Saturday, 19 May 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 19.05.2012

Carlo Galetti
The 19th of May has seen the first stage of nine editions of the Giro d'Italia - 1912, 1929, 1934, 1951, 1956, 1960, 1962, 1963 and 2001. 1912 was the third edition and holds the record for the smallest ever number of riders with only 56 starting the race. They were split into fourteen trade teams (the first time trade teams were allowed) of four men each, with the fastest team being declared the winner rather than an individual rider. Atala-Dunlop (which became known unofficially as The Four Musketeers) was the team of Luigi Ganna (1909 winner), Carlo Galetti (1910/1911 winner), Giovanni Micheletto and Eberardo Pavesi and led through all nine stages - had the race have been run in a more conventional manner with a General Classification, Galetti would have won after completing the 2,435km in 100h2'57". Originally, only eight stages were to be run - however, organisers decided apparently on a whim to lengthen Stage 4 by 50km, which met with the disapproval of the riders who showed their displeasure by stopping at a station and getting on a train rather than riding the added section. Fans - who had paid for tickets to see the riders cross the finish line within a velodrome in Rome - were furious and made some very real death threats against the organisers. The stage results were disqualified and Stage 9 was later added as a result.

In 1929, Alfredo Binda won Stage 2 - and then the next seven stages too, eight in a row and still a record to this day. That was more than enough to secure his General Classification placing and he took first place after completing the fourteen stages and 2,920km in 107h18'24". Five years later in 1934, when the race next began on this day, he was favourite to win - but this time, fortune was not on his side and he abandoned at the end of Stage 6, leaving Learco Guerra to win after he completed the 17 stages and 3,706km in 121h17'17".

Fausto Coppi was considered the favourite a few months before the 1951 edition began, but the death of his beloved younger brother Serse left him so crushed many wondered if he would ever recover. However, Coppi loved cycling almost as much as he had loved Serse, and while the man who appeared on the start line was not the Coppi that Italy adored he still raced - and came a respectable fourth. With Bartali now long past his best years, the way ahead clear for Fiorenzo Magni to do battle with Rik van Steenbergen and claim the second of his three Giro victories when he finished the 20 stages and 4,153km in 121h11'37".

Charly Gaul and the 1956 Blizzard
Charly Gaul, 1932-2005
1956 brought one of the most remarkable victories in the history of cycling after the Luxembourgian climber Charly Gaul revealed himself to be made of far sterner stuff than mere mortals, pressing on through a blizzard on Monte Bodone (Charly also had a remarkable talent for swallowing amphetamine pills, which may have contributed a little). After he'd escaped the peloton and ridden off into the snow alone, it wasn't long before nobody had the slightest idea where he'd got to. Team managers and race officials scoured the mountain in their cars searching for him, but there was no trace. Eventually, it was 1934 winner Learco Guerra (who by then had become  manager of Faema) who found him: completely by chance, he'd spotted what looked like Charly's bike propped up against a wall of a little village bar and gone inside. There, he discovered the rider sat by the fire, wrapped in blankets and being administered hot, sweet coffee by the owners in an attempt to return him from  a near-comatose state.

Learco stripped Gaul out of his soaking jersey and shorts and had him vigourously rubbed down with hot water and, slowly, the rider began to return to life. Outside, the weather had worsened - the snow was coming down harder now and the wind was increasing in strength. So Gaul, being Gaul, went outside, got back on his bike and set off to complete the stage. Head down, his face devoid of expression, he kept on turning the cranks with his usual smooth, powerful style, on and on and on.

He suffered for it - when he got to the finish line, spectators say his face was wrinkled and pale, his extremities blue and stiff. In fact, was in such poor condition that he had to be physically lifted into a bath of hot water and it took more than hour before he was able to speak. 44 men, including race leader Pasquale Fornara abandoned that day. Charly rode alone in the blizzard for 88km and won by 7'44", securing overall victory.


Gaul was favourite in 1960, but a throat infection prevented him from riding at his full capability. Nevertheless, he remained a greater obstacle in Jacques Anquetil's quest for glory than the 2,006m climb to Cervinia (a ski resort on the Matterhorn, the mountain the Italians call Monte Cervino) and even the 2,621m Gavia Pass, featuring in the race for the very first time that year and the site of controversy: Italy was mourning the death of its greatest hero Fausto Coppi and desperately wanted an Italian - any Italian - to win, which persuaded organisers to look the other way when Gastone Nencini received a helping hand from fans on his way up the mountain. However, the Frenchman was on better form than ever before in the Stage 14 time trial, hammering around the parcours to take the win despite starting with a six minute disadvantage behind the Luxembourgian. From that point on, he was unstoppable and led the General Classification for the remainder of the race, completing the 3,481km and 21 stages in 94h03'54" as the first Frenchman to have won a Giro.

