Sunday, 3 June 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 03.06.12

This photograph, taken at the 1921 Paris-Roubaix, is
believed to show Henri Pélissier, Léon Scieur and René
The ninth edition of La Flèche Wallonne, which took place on this day in 1945, was the first to be held since Belgium was liberated from Nazi occupation. It ran between Mons and Charleroi, as it had done in the previous two years, but took a different route which was 5km longer at 213km in total. The winner was Marcel Kint for a third consecutive year - nobody else has yet matched his achievement.

The thirteenth edition of La DoyenneLiège-Bastogne-Liège, was held on this day in 1923. The winner for the first of two consecutive years was René Vermandel. This was the only time that the race was held on this date.

Evgeni Berzin, the man who should have been great
Evgeni Berzin
Evgeni Berzin, born in Vyborg on this day in 1970, won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1994. Two months later, he won the Giro d'Italia too - one of the few truly heroic Grand Tours of the last few decades, coming at the end of a race in which he wore the maglia rosa for 19 days. Being only 24 at the time, the cycling world immediately hailed him as the next great hero, a man who would follow in the footsteps of Hinault, Merckx, Anquetil, Coppi and Bartoli, but it was not to be - Berzin proved to be one of those unfortunate cyclists who peaks early in his career and can never quite live up to that early promise.

Berzin first appeared on the radar in 1988 when he formed part of the winning National Junior Championships Pursuit team, then formed part of the Russian Junior squad that won the same race at the Worlds. This was followed in 1989 with a National Amateur Team Pursuit title, which was repeated in 1990; the year he also rode with the victorious Amateur Pursuit team at the Worlds and took the World Amateur Individual Pursuit title for himself. In 1993, he turned professional with Mecair-Ballan, the team with which he would remain for five years through numerous sponsor changes and the gradual transformation into Gewiss-Playbus in 1997, taking second place at the 1995 Giro in addition to his overall victory the previous year, then winning Stage 19 in the Giro and Stage 8 in the Tour de France of 1998.

His performances in several other stages (and races) that year were good too, with numerous podium places, which persuaded the world that his form was simply not what it had been the year before but, as tends to be the way when a rider enters his late 20s, he'd get better than ever. With that in mind, La Française des Jeux took him on in 1998. The Tour that year was in fact his fourth, as he had competed in 1995 (abandoned), 1996 (20th overall) and 1997 (abandoned); and he came 25th overall. Alarm bells started ringing: the Tour is the hardest race of all and sometimes a top-notch rider will get a bad result through no fault of his own, but the man Russia hoped would be its first Tour champion had been expected to do better and, when his contract expired at the end of the year, he could not find a team at the same level that would take him, so instead he went to Amica Chips-Costa de Almeria - but 1999 was much worse and he won nothing. Amica too let him go, but this time he was more fortunate and found a ride with Mobilvetta Design-Rossin, a team in the same class - but then 2000 turned out not to be much better, his only good result being third place in the little 53.2km Broni criterium. Berzin, it could now be seen, was not having a couple of bad seasons before a glorious flourishing into his best years; he was a rider who had already declined. After a second season with Mobilvetta (during which he again won no races), he called it a day.

Karel Kaers
Karel Kaers
Nowadays, many people will tell you that when 21-year-old Lance Armstrong won the 1993 Elite World Championship Road Race in Oslo, he was the youngest rider to have ever done so. In fact, he was only the third youngest: Jempi Monseré was one week younger when he won in Leicester in 1970, and Karel Kaers - who was born on this day in 1914 in Voselaar - had only just passed his 20th birthday when he won on his first attempt at the race in Leipzig, 1934; an achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact that up until then he was known primarily as a track rider.

Kaers began racing during childhood and won the Belgian Boys' Championship along with 36 other races in his first two years, then he became a Junior in 1931 and won a National Sprint Championship, after which he moved up a gear and became an independent, remaining so when he was selected for the Belgian team in 1934, then turned professional the following year for F. Pélissier-Hutchinson (the team lasted only a season, and he moved on to Bury later in the same year). Over the next few years, he flitted back and fourth between Bury, Colin-Wolber, Bristol and Alcyon-Dunlap, and it was with the latter that he achieved his second great claim to fame - winning the 1939 Ronde van Vlaanderen without intending to do so.

Acht van Chaam criterium 1938, won by Kaers (Gerrit Schulte was second, Theo Middelkamp was third)
It is, perhaps, a tale that may have been somewhat embellished for the sake of legend and one that might not stand up to scrutiny should anybody who thinks facts are more important that a good story decide to dissect it. Kaers, it's said, had no plans to compete for the victory but, since the race started not too far from his home, it offered a good chance to get in some valuable race training. So, he put his bike in his car and drove to Kluisberg before riding the 40km to the start line in Ghent where he signed up and set off with the bunch. His plan was to ride with them to Kwaremont and then drive back home again, so when the race arrived at Kluisberg he attacked and leapt away from the field, going at full throttle up the 11% hill without worrying about conserving energy for the remainder of the race and by the time he got to the top he had a lead of one minute. However, his car was not where he'd left it; rather than find a policeman or a phone to report the theft, he decided that he may as well press on and finish the race. After he'd won, his manager admitted that when he'd seen how well Kaers was going on the hill, he realised that the rider had the potential to win; so he'd broken into and moved the car himself.

