Monday, 4 June 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 04.06.12

Seamus Elliott
Seamus Elliott, Ireland's first world-class cyclist
Born in Dublin on this day in 1934, Seamus "Shay" Elliott didn't learn to ride a bike until he was 14, but by that time he'd been playing Gaelic football (a game that has far more in common with rugby than it does with soccer) and hurling (an incredibly fast, rough and ancient sport in which striking an opponent's body with the axe-shaped hurley is permitted, but protective pads are not); which made him far tougher than most lads embarking on a career in cycling. When he was 16, he joined a club organised by a local church and entered his first race. Riding an old fixed-gear bike that he'd rescued from a scrap yard and which threatened to send him flying every time he took a corner at full speed and grounded the pedals, he came second. The winner - and many of the riders Elliott beat - were aboard proper road-racing machines equipped with derailleur gears.

A year later, he'd saved enough to buy a racing bike of his own and joined the Southern Road Club, which gave him access to bigger races such as the Grand Prix of Ireland, which he won. The club closed down not long after he'd joined and he went to the Dublin Wheelers early in 1952; with them he entered the Maninn Veg, a race consisting of one lap of the notoriously challenging 60.7km Mountain Course used by the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy motorcycle races, and won. One year later he raced in the Manx International, consisting of three laps of the same TT course and came fourth despite a crash, then won the Irish Amateur Championships and took second place in the Tour of Ireland.

Ireland, in those days, was a long way from cycling's heartlands in France, Belgium and Italy, but word of Elliott's potential had spread and, shortly after his Tour of Ireland success, he received an invitation to attend a training camp financed by Simplex (the manufacturer of derailleurs) in Monte Carlo. Had he not have recently completed a six year apprenticeship in sheet metal working, he might very well never have accepted - he was well aware that his dreams of finding fame and fortune on his bike might never come true and that he might need a less glamourous way to make a living but, certain that he'd be able to find a job if he had no option but to return to Ireland after the camp, the opportunity was his for the taking. It was at about the same time that he first came into contact with legendary author of cycling books and editor of Sporting Cyclist Jock Wadley, who later remembered another reason that Elliott might have been nervous about attending the camp: in those days, boys from poor Irish backgrounds did not go to places such as Monaco. Many had gone across the Atlantic to America, but with a large Irish community in many of the cities they knew roughly what they would find. Monaco, meanwhile, was very foreign indeed; while Elliott didn't know for certain what sorts of things the people of Monaco ate, he guessed it'd probably be heavily influenced by French cuisine - and, well, everyone knew they ate frogs and snails, didn't they? Thus, he had taken precautions: when Wadley visited him in his rooms, Elliott showed him his provisions drawer containing one kilogram of loose tea and another of chocolate cream biscuits. "You can have as many of those biscuits as you like," the Irishman proudly told him, "My auntie works in the factory, she'll be sending me more soon."

At the training camp was Raymond Le Bert, soigneur to Louison Bobet and perhaps the first to come to the sport with some idea of sports science and public representation, rather than witch doctory like his predecessors (Le Bert was also the cause of much merriment among Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx during a dinner given in honour of former Tour winners. Bobet had insisted that he had never doped and taken what the Italian and Belgian - both of whom were no strangers to performance-enhancing drugs - perceived to be a rather holier-than-thou attitude on the matter, but then unwittingly mentioned that the closest he had come was "special bottles" prepared by Le Bert. What the bottles contained, he had not the faintest idea). Not long after the new arrivals had unpacked, Le Bert ordered them to gather together and strip down to their underwear so that he could examine their physiques. Wadley recalled that the toned, sinewy French and Belgian lads exchanged knowing smiles as they eyed Elliott who, as one might suspect of a lad who had been surviving on chocolate biscuits, did not look quite as they did. Le Bert, however, knew his stuff: "Ah ha!" he exclaimed, "Now this is really rock. He is a real flahute." (There are obvious parallels here with the experiences of Mark Cavendish, who was frequently accused of being fat and useless early on his career, and was fortunate to find a few coaches at British Cycling who could see through charts and figures and encouraged him to get on with winning races).