Franco Balmamion
The 1962 edition was unusual due to a lack of time trials and appeared to have been designed solely to promote tourism rather than to showcase professional cycling, twisting this way and that around the country and covering 4,180km in an attempt to visit as many of Italy's most famous attractions as could possibly be worked into the parcours. Anquetil was away, concentrating on winning a third Tour de France and Gaul had begun his long, slow decline that led ultimately to his later reclusive life in a forest hut, which left the race open for the next generation. The Belgian Armand Desmet looked set for the win after he won Stage 7 and then rode well enough to lead the General Classification for seven stages, but Graziano Battistini took it from him in Stage 14 and surrendered it to Franco Balmamion three stages later and hung onto it until the end of Stage 21 when he was declared winner with a time of 123h07'03". Balmamion won again the following year, 1963, when the race started on the same date after completing the 21 stages and 4,063km in 116h50'16". Pope Giovanni XXIII blessed the race that year, but at times the conduct of riders and organisers was somewhat less than godly - doping became an issue for the first time (one year after Pierre Dumas had highlighted the problem with the first public statement on the subject at the Tour de France) when the official race doctor began an investigation following news that a rider had administered himself an intravenous injection of a substance that remains unknown. There was also a serious row between organisers, the League of Professional Cyclists' chairman Mario Fontana and the Italian Federation boss Bruno Mealli battling one another in an effort to take overall control of the race. In the end, both men walked out and the Italian government was forced to take over.

2001 was also hit by drama. During the night between Stages 16 and 17, officers from the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela della Salute (the Italian police department that deals with issues involving public health, food and drugs) mounted a raid that has become known as the San Remo Blitz. Raiding hotel rooms, they seized a huge pile of doping products including steroids, growth hormones and other drugs, blood transfusion equipment and assorted blood testing equipment intended to help teams get riders through controls. Among the 36 people (riders and team officials) to face charges related to the raid was Dario Frigo - the very same Dario Frigo who, four years later at the Tour de France, was arrested after police searched his wife's car and discovered ten doses of EPO. After the Giro offence he was handed a six-month ban; after the Tour offence (three years later, in fact), he and his wife received six-month prison sentences and a €8,757 fine. The race covered 3,356km over 21 stages, won by Gilberto Simoni in 89h02'58" and will be forever remembered as the worst in Giro history.

Janssen in yellow, 1968
(image credit: Pivos / P. Vossen CC BY 2.5)
Jan Janssen
Born in Nootdorp, Netherlands on this day in 1940, Jan Janssen earned a living digging foundations with his family's construction firm after he joined a cycling club at the age of 16. Before too long he started to win some races and it began to look as though he might be able to make a living from it, which resulted in an invitation to turn semi-professional with Locomotif-Vredestein in 1961. The next year, he won three stages and came third overall at the Tour de l'Avenir and was offered a professional contract with Pelforth-Sauvage-Lejeune.

Though he'd originally come to wider attention as a sprinter, Janssen soon showed aptitude in other areas after joining Pelforth; rapidly becoming known as a good all-rounder and likely General Classification contender. With his excellent French, sharp wits and natural leadership skills, he soon became team captain. In 1963, he was third at Paris-Roubaix - and finishing Paris-Roubaix in any position proves a rider's credentials. He also rode his first Tour de France that year and won a stage, an extremely rare achievement for any rider new to the race (unfortunately, he crashed the next day and was forced to abandon). The next year he won Paris-Nice, the World Championship and Stages 7 and 10 at the Tour (and finished top three in eight others); which only gave him 24th on the overall General Classification but won him the Points competition - and he won it the next year too, then came second in the GC the year after that.

He won Paris-Roubaix in 1967 and entered the Tour again, this time one stage and winning the Points for a third time. Then, in the 1968 edition, he beat Herman van Springel by 38" - which would remain the smallest margin by which a Tour had ever been won until 1989, but was more than enough: 32 years after Dutch riders first took part in the Tour, they had a winner.

For a description of Janssen's 1968 Tour, see
Granny Gear Blog
(image credit: Granny Gear Blog)
Four years later, Janssen found himself unable to keep up with the field at the Tour of Luxembourg. "I knew then that I was Jan Janssen, winner of the Tour de France and the championship of the world and that it was time for me to stop," he later said, and after reaching the finish line he retired from professional cycling forever. Later, he set up a frame building workshop in the little town of Putte which is position so precisely on the border that part of it lies within Belgium. He became friendly with a neighbour, Hennie Kuiper - who won the World Championship in 1975, Paris-Roubaix in 1983 and very nearly two Tours of his own - and they can still sometimes be seen riding together. Janssen says he likes it when people recognise him.

Anthony Doyle
Born in Ashord, Great Britain on this day in 1958, Tony Doyle rose to fame when he won two bronze medals (Pursuit and Sprint) at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, turned professional in 1979 with KP Crisps-Viscount and then a year later when be became World Pursuit Champion, as he would a second time in 1986.

In 1988, Doyle was involved in a serious crash at the Six Days of Munich and suffered serious head injuries and numerous broken bones, remaining in a coma for ten days and being given the last rites. Defying medical expectations, he then began to recover, though he would spend six weeks in an intensive care ward and two months at a specialist rehabilitation centre. Nevertheless, he was not expected to ride again - but then in 1989 he won the Six Days of Cologne and, a year later, Munich.

A spine injury ended his career in 1994 but he remained closely connected to the cycling world - his hand-built frames are still highly sought-after and in 1996 he became president of British Cycling, later directing the 2004 Tour of Britain.

Other births: Klaas Vantornout (Belgium, 1982); Christian Murro (Italy, 1978); José Ferreira (Venezuela, 1934); Francisco Lozano (Mexico, 1932, died 2008); Anselmo Citterio (Italy, 1927, died 2006); Juan Arroyo (Venezuela, 1955); Philippe Vernet (France, 1961); Geir Digerud (Norway, 1956); Maciej Bielecki (Poland, 1987).

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