This led to big problems once peace was declared as organisers faced accusations of collaboration. This was a serious issue for Karel Van Wijnendaele, who had set up the first edition right back in 1913 because he was also the editor of Sportwereld, the newspaper that ran the race, and journalists found guilty of collaboration were banned for life from their profession. Fortunately, he was able to have his ban overturned when he supplied a letter from none other than General Bernard Montgomery, thanking him for risking his life by providing a safe house to British pilots as they attempted to return to safety after being shot down.
Sportwereld's rival Het Volk saw the accusations as a prime opportunity to increase its own readership that year and announced that it would organise its own race, to be called the Omloop van Vlaanderen. In Flemmish, omloop has an identical meaning to ronde; which the Ronde's oganisers felt made the names too similar. Their concerns were supported by the Belgian Cycling Federation and Het Volk were ordered to change the name of their event to the Omloop Het Volk - and later, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, by which name by which it's still known today. The Ronde finished that year at Wetteren, as it would do until 1961, and the winner was Sylvain Grysolle. Three years later, he won the Omloop Het Volk too.
Robic was born on this day in 1921 in Vouziers, which is in the French Ardennes, but in common with most Celts he was proud of his ancient heritage and claimed to be a Breton like his father. The family moved to Brittany when Jean was seven and set up home in Radenac, still a tiny village and the sort that the charitable might claim has rustic charm (locals probably think it's a bit of a dump), where his father - a keen racing cyclist himself - set up a bike shop and taught his son the trade, also encouraging him to become the sort of rider he'd probably once dreamed of being. It looked for a while as though fixing bikes was as close as Jean would get to making a living from racing, because he didn't make much of an impression when he got a job with the H. Sausin cycle factory. The New York-born journalist René de Latour was one of the few to remember him:
"If anybody had told you or me in 1939 that this skinny kid of 17, with ears large enough to be of help with a back wind blowing—if we had been told that here was a future winner of the Tour de France, we would just have laughed... His arrival in the Paris area was not sensational. Robic won a few races out in the villages but this did not mean much. We had hundreds of boys like him in France."When war broke out and Northern France fell to Nazi occupation, many of the most important races were brought to a halt. This did Robic a huge favour, because it forced him into the sort of small, local race apprenticeship period that he badly needed if he was ever going to develop into a champion. In 1943, L'Auto, which had run a race between Le Mans and Paris when fighting brought a temporary end to Paris-Roubaix (and which would be accused of collaboration and shut down after the war) got permission to start running the race again. Robic entered the second wartime edition, which took place in 1944 (the Nazis, who used cycling events to try to convince the French that life was going on as normal and draw their attention away from all the millions of people they were murdering, made sure the race was filmed and widely shown. It can be seen here) - it was due to a crash in the race, and the fractured skull it left him with, that he adopted the leather helmet; hence his third nickname Tête de Cuir, Leatherhead.
|Robic's advantage - he had the lightness to climb and the
strength to attack on the flat stages
Brambilla did ride again, though; including another four Tours - which makes the story look rather as though it's probably just another one of those apocryphal, romantic tales that constitute a good quarter of all cycling history (and long may it remain thus - journalist Jock Wadley knew Brambilla and said that his greatest regret was that he never thought to ask him if the buried bike story was true until after he'd died. We should be grateful for that, just in case it turned out to be a myth). What's more, the Fachleitner bribe might not have actually happened, either: Pierre Chany, L'Equipe's chief cycling journalist and a man who reported on no fewer than 49 editions of the Tour, said that the rumour was stared by René Vietto who hated Robic and would stop at nothing to blacken his reputation (Vietto, incidentally, is at the centre of two of cycling's romantic tales. You can read about both of them here).
|With his hook nose and diminutive stature, Robic
bore an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Punch
|Robic was also a talented cyclo cross
rider - he was National Champion in 1945
and World Champion in 1950
Eventually, an old friend took pity and gave him a job; allowing him to begin piecing his life back together. He even learned to moderate his language and behaviour, in time making friends with other cyclists in addition to Bobet and developing a social network, which is why he was driving home from a party given in honour of Joop Zoetemelk, just after the Dutchman's 1980 Tour victory, when he was killed in an accident. The street on which he lived as a child in Radenac has been renamed after him and a room in the village hall has been converted into a museum of his achievements.