When the camp was over, Elliott was uncertain of his next step - should he go home, put his metal-working skills to good use and continue domestic racing or should he stay in France and try his luck? He went to ask advice from Francis Pélissier, who had been the French National Champion three times, had worn the maillot jaune for five days and whose brother Henri had won the 1923 Tour de France (a young Tom Simpson, trying to decide what the next step in his own early career should be, wrote in that same year to the other surviving Pélissier brother Charles, who ran the Simplex training camp). Pélissier recommended that he stayed in France and entered at least three or four races every week to get his name known among the French public, but Elliott was uncertain - he had a plan to do the same thing but in Belgium, where the cycling fans are the most passionate in the world and love all cyclists equally rather than just their home-grown heroes, so he sought a second opinion from Jean Leulliot, the editor of Route et Piste and director of the magazine's Paris-Nice race. Leulliot also felt returning to Ireland would be a mistake, because Irish races didn't pay what Continental races did, but warned that if Elliott tried to enter three of four of the infamously tough Belgian races a week he'd burn himself out within a season or two. A better choice, he thought, would be Paris, where the big money races took place. What's more, he could use his magazine to find a home in the capital with someone who knew the ropes. The advert was seen by Paul Wiegant, who had links to the Athletic Club Boulogne-Billancourt and, soon after Leuillot had published an advert ("The Irishman is soaked with class and has a great future before him," it read), Elliott found himself at the doors of the world's most famous amateur sports club.

ACBB members are involved in more than 30 different sports, but the club's central focus has, ever since it was established in 1943, been cycling and its ability to take raw, young talent and turn it into Grand Tour victory potential is the stuff of cycling legend and it has a particular reputation for bringing riders from outside cycling's traditional heartlands into the sport. Among the many names to have spent time there are Roger Rioland, Pierre Adam, André Darrigade, Jean Stablinski, Bernard Thévenet, Phil Anderson, Robert Millar, Jacques Boyer, Graham Jones, Jaan Kirsipuu,  Paul Sherwen and Jacques Anquetil. There have been other Irishmen too - Stephen Roche and Sean Yates - but Elliott was the first, and he went on to be the first from his country to have an impact on European racing and the first rider with English as his first language to win stages in all three Grand Tours. In his first year with the ACBB, Elliott won five amateur Classics and set a new 10km amateur record at the old Velodrome d'hiver, once run by creator of the Tour de France Henri Desgrange. He didn't have to wait long before he was offered his first professional contract to ride in 1956 for Helyett-Potin, with which he remained for the next ten years.

Elliott, Stablinski and Anquetil
Helyett, run by Paul Wiegant, already had two General Classification contenders onboard, namely Anquetil and Stablinski. More than one historian has wonder if, had Elliott not have remained so faithful to the team for so long and gone on to another squad that would let him try his hand at challenging a Grand Tour, he might not have won one. His palmares tends to support this view - he proved he could mix it with the best in the world when he won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (or Omloop Het Volk as it then was) in 1959, and then he won Stage 18 at the Giro d'Italia in 1960, won Stage 4, came second in the Points competition and third overall at the 1962 Vuelta a Espana, then won Stage 13 at the Vuelta and Stage 3 at the Tour de France the next year, when he also wore the maillot jaune for three days (no other Irishman had won that right before, and no other Irishman would until Sean Kelly wore it two decades later), which all sounds rather like a man who given the chance and the coaching could have done much more. He was a team player, however, and seems to have been content with his lot: racing with a mixed nationality team at the 1959 Tour de France he had no chance of taking the General Classification because of Federico Bahamontes, Charly Gaul and the eight mountain stages (Elliott was simply too big to climb well, and Bahamontes and Gaul were probably the finest climbers in the history of cycling), but he sacrificed any chance of a respectable finish when he nursed team leader Brian Robinson through a hellishly hit day in the Massif Central, for which he was described by L'Equipe as having looked like a mother hen (the implication being, of course, that Robinson looked like a helpless chick). Both of them finished outside the time limit and faced disqualification, but team manager Sauveur Ducazeaux knew the rule book better than the race organisers and pointed out one paragraph that said any rider who had started a stage in the top ten could not be disqualified no matter what his time. Robinson had started the day in ninth place and would ride again the next day; Elliott was not so fortunate, and his race ended there. In the 1962 World Championships, Jean Stablinski realised that his team mate Elliott could also be his most dangerous rival if he decided he wanted to win, but after the two men got into a successful breakaway and sprinted away to the finish, Elliott refused to challenge him. Later, he revealed a deeper, more fundamental reason than team politics, giving an insight into his personality: "I'm not supposed to say that I helped Jean, but he's the best friend I've got in cycling," he said, "...So I couldn't very well go after him, could I?" When Elliott's son Pascale was born, Stablinski accepted the invitation to become the child's godfather, but in 1970 Elliott changed his tune and said that he bad been double-crossed, suggesting that Stablinski had paid other riders to help him win (see the video below).

