the Tour de France, 1993
(image credit: Eric Houde CC BY-SA 3.0)
The 1988 Giro d'Italia covered 3,580km in 23 stages (two split). Stage 11 had to be stopped and, eventually, cancelled after environmental protestors occupied the finish line and refused to move, then Stage 14 could only just go ahead after it poured all day long, with rain turning to snow at altitude. Snow ploughs cleared the roads higher roads literally minutes before the riders arrived (the dirt roads lower down turned into a quagmire) and at 2,600m the snow turned into a blizzard. Johan van der Velde was the first to the top, beating Andy Hampsten by around a half minute, but became so cold on the descent that he was forced to stop and ask for help from some fans in a camper van - they allowed him to come in and warm up (well, what cycling fan wouldn't - even though being van der Velde there was a fairly high chance you'd have found something had mysteriously vanished afterwards), but as a result he finished the stage 46'49" behind the winner. Hampsten's 7-Eleven team, meanwhile, had a man waiting at the summit with a musette full of skiing gear so that their rider would survive the way down. Erik Breukink sailed past him as he stopped to put it on but Hampsten, the only rider sufficiently protected from the element to ride at high speed without crashing due to shivering so much, was able to catch him up and took a good second place.

The weather had not improved the following day, which although organisers decided to drop the Stelvio Pass and shorten the stage to 83km left the riders in foul moods. Stage 16 was no better and included a climb up the 2,424m Timmelsjoch in Austria (known to the Italians as the Passo del Rombo). This time, however, the organisers would not shorten the stage, a decision that inspired two rider protests as the rain turned to snow on the way up the mountain. In the end, it was Stage 18, an 18km mountain time trial, that decided the race: Breukink was the better time trialer (he'd become Dutch National Champion nine years later), but Hampsten was by far the better climber - and since the stage climbed almost 1,000m at an average gradient of around 8.5%, he had a massive advantage. When he started the stage, he was 42" ahead of Breukink in the General Classification; then he finished the stage more than a minute ahead of his rival. His lead now all but insurmountable, he led the race to the end and finished with a lead of 1'43" - the first American and non-European to have won since the race began.

The 1993 Giro covered 3,703km in 22 stages. Miguel Indurain, who led the race in the last eight stages, won overall for a second and final time after facing down strong, repeated attacks from the Latvian Piotr Ugrumov.

Giampaolo Cheula
Giampaolo Cheula

It's not at all uncommon for mountain bikers to defect to road cycling, but the exchange tends to be one-way with few road cyclists moving into mountain biking. One of those that did is the Italian Giampaolo Cheula, who was born in Premosello-Chiovenda on this day in 1979. Having turned professional with Mapei-QuickStep in 2001, Cheula won some good results in his first couple seasons, then switched to Vini Caldirola and raced in the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. He moved on to the British Barloworld squad in 2005, remaining with them for five seasons, picking up more good results and riding in two editions of the Tour de France and another Giro, then went to Footon-Servetto in 2010 and remained with them after the transformation into Geox-TMC and eventual demise in 2011.

Then, at the start of 2012, he announced that he would be changing to fat tyres and from that point onwards would be a mountain biker. "I am aware that the only common denominator between road and mountain biking are the two wheels, and are also aware that I worked so hard," he explained. "But the idea of starting from scratch appeals to me. I'm curious to see how I will adapt to the new discipline - and one thing's for sure, I'll put in the same effort and the same professionalism that I did for all those years on the road."

Cédric Gracia, born in Pau on this day in 1978, began cycle racing as a BMX rider when he was six years old. However, his first taste of professional sport would be as a freestyle skier and he didn't return to cycling until 2001 with the Volvo-Cannondale mountain biking team, initially and enjoying considerable success as a downhiller (twice taking silver at the World Championships) and, once the disciplines had been invented, 4X and Freeride. In 2010 he started his own team, the CG Racing Brigade, and for that year was its only member (which must surely be unique in cycling, as well as pushing the definition of the term "team" somewhat); it's since swelled in numbers with the addition of Colombian National Champion Marcelo Guttierez. Gracia's reputation is so great that the two riders were among the very few other than those in the Santa Cruz Syndicate to be supplied with the firm's factory V10 carbon fibre bikes.

Other births: Wim Stroetinga (Netherlands, 1985); Matthew Crampton (Great Britain, 1986); Lars Wahlqvist (Sweden, 1964); Mark Noble (Great Britain, 1963); Per Lyngemark (Denmark, 1941, died 2010); Valery Chaplygin (USSR, 1952); Didier Garcia (France, 1964); Beat Wabel (Switzerland, 1967); Gerrie Slot (Netherlands, 1954); Gabriel Cano (Mexico, 1965); Oleg Logvin (USSR, 1959); Julio Illescas (Guatemala, 1962).

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