Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 19.06.12

Michele Gordini
On this day in 1927, 142 riders set out from Paris to begin the first stage of the Tour de France. Ahead of them were 24 stages and 5,340km, and only 39 of them would reach Paris almost a month later. One of them was Nicolas Frantz, who won for the first time (despite his Alcyon team suffering such a high number of punctures in the first stage that it looked suspiciously like sabotage) after he launched a series of successful attacks in the mountains. He won the first mountain stage, Stage 11 from Bayonne-Luchon, but only through the misfortune of another: a cheeky individual rider named Michele Gordini (who had ridden at various times in the preceding years for Bianchi, Ganna and Atala) managed to secretly escape from the peloton and, by time they noticed he'd gone, gain a 45' advantage which put him into the lead. He'd almost certainly have won the stage had he not have suffered mechanical problems; the pack caught him and Frantz won (it's also possible he wouldn't have won overall had favourite Lucien Buysse been there, but Buysse's Automoto team was experiencing financial difficulties and by the time he made it back onto the start line in 1929 his best years were over).

Race organisers decided that the 1926 edition had been boring because 10 of the 17 stages had finished in bunch sprints, so in 1927 sixteen flat stages (all but three of the total) were run as "team start" stages in which teams set off at fifteen-minute intervals and competed against the clock - a format not dissimilar to the team time trials of today (in 1926, not one single stage had been won by a Frenchman - this new concept may also have been designed to favour them). It didn't work especially well so, after giving it another go in 1928, the race returned to normal.

The race wasn't a total loss for Gordini as L'Auto awarded him the meilleur grimpeur prize, the precursor to the King of the Mountains, largely on account of his secret solo break on Stage 11.

Moser (nearest the camera) and Roy Schuiten,
Trofeo Baracchi 1972
Francesco Moser
Born in Palù di Giovo, Trentino on this day in 1951, Francesco Moser earner his nickname - The Sheriff - on account of the way he kept control of the peloton, the apparently effortless way he kept on turning the cranks for mile after mile intimidating his opponents all the way to the mountains where, like all big and muscular riders, his physique held him back and the wiry little grimpeurs left him standing. In a sprint, he was an enormously powerful opponent; which led to his three National and one World Champion titles in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Nevertheless, he was capable of winning enough flat Grand Tour stages to take overall Points competitions, as was the case at the Giro d'Italia in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1982 and he won the prologue and Stage 7 at the 1977 Tour de France, which kept him in the maillot jaune for six days. In 1971 he won the Baby Giro outright and in 1984 the General Classification at the professional Giro, though it's widely suspected that organisers intentionally planned out a much flatter route to favour him over the Frenchman Laurent Fignon. That wasn't the only controversy that year: the stage up the Passo dello Stelvio, where Fignon would certainly have beaten Moser was cancelled, the official reason being snow. However, fans took photographs at the top to prove that the roads were clear and the route perfectly ridable. On the Selva di Val Gardena Fignon got away in a break that was both large and successful enough to have been allocated a support vehicle of its own, but no vehicle was made available - the same thing happened at a later point when Fignon had a mechanical problem. Thirdly, while the tifosi have long been known for their willingness to give preferred riders a handy push uphill, many found the organisers' tendency to be looking the other way that year to be suspicious. Before long, people were so suspicious that they even claimed the TV helicopters were being deliberately positioned to provide Moser with a tailwind. (Felice Gimondi, meanwhile, says that none of the above is true and that Fignon lost the Giro due to three errors: setting too high a pace on Block Haus and exhausting himself on Stage 5, beginning his sprint from 800m the next day and thus putting himself into the convenient position of lead-out man for Moser, then trying to follow Roberto Visentini up a climb to the end of Stage 13 in too high a gear. "These," Gimondi insisted, "are not errors of a Giro champion, they are errors of a youth.")

Moser was the man who finally laid to rest the old stereotype that Italians couldn't perform well in the Northen Classics (though a look at the results over the years proves that, like most stereotypes based on nationality, it never was true) and said that Paris-Roubaix was his favourite race - after coming second in 1974 and 1976, he became the second man in history to win three consecutive editions between 1978 and 1980. In addition, he won the Giro di Lombardia in 1975 and 1978 and Milan-San Remo in 1984; making him the joint fifth most successful Monuments rider of all time. He also won Paris-Tours in 1974, Züri-Metzgete and the Flèche Wallonne in 1977 and Gent-Wevelgem in 1979.

Moser sets a new Hour Record, 23.01.1984
His nephew Leonardo was a professional from 2005 to 2009 and his son Ignazio got his first professional contract in 2012 with Trevigiani Dynamon Bottoli, too) and he came from a cycling family: his three older brothers were also professional riders (Aldo between 1954 and 1974, Enzo between 1962 and 1967 and Diego between 1970 and 1973, which shaped his determination and competitiveness during childhood, also his willingness to experiment with doping in adulthood - and Moser, with the help of a certain Dr. Francesco Conconi who would later achieve worldwide notoriety, took doping to a whole new level. Dr. Conconi, head of the University of Ferrara's Biomedical Institute, was charged with the development of new anti-doping measures but spent much of his time devising ways in which new drugs and methods could be used to get around the rules and was probably the first man to introduce cycling to EPO. He wasn't the first to introduce blood transfusions - Gastone Nencini is the first cyclist we know to have used the technique because he horrified the Tour de France doctor Pierre Dumas with a self-administered transfusion in his hotel room at the race in 1960, but it had been used by Scandinavian runners since the 1930s and as such had probably been used by cyclists too - but he was the first to apply scientific principles aimed at making the technique as effective as possible, and he used to to "prepare" Moser for his attempt on the Hour Record in 1984. It worked: more than eleven years after Eddy Merckx had been the first man to crack 49km (49.431km), on the 19th of January in 1984 Moser set the bar at 50.808km. Four days later, he upped it to 51.151km. While "preparation" undoubtedly gave Moser an unfair advantage over riders who didn't cheat in their own attempts, it should be remembered that blood transfusion carried out in order to increase athletic performance was not at that time banned under the rules of competition, and because Conconi applied medical principles in addition to scientific ones he made it possible for the technique to be administered much more safely than the rather haphazards used by Nencini and others, possibly saving lives in the process. His work with Moser also contributed towards the development of his Conconi Test, a procedure which measures maximum aerobic and anaerobic threshold heart rates at different loads and allows training to be shaped to an individual athlete far more effectively. Now known more commonly as the ramp test, it remains in widespread use.