Martin Ayres, editor of Cycling magazine, described team loyalty as a theme that ran throughout Elliott's career but it would be a mistake to assume that each and every time he allowed another rider to win he did so through self-sacrificial altruism and while there's no real evidence that he himself accepted payments to lose races before that year, he freely admitted that he did afterwards. In 1965 he took part in the 443km London to Holyhead race, at that time the longest race in the world in which riders were not permitted to draft behind other cyclists in the race purely for that purpose, tandems, motorcycles or cars. Controversy began bubbling away as soon as the race was over - something smelled fishy, but nobody quite knew what. Then it boiled over when Cycling published a photograph clearly showing Elliott braking in the final sprint - the magazine said in order to avoid spectators, but most people thought it was obvious that he'd done it to block Albert Hitchen (who had won in 1961 and 1964) so that  Tom Simpson would not be challenged for victory (interestingly, a rider named Pete Ryalls, who had competed in the same race, told Procycling magazine in 2008 that he knew "for certain" that the race had been fixed in favour of Barry Hoban, who would marry Simpson's widow in 1969. Had Simpson paid him off, too?). Some time later, Elliott admitted that this had in fact been the case, that Simpson had paid him and that he made more money from throwing races than he could from winning them. It's also known that Simpson offered Elliott £1,000 to help him win the 1963 World Championship - what's not known is why Elliott refused the money, but the general consensus is that he'd probably already been promised more by someone else.

Suddenly, towards the end of 1965 and after so long riding for the greater good of Anquetil's Helyett team (by now known as Ford France-Gitane), Elliott announced that in 1966 he was going to Mercier-BP-Hutchinson, led by Anquetil's arch enemy Raymond Poulidor. Poulidor was a General Classification contender himself, though he never would get the better of his rival, and the team was also home to Barry Hoban and a number of other top-drawer riders so it seems that he hadn't finally decided it was time to grab some glory for himself - and even if he had, he was under no illusions that his best years were not already gone; which is why he invested a large portion of his money in a hotel in Brittany so that he'd have an income when he retired in the next few years, as he knew he must. The hotel, however, proved less a source of income and more of a millstone around his neck, taking up so much of his time and energy that he could only take part in local races and the team began to question his commitment. He promised that he would pay back their faith with a good result at the World Championships that year, but his chain came off and he finished fifteenth. Then, apparently without warning, his wife Marguerite left him and took Pascale with her. The hotel had been failing for some time and, before too long, had swallowed the lat of his money. Out of desperation, Elliott sold a scandalous story of corruption and drugs in cycling to The People, a British tabloid newspaper that had previously bought and published a similar story by Tom Simpson. The difference was that when Simpson did it he was at the height of his powers and the world knew that, sooner or later, he was going to win the Tour de France (though as we all know, Mont Ventoux and Simpson's drug use had other ideas); Elliott had never been that good, and when he did it he was fading. Simpson, after a short while in the doghouse, demanded that his peers once again began to respect him. Elliott was ostracised, forever, for spitting in the soup. "I knew times were hard for him," said his old friend Jock Wadley, "but nobody knew just how hard until he had to do that."