In retirement, Kaers bought and ran a bar near the entrance to Antwerp's Sportpaleis velodrome. He died in the city on the 20th of December, 1972.

Joachim Halupczok
Joaquim Halupczok,
03.06.1968 - 05.02.1994
Polish Joachim Halupczok, born in Ozimek on this day in 1968, won his nation's Junior Cyclo Cross and Elite Road Race Championships in 1987; then won the World Amateur Road Race Championship, the National Amateur Road Race Championship, the Under-23 GP Liberazione and the General Classification at the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt in 1989. Those results were good enough to get him a professional contract, and he rode for Diana-Colnago in 1990 when he finished in third place on Stage 8 at the Giro d'Italia, was second in the Trofeo Baracchi and eight overall in the Giro del Trentino.

In 1990, Halupczok was discovered to be suffering from cardiac arrhythmia and announced his temporary retirement; but just over a year he returned and took part in the Vuelta a Espana of 1992, before being ordered to stop cycling by his doctors at the end of the season. Fifteen months later, as he warmed up before playing in an indoor football match, he collapsed and died at the age of 26, leaving behind his wife and two young children. Many people suspected that he was another victim of EPO, but it has never been proved one way or the other if he was a doper.

Mary Grigson, born in Wellington, New Zealand on this day in 1971, was Australian National Cross Country Mountain Bike Champion in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and was named Australian Female Mountain Biker of the Year in 2000 and 2001.

Cathy Moncassin
Cathy Moncassin, born in Bonnetage on this day in 1977, became French Junior Individual Pursuit Champion in 1994, then took the Elite title for the same discipline in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007 - a well as Points Champion in 2003 and a host of track silver and bronze medals along the way.

Vincenzo Zucconelli, who was born in Jolanda di Savoia, Italy on this day in 1931, won the Under-23 GP Liberazione in 1951 and was a professional rider between 1954 and 1958 - a short career during which he won Stage 11 at the 1955 Giro d'Italia (the same year that 35-year-old Fiorenzo Magni became the oldest General Classification winner in Giro history), came second on two other Giro stages (Stage 8, 1955 and Stage 8, 1956) and third on another (Stage 14, 1955).

Rossano Brasi, born in Bergamo on this day in 1972, won the very first edition of the Vattenfall Cyclassics - then rather overlooked and known as the HEW Cyclassics, HEW at that time being the name of the Vattenfall electricity plant that still sponsors the race to this day - in 1996

Trine Schmidt, born in Copenhagen on this day in 1988, became National Scratch Race Champion - at Elite level - in 2004, when she was sixteen years old (and also became National Junior Independent Time Trial Champion). In 2006, she won Stages 1 and 2 and came second in the General Classification at the Silkeborg Viborg Hammel; then in 2007 the VDO Ladies Cup and Stage 4 at the Gracia Orlova before winning no fewer than three National titles for the Individual Time Trial on road and Scratch and Pursuit on the track. She added another National Pursuit win in 2009.

Boguslaw Fornalczyk, born on this day in 1937, was Polish National Road Race Champion in 1958.

Olympic Time Trial, 1912
István Müller, born in Hungary on this day in 1883, rode with his National team (in fact representing the Austro-Hungarian Empire) at the Olympics of 1912 - the first time that Hungarian riders took part in the the cycling events (and the first time since the advent of modern Olympics that no track cycling events featured in the Games). He was 73rd out of 123 (94 finished) in the Individual Time Trial, taking 12h39'28" to complete the 315.39km parcours.

Liz Hatch, who was born in Austin, Texas on this day in 1980, began racing at the comparatively late age of 26 and realised immediately that Belgium was the place for any female cyclist to be, traveling there that same year. Two years later, she became one of the founding members of the  Vanderkitten road racing programme, one of the top teams in the sport, then signed to Lotto Ladies in 2009. Intelligent and sometimes outspoken, Liz is one of the "go to" riders whenever magazines or newspapers need a handy soundbite (the fact that she happens to look like supermodel helps, too). Among her finest is this description of cycling, published by The Sporting Life:
"I thrive off of the pain. I keep telling myself that it´s just another form of pleasure. Once you tell yourself that it hurts too much to continue, you may as well get off your bike and get a real job. It´s the races that really hurt, that really put you in your grave; that you remember and cherish."

Other births: Fabio Masotti (Italy, 1974); Tim Phivana (Cambodia, 1940); Jean-Marcel Brouzes (France, 1953); Vittorio Marcelli (Italy, 1944); Jair Braga (Brazil, 1954); Errol McLean (Guyana, 1952); Tjow Choon Boon (Malaysia, 1945); Ira Fabian (Antigua and Barbuda, 1964).

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