Christophe Bassons was born in Mazamet, France on this day in 1974 and started to race mountain bikes in 1991, when he was sixteen. A year later, he took to road racing and in 1995, while studying for his degree in civil engineering, he won the Tour du Tarn et Garonne and the Military World Time Trial Championship. He signed a contract to ride professionally for Force Sud in 1996 and then, when the team broke up in March, Festina-Lotus, where he remained until Willy Voet's mobile pharmacy was stopped by customs and the cycling world was torn apart by the Festina Affair of 1998.
Bassons was among the lowliest of domestiques and, had be not have been singled out as the sole innocent man among a gang of criminals, he's probably have come out of the Affair no less anonymous than he had been before the story broke and would have been able to get on with his career. However, while subjected to intense scrutiny by some (his good character remained steadfastly intact), he was hailed as a hero by others and was chosen as something of an unofficial figurehead for the new, clean cycling that fans hoped would emerge when the scandal finally ebbed - assuming, of course, that cycling survived, which looked far from certain at some points. He was invited first to write for Vélo, in which he referred to riders who opposed quarterly medical checks (then used in an effort to catch dopers, or at least to be seen to be doing something to catch dopers) as hypocrites, then for Le Parisien. Basson's articles were generally considered harmless, amusing fripperies that shed a little light on the fit-for-public-consumption inner workings of the peloton; but once in a while they revealed a glimpse of its dark heart, stretched to over-capacity as it laboured to keep the EPO-thickened blood flowing through the sport. In one, he mentioned Lance Armstrong's rise back to the top of cycling after his recovery from cancer, which he said had been viewed as highly suspicious by many riders.
One day, Bassons claimed that as the Tour was climbing Alpe d'Huez, Lance Armstrong rode alongside him and delivered what sounded very much like a warning. It had been, the Texan said, a mistake to keep talking about doping. Bassons replied that he was concerned about future generations and what might happen to them if doping continued. "Why don't you go home, then?" Armstrong asked, which many took to be a politer way to say "if you don't like it, go." Armstrong confirmed later that the exchange had in act taken place, but explained it differently: "His accusations aren't good for cycling, for his team, for me, for anybody," he said. "If he thinks cycling works like that, he's wrong and he would be better off going home." He's still sticking to that story.
Bassons had either seriously misjudged the peloton's mood with regard to doping or he was simply far too angelic to survive in such as dirty world as late 1990s cycling. Whichever it was, the sport was not yet willing to clean up its act - after all, the Festina Affair wasn't the first scandal that had been survived. When Tom Simpson died, ranks were closed, a few new measures put into place to make it look as though steps had been taken and riders reminded one another to be a bit more careful in the future; the journalists went away and nothing much changed. Seven years earlier, when Knud Enemark Jensen collapsed, fractured his skull and later died at the Olympics, the same thing happened; and five years before that when Jean Malléjac came close to dying on Mont Ventoux, the same mountain where Simpson died. It had been that way ever since the days of Choppy Warburton, in the 1890s, and it remained so until Operación Puerto in 2006 when cycling finally realised something had to be done - and that time, set about doing it. Also, he had made a powerful enemy in Armstrong, who was well on his way to winning a Tour and beginning to put together a marketing and public representation team far beyond anything cycling had ever before seen - he may not have been liked by all the riders, but if they were going to have to pick sides there was no doubt they'd be on his, where the money was.
Very soon, he found that riders he once thought were friends would completely blank him. If he tried to instigate a breakaway, nobody would go with him. When he walked into a room, he was ignored. Sometimes, when he was surrounded by 200 men in a peloton, the atmosphere was distinctly threatening. It wasn't long until he cracked and, the morning after Stage 11 at the Tour that year, he got up at 05:30 and packed his bags. He took the time to say goodbye to his team mates ("one rider didn't look at me and refused to shake my hand," he said. "That hurt.") On his way out, he met team manager Marc Madiot, who had admitted to using amphetamines during his own career, and was told that he was letting down the squad.
|Bassons has turned his back on cycling - or
cycling turned his back on him - but he
remains active in sport
|Andy Schleck at the prologue of the Critérium du Dauphiné,
In 2004, Andy joined the amateur Vélo Club de Roubaix and was spotted immediately by Tour veteran turned directeur sportif par excellence Cyrille Guimard, a man whose proteges have won numerous prestigious races including seventeen Grand Tours. Among them was Laurent Fignon, of whom he said Andy reminded him, adding that the Luxembourgish rider was one of the greatest natural talents he had ever seen. When he won the Flèche du Sud that same year, he was noticed also by Bjarne Rijs, manager of Frank's team CSC, and offered a trainee contract. Just a year later he was a full professional and got his first taste of a ProTour at the Volta a Catalunya and won the time trial at the National Championships (Frank won the road race).