In 1967, Elliott retired and returned to Ireland, uncertain if he would ever see Pascale again. Now, finishing the apprenticeship from all those years proved to have been a wise decision; his father James put up the finances they needed to go into partnership and start a metal-working business in Dublin. In 1970 he decided it was time for a domestic comeback and signed up to the Falcon Cycles (Falcon, now a name attached to the lowest-quality psuedo-mountain bikes from the Far East, was once the respected manufacturer of specialist British racing machines). There are those (few) who believe that Elliott loved money more than he loved cycling and cannot respect his palmares for that, but now he redeemed himself - while he could never earn the srt of money from domestic races that he'd earned in Europe and had to work full time to make ends meet (which severely limited the number of races in which he could take part) he made time to coach junior riders; the first step in his dream of establishing Ireland as one of the great cycling nations.

In February 1971, James Elliott died. Two weeks later his son, now aged 36, was found dead with one of the shotguns they used to go hunting together beside him in the living quarters above their business. After losing so much it seems obvious that his death was suicide (and it was ruled as such), but those who knew him insist to this day that he would not have taken his own life and must have died in an accident. They are buried side-by-side in the churchyard of St Mochonogs, Kilmacanogue, County Wicklow. 34km away, at Drumgoff Bridge in the Wicklow Mountains, his friends erected a stone memorial next to the road and the Shay Elliott Memorial Race has grown to become the most prestigious on the Irish racing calendar.

Jack Lauterwasser
The son of a German immigrant who had found his way via France to Britain, where he set up a pie shop and married an English woman, John Jacob Lauterwasser was born in London on this day in 1904. The pie shop didn't provide much of an income and the family lived in the poor houses that then stood around Oxford Street until 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War, when the government expelled all German-born British residents, at which point he moved with his mother to Highbury. There - his story being almost identical to a great many other cyclists who made their names in the early part of the 20th Century, he helped support the family by getting a job making grocery deliveries on a heavy utility bike supplied by his employer and fell in love with cycling.

Jack Lauterwasser always pronounced his surname
"Law-ter-woss-uh," like the Cockney he was, rather
than "Low-ter-voss-er" as a German would
According to an obituary published by Bike Biz, Lauterwasser joined the Finsbury Park CC towards the end of the War and entered his first race, the club's 25-mile novices time trial, while still only 13 - and won. That early success encouraged him to enter longer races, including 12-hour time trials in which he competed against riders with far more experience and which would have proved far too much for the average lad just into his teenage years; but Jack's hours on the grocer's bikes had put iron in his legs. "I really was a novice, a greenhorn who knew nothing," he would later remember, "but in my first season I progressed to being club champ and winning some good time-trials."

In 1928, he was chosen to represent Britain in the road race at the Olympics, held that year in Amsterdam. Road racing was banned in Britain by the National Cyclists' Union due to their long-standing fear that the sight of large packs of riders tearing about the roads would frighten the public and lead to a ban on all forms of cycling; but individual time trials, in which a single rider rode against the clock, were judged less likely to cause alarm. They were, therefore, the only form of racing in which many British cyclists ever got to take part - and as a result, they were among the best in the world. Since both the Individual and Team Road Races were run that year as individual  time trials with riders setting off at two-minute intervals (the winners of the latter being decided by aggregating the times set by the three fastest riders from each nation), Britain was among the favourites for a medal. Nevertheless, cycling was very much a niche sport in Britain and the government had no plans to pay for the cyclists' travel to and from the Games. Lauterwasser, living on the money he earned from racing, had no alternative - he rode to Amsterdam in the same bike he then used to come fifth.

