Monday 11 June 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 11.06.12

Erika Salumäe signs a copy of
"Staying Alive," a biography of her
life and athletic career 
Erika Salumäe was born in Pärnu on this day in 1964 and trained with Talinn's trade union-run Voluntary Sports Society, the civilian variety of the Soviet and Eastern Bloc sports schools that provided so many of cycling's brightest stars (and most nefarious villains) in the 1990s following Perestroika. At the 1988 Olympics, she won the gold medals for the Points and Sprint, and in 1988 she won another in the Sprint - the second was the very first Olympic gold won for Estonia since the nation gained independence in 1991, but just one of many the rider won during her career: she also won ten gold, three silver and three bronze in the Track World Championships between 1981 and 1989, a period in which she set fifteen new world records, in addition to being voted Best Estonian Athlete in 1983, 1984, 1987-1990, 1992, 1995 and 1996.

Fabio Duarte, who was born in Facatativá on this day in 1986, was Junior Champion of Colombia in Pursuit and Madison in 2003, then Under-23 National Time Trial Champion in 2006 (he won the bronze in the road race) and Under-23 World Road Race Champion in 2008. In 2007, he earned his first professional contract with Diquigiovanni-Selle Italia but he moved to Colombia es Pasion the following year and stayed with them until the end of 2010, when he was invited to join Spain's Geox-TMC - with whom he rode the Giro d'Italia, finishing Stage 5 in second place behind Peter Weening (then of Rabobank). At the end of the year, when sponsors unexpectedly pulled out and the team fell apart, Duarte was relatively lucky in finding a new team quickly; so for 2012 - which, thus far, has brought his a respectable fifth place overall at the Tour of California, he's riding for Colombia-Coldeportes.

Frans Slaats is little-remembered today, but his success in track racing - especially in the six-day meets - made him a household name in his native Netherlands and beyond in the late 1920s and through the 1930s. Born in Waalwijk on this day in 1912, his first professional contract was in 1935 with Magneet, prior to which he had ridden as an individual, but after setting a new 45.485km Hour Record at Milan's Vigorelli track on the 29th of September 1937 (beaten by Maurice Archambaud on the same track just 35 days later with 45.767km), he was invited to join the top Dilecta-Wolber team where he rode with Frans Bonduel, Sylvain Grysolle, Karel Kaers, Achiel Buysse, Gerrit Schulte and Charles Pélissier (whose record of eight stages won at the 1930 Tour has never been beaten). He was fortunate to be at the Six Days of Buenos Aires in 1939 when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and remained safe in Argentina for the duration. When he went home in 1945, when the War had ended, he discovered that four of six brothers - Jules (aged 16), George (21), Gerrard (22) and Herman (34) - had been accused of taking part in an uprising, transported to concentration camps and murdered. His sister Anneke had died in a convent, the cause unknown.

Louise Sutherland
Sutherland on her £2 10s bike
Louise Sutherland, who was born in Dunedin, New Zealand on this day in 1926, grew up in a family that used their bicycles daily and, when she was 19 and was accepted for nursing training at Oamaru Hospital, continued to use her bike to complete the seven-hour journey whenever she wanted to go home to visit her parents. It seems that the idea of traveling any other way never occurred to her, and she was surprised that others thought it in any way remarkable.

In 1945, Sutherland cycled 700km to Invercargill to visit her uncle, then back again. This time, the feat was considered so remarkable (and it was, of course, for any cyclist; not just for a woman, which is what many people seemed to find the most remarkable aspect) that it was reported in New Zealand newspapers. After the War she went to work in London and found new fame cycling to Land's End, but then announced that the ride was merely preparation for her next great adventure.  "Having gone so far, I was determined to be the first girl to cycle round the world alone. And to strengthen my resolve, I made myself a tough new cycling skirt of denim," she said; then went back to London to pick up her passport and £50 savings and set off on a trip through Europe and all the way to India, which she completed on a bike she bought in a jumble sale for the princely sum of £2 and ten shillings fitted with a trailer made for her by a patient. It took her seven years to get there and back, and she told her story in a self-bound-and-published book called "I Follow The Wind." Her fame spread, and by the 1950s Raleigh provided her with a new machine whenever she set off on a new expedition.

At the age of 52, when most women of her generation would have settled down and in the majority of cases be devoting themselves to grandmotherhood, Sutherland announced that she would be making a 4,400km trip through the rainforests of South America on the Trans-Amazon Highway. The road had only very recently been completed and a Brazilian government official she approached when planning the trip told her it would be impossible to do it on a bicycle. Because she was the sort of person that she was, his opinion made her even more determined - she became the first person to cycle the route, later writing a book ("The Impossible Journey," out of print but very much worthwhile if you find a copy) about the adventure. She used the trip to raise funds to build medical clinics in Peru and Brazil, for which she was awarded the Queen's Service Medal in New Zealand and became the first foreigner to receive Brazil's Golden Fih Award. Since then, only three people (all men) have successfully repeated her journey.

Sutherland interviewed on British TV, 1978

Incredibly, Sutherland never picked up any knowledge of bicycle mechanics beyond the very barest minimum - it's said that until her South American ride, she'd never even repaired a puncture. Instead, she would rely on the kindness of strangers, her tendency to assume that most people are fundamentally good and concerned about their fellow human beings (despite an attempted attack by two men in India, and experiences with hostile Native people in the Amazon) bearing a very strong resemblance to the attitudes of her spiritual descendant Josie Dew (and the fact that both women found in the vast majority of cases the people they met lived up to their expectations is inspiring).

Sutherland died on the 24th of December, 1994, of a brain aneurysm when she was 68 years old.

Francesco Verri, born in Mantua on this day in 1885, represented Italy at the 1906 Olympics and won the gold medals for the Sprint, the 5,000m and the Time Trial. In all cases he beat British riders - Herbert Bouffler in the Sprint and Herbert Crowther in the other two events. Did you notice that 1906 was not an Olympic year? That's because these were the 1906 Intercalated Games, an event organised by the IOC to take place every four years in Athens as a way of paying homage to the Olympics' origins. At the time, the Intercalated Games were considered to be equal to the Olympics and known as such; today, the results are not officially recognised by the IOC and the medals are not on display at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

Other birthdays: Kurt Garschal (Austria, 1941); Michele Smith (Cayman, 1970); Matt Sinton (New Zealand, 1976); Gabriel Glorieux (Belgium, 1930, died 2007); Morten Hegreberg (Norway, 1977); Ryszard Dawidowicz (Poland, 1960); Séamus Herron (Ireland, 1934); Dante Ghindani (Italy, 1899); Dave Rollinson (Great Britain, 1947); Jan Brzeźny (Poland, 1951); Scott Guyton (New Zealand, 1976).

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