Having won two stages of the 2006 Sachsen Tour, Rijs deemed his young rider ready for a Grand Tour in 2007 and sent him to the Giro d'Italia, where he finished four stages in third place, won the Youth category and took second place in the General Classification - a stunning result for a Grand Tour debut. The following year he rode his first Tour de France, finishing the Alpe d'Huez stage in third place and proving to the world that a rider destined to be remembered as one of the great climbers had arrived. He was twelfth in the General Classification and won the Youth category, but more importantly had been an instrumental part of CSC's efforts to win the Teams competition - their total prize money equalled €621,210, not far off €0.4 million more than second place Silence-Lotto's €233,450.
|Schleck is known as one of the peloton's nice guys. Here,
he awards a medal to Didi Senft, The Devil - who is not as
popular with riders as he is among the fans
It was not to be. During Stage 15, as the race climbed the last mountain of the day on the way to Bagnères-de-Luchon, Schleck dropped his chain. Contador chose that moment to attack, assisted by Denis Menchov, Samuel Sanchez and a number of other climbers looking to improve their times. By the time he'd set off again he was alone with nobody able to help him make up the gap. Contador took the maillot jaune at the finish line, along with a 39" advantage - the exact same time by which he would win overall five stages later. It remains one of the most controversial incidents in recent Tour history, attacked and defended by equal numbers: Sean Kelly was disgusted with what he saw as a total lack of sportsmanship and Gerard Vroomen said that while Contador had gained a great chance to win, he'd lost his chance to win greatly; meanwhile, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain saw nothing wrong in what he'd done. Contador said that he hadn't realised Schleck was in trouble and apologised (but even those who want to believe him, this writer included, have difficulty accepting his claims: the video of the incident makes it look very unlikely that he didn't know). Schleck says that he accepts the explanation and the apology; they remain friends.
|In the Leopard Trek kit
There are those who say that Leopard Trek never delivered what they promised, but that's just because many fans expected them to win everything. In fact they were highly successful during the single year for which the team existed with numerous victories in the one-day events and the stage races. One of the most impressive was Andy's spectacular Stage 18 triumph at the Tour, when he rode away from the peloton on the 2,645m Col du Galibier. Nobody could get anywhere near him that day and, once again, it looked as though the Tour was his. In the following stages, however, his avantage was gradually eroded and by the time the Stage 20 time trial came around, he had just 57" on second place Cadel Evans. He lost, and Evans because the first Australian to win a Tour.
In August 2011, Geox team manager Joxean Fernandez Matxin claimed on Twitter that he'd heard Leopard Trek and RadioShack were to merge for 2012, but few believed him and when officials from both teams denied it the story seemed dead in the water. Then, further information began to leak out - Leopard Trek's Brian Nygaard was apparently none the wiser, but there were persistent tales of mysterious meetings between Leopard owner Flavio Becca and RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel. Gazzetto dello Sport, the reliable Italian newspaper that owns the Giro d'Italia, said that it had received confirmation the new team would be called RadioShack-Trek; if that was a guess it was a good one, because when the team was confirmed it was RadioShack-Nissan Trek.
|Andy follows Cadel on the Alpe d'Huez
On this day in 1899, 44-year-old composer Ernest Chausson lost control of his bicycle while riding down a hill on his estate in Limay, Yvelines, crashed into a wall and died instantly. Chausson's father made his fortune working with Baron Haussmann, whose 1850s redevelopment of Paris gave us much of the grand architecture that is familiar to cycling fans from the last stage of the Tour de France as it rolls along the Champs-Élysées each year. He was buried in the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, not far from the graves of Albert Champion (who won Paris-Roubaix the same year Chausson died and set up the Champion spark plug firm), Laurent Fignon (winner of two Tours and one Giro) and Félix François Faure, who was president of France from 1895-1899 and whose determination to see the Dreyfus Affair permanently declared res judicata indirectly gave rise to the events that led to the creation of the Tour de France.
Other births: Alois Wacha (Austria, 1888); Donna Gould (Australia, 1966); Natsue Seki (Japan, 1966); Lucien De Brauwere (Belgium, 1951); Nico de Jong (Netherlands, 1887, died 1966); Carlo Bomans (Belgium, 1963); Luigi Roncaglia (Italy, 1943).