His team mate Frank Southall had come second, whereas third man John Middleton was 26th, which earned them a bronze medal. Southall, backed up by British officials, believed the Danish winner Henry Hansen had cheated and lodged a complaint that he'd covered less than the correct distance, but it was proved that he had and the Danes kept their medal. Lauterwasser, meanwhile, disagreed; saying that he hadn't seen any opportunity for cheating and that in his opinion Hansen had won fair and square, and he continued to insist this had been the case for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, the British team did get an upgrade when the Italian team was disqualified from second place, by which time Lauterwasser had already set off on the ride home to London and his medal had to be sent to him through the post. Southall and Middleton, still at the Games, handed their bronzes back, but nobody every asked Lauterwasser for his so he kept both. Even still, he wouldn't get his silver for another two years as it was sent to his club where the General Secretary's wife took a liking to it, declared it the property of the club and kept it there until he eventually persuaded other members that it was rightfully his. In view of his willingness to keep arguing his case for two years, it seems odd that he kept both medals in an old biscuit tin and rarely showed them to anyone. It wasn't the only time he didn't receive full recognition that year - when he made an attempt on the Polytechnic CC's 12-hour race, he won by completing a distance of 237.8 miles, but he and others believed he'd actually ridden further and might even have surpassed 240 miles. Seven years later, the track was remeasured and found to be slightly longer than thought; recalculated, it turned out that he'd covered 240 miles and 76 yards.

In 1929, Lauterwasser opened a shop at 133 Holloway Road in London (the building is still there and the ground floor is still a shop unit, but it appeared to have been empty for some time when I went to have a look) and very rapidly earned himself a name as a frame builder of considerable repute, his racing bikes (which were usually named around some pun on his own name, such as the 7.9kg Lauterweight) being in high demand. He also invented a new style of handlebars, still known as the Lauterwasser pattern and occasionally still sen today. Unfortunately, the 1930s brought the advent of cheap motorcycles and cars, which seriously hit the sales of the cheaper bikes with which most shops made most of their profits, and like many others he had to close down. By now, his reputation was such that he had little difficulty in finding a job with Rudge, which gave him responsibility for revitalising its own rather old-fashioned range of racing bikes.

During the Second World War, he moved again to BSA and assisted them with the development of the Parabike, a folder designed to be dropped by parachute to give soldiers the ability to travel further from the drop site than they could on foot. When the conflict came to an end he went to Raleigh and designed a frame made from pressed steel sheets, which used less material than a conventional bike and seemed an ideal answer to the metal shortages of the times but proved too radically different to any other bike of the day and never went into production. Raleigh owned Sturmey Archer, and Lauterwasser made regular visits to the factory and became fascinated by gearing systems and how they might be improved, then came up with a method by which the top-of-the-range four-speed hub could easily be converted to five-speed. If he approached company management with a view to putting his modification into production seems to have gone unrecorded; however, it seems likely that he did and was refused on the grounds that Sturmey Archer had filed a patent for its own five-speed design during the War, because he took the unusual step of publishing instructions on how the conversion could be carried out in the Cyclists' Touring Club magazine. Raleigh were not at all impressed and threatened him with legal action if he supplied anyone else with the instructions.

Moulton - the bike that saved the British bike industry
Sturmey Archer eventually put their five-speed hub into production in 1965, the same year that Lauterwasser left and began to work with Alex Moulton. Moulton was from entirely different social background to Lauterwasser - his great-grandfather Stephen Moulton had amassed vast wealth after setting up the George Spencer Moulton & Co. Ltd rubber company and his descendants had added to it. Alex, a doctor of engineering, had also contributed to the family fortune; one of his most successful projects being the development of the radical and highly effective suspension system of the original Mini car. Yet whereas Lauterwasser's previous bosses had seen him as a talented working-class tinkerer, Moulton recognised his genius and gave it the full respect it was due and giving him a powerful role in the development of the "S Unit," the most advanced and expensive incarnation of the full-suspension small-wheeled bikes that made the company's name and, when others began producing their own versions, was largely responsible for saving the British bike-building industry during the dark days of the 1970s. In the early 1980s he invented his own entirely unique gearing system combining a Shimano derailleur with a gear block modified to fit a Sachs two-speed hubgear in which the gear was selected by back-pedaling a partial stroke. He fitted it to a Moulton and it worked extremely well, offering a more usable-than-most selection of ten evenly-spaced gears.

