Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 20.06.12

Stage 10, 1926 - Bottecchia, who will not finish the stage,
struggles through difficult conditions on Izoard
On this day in 1926, 126 riders set off from Evian on the first stage of the 20th Tour de France. For the second time in its history, the race didn't start in Paris, and it had been reduced to 17 stages from 18 in 1925 - however, it was most definitely not easier. For a start, riders would face the Alps twice, on the way out and the way back in and again, and Henri Desgrange (who believed that the ideal Tour would be one in which only one rider finished) hadn't cut a stage for their benefit - he did it to increase the average stage length. What's more, the parcours followed the nations borders more closely than ever before or since; making this the longest Tour in history at 5,745km (for comparison, the 2012 edition is 3,497km).

Automoto's Ottavio Bottecchia was most fans' favourite as he'd won in 1924 and 1925, but many others fancied Alcyon's Adelin Benoit who had surprised everyone with a stage win and five days in the maillot jaune in 1925. A classic battle was expected, but as tends to be the way in the Tour de France it turned out far better than anyone had hoped. Right from the first stage unexpected things happened, beginning with a perfect solo break by Jules Buysse (brother of Marcel, who won six stages in 1913, and Lucien, who had finished in second place overall in 1925) that saw him win the stage with an advantage of thirteen minutes. Stage 2 ended with a bunch sprint won by little-known Belgian rider Aimé Dossche, who had picked up his first professional contract with Automoto at the the start of the year but seems to have switched to Christophe (which, like Automoto, was co-sponsored by Hutchinson at that time) before the Tour; so the GC remained virtually unchanged. Then in Stage 3 