On the 15th of January in 1994, Moser, aged 43, set a new Veteran's Hour Record at 51.840km - 0.689m greater than his 1984 record.

Bert Grabsch 2009
Bert Grabsch

Bert Grabsch, born in Wittenberg on this day in 1975, first turned professional with Agro-Adler Brandenburg in 1997 and won silver at the German National Time Trial Championships. Despite that early TT success, he spent the next ten seasons concentrating on mass-start races (including a Giro, three Vueltas and three Tours), enjoying some notable success in criteriums and one-day races but never coming within the top 80 overall at the Grand Tours and little better at the other multi-day events.

Why that should be is a bit of a mystery - the only stages he ever did at all well in were time trial stages, yet despite his obvious potential to bring glory to the teams he represented until 2007, they kept using him as a domestic. He had signed to T-Mobile for the season and, when he won the Stage 8 TT at the Vuelta, his talent was finally noticed and the team's directeur sportifs gave him opportunity to develop it - that same year, he won the National TT Championships. The next year, he won the Nationals and the World Championship, then a third Nationals in 2009 and a fourth in 2011. He continued with his domestique duties for the team - which had transmogrified into HTC-Highroad until the end of 2011, when the team shut down due to problems finding new sponsors and, strangely, now that he was being allowed to win the races he was good at his performance right across the board improved too. As a result, he experienced little difficulty in finding a place with Omega Pharma-QuickStep for 2012. Bert's older brother Ralf was a professional between 1996 and 2008.

Arthur Markham
Arthur Markham, with what probably wasn't a very
typical bike even in 1868
Arthur Markham, born in either October, November or December 1845 in St. Marylebone, London, won Britain's first organised bike race which took place on the 1st of June 1868 at the Welsh Harp Reservoir in North West London (correctly the Brent Reservoir), one day after the world's first bike race (or at least, the first we know definitely happened) had been held in the Parc St. Cloud, Paris. He was awarded a silver cup supplied by the landlord of the Old Welsh Harp Hotel that gave the reservoir its name and used his prize money to travel by coach to Bath four weeks later, where he won another race (and saved a man from drowning). Coincidentally, the winner of the race at Parc St. Cloud, James Moore, is believed to be buried next to the reservoir.

Markham owned a bike shop in Station Approach, Shepherd's Bush and another at 345 Edgeware Road, both in London, and he listed his occupation as "engineer" on the 1881 Census. His sister Helen was employed at the shops, she gave her occupation as "bicycle maker." He died on this day in 1917.

The race was the beginning of a long association between cycling and the park surrounding the reservoir, which as a result became home to one of Britain's first cycle race tracks. Today, it's overgrown and almost forgotten, though it can just be made out from the air at the northern end of the reservoir, and cycling is banned almost everywhere within the park.

Jacques Dupont, born on this day in 1928, won the 1955 Paris-Tours at a reported average speed of 43.666kph (considering that the race was 253km long and he did it on a bike much heavier than the ones used in professional cycling today, it begins to look rather as though he either a; went at phenomenal speeds on some sections, b; had - as his speed suggests - made a deal with the devil or c; cheated. Note that Tom Boonen's average speed over the course of the 257.5km 2012 Paris-Roubaix was 43.476kph). Whatever the truth may be, he won Henri Desgrange's Ruban Jaune (yellow for precisely the same reason as the maillot jaune) awarded to the rider who achieved the fastest average speed during a one-day race of 200km or more. At the London Olympics of 1948, Dupont won a gold medal for the 1000m Time Trial and a bronze for the Team Road Race.

Laura Bissell, born in Hitchen, UK on this day in 1983, won four bronze medals in the Under-16 categories at the National Track Championships in 1999 and gold for the National 10-Mile Time Trial Championship a year later. She represented her country numerous times in international competition but rarely enjyed the success that she did in domestic racing. Laura was the older sister of Peter Bissell, a promising road and track rider who died aged 21 after suffering a fit.

Sacha Modolo, born on this day in 1987, finished the 2010 Milan-San Rem in fourth place behind Óscar Freire, Tom Boonen and Alessandro Petacchi and ahead of (among others) Daniele Bennati, Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert. He won Stage 6 at the Tour of Turkey in 2012, biting his thumb as he crossed the line in the traditional gesture that dedicates a stage win to a pregnant wife or girlfriend.

Other births: Nathalie Schneitter (Switzerland, 1986); Arthur Candy (New Zealand, 1934); Ernesto Contreras (Argentina, 1937); Paul Slane (Ireland, 1970); Harry Passmore (South Africa, 1884, died 1955); Lưu Quan (South Vietnam, 1925); Ng Joo Pong (Malaysia, 1946).

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