Lauterwasser continued working for Moulton until he was 90 and, when his wife Amy died in 1988 he was offered a rent-free cottage for life in the grounds of Moulton's country estate; while  he was thankful for the offer he turned it down, preferring to remain in the bungalow where he and Amy had lived together. He rode until the last years of his life, finally having to give up his sport at the age of 92 when he crashed another Moulton and broke his leg. He died four years later, on the 2nd of February in 2003, at the age of 98. Bike Biz described him thus:
"A great innovator, he had little interest in cycle history, savouring instead every genuine technical advance in cycling. He wasn't a cycle historian - he was cycle history incarnate."
Maria Canins
Maria Canins, one of the most remarkable riders
in cycling's long history
Maria Canins, born in La Villa on this day in 1949, suddenly came to the attention of the cycling world in 1982 when she won the Italian National Road Race Championship and then came second at the Worlds. It was not her first taste of athletic fame - in 1971, she had been National 5km Pursuit Cross Country Skiing Champion and had won four other gold medals in the skiing Nationals since, including three in 1981. Now aged 32, she had decided to start cycling competitively apparently on a whim, having already made one grand return to sport back in 1977 following the birth of her daughter. Since most of the women she raced were much younger, this gave rise to her nickname - "The Flying Mother."

In 1983, she won a bronze medal at the Worlds and a year later she won back the National title, came second overall at the Tour of Norway and was fifth in the Olympic Road Race. 1985 was even better: having retained the National Championship, she won silver at the Worlds and overall at the Tour of Norway, then took five stages and the General Classification at the Tour de France Féminin. She won both stage races for a second time in 1986; the Tour de l'Aude, another National Championship and second place at the Tour de France Féminin in 1987 and the General Classification at the inaugural Giro Donne and in the GP de France followed by a fifth National Championship in 1988 (and second place in both the Tour de l'Aude and Tour), the year she retired from competitive skiing.

A sixth National, a second GP de France and bronze in the World Championship Road Race came in 1989, then in 1990 she took second place at the Giro Donne and  won the Tour de la Drome. Along the way, she won two rounds of the Cross Country Mountain Bike World Cup. Her last cycling victory came 18 years after her first National cycling title and incredible 29 years after her first National skiing title when she won the Gran Fondo Val di Vizze in 2000.

Zenon Jaskuła, born in Śrem on this day in 1962, won four Polish Amateur Time Trial Championships and a Peace Race between 1985 and 1989, then turned professional between 1990 and and 1998, during which time he won the 1990 National Road Race title; tenth place overall at the Giro d'Italia, Stage 6 at the Tour de Suisse, then Stage 16 and third place overall at the Tour de France in 1993; third place overall the 1995 Tour de Suisse and won the Volta a Portugal in 1997.

Hans "No Way" Rey, born in Kenzingen in Germany on this day in 1966, is often credited as having been the inventor of mountain bike observed trials. He wasn't, and has never claimed to have been, but he did more than anybody to popularise the sport in its infancy. Rey exclusively rode GT mountain bikes after 1987 and, because I was then an impressionable 14-year-old and he was my hero, is the reason that I did, too (apart from a Marin Muirwoods, before somebody stole it). Having won numerous championships, he was able to retire in 1997 so that he could spend more time simply riding his bikes and in 2005 he set up a charity that provides bikes to and advocates cycling in the Third World.

Other births: Tomáš Bábek (Czech Republic, 1987); Åke Olivestedt (Sweden, 1924, died 1998); Ottavio Cogliati (Italy, 1939, died 2008); Massimo Marino (Italy, 1954); Edwige Pitel (France, 1967); Amer El-Nady (Egypt, 1975); Hans Dormbach (Germany, 1908); Tjabel Boonstra (Netherlands, 1899, died 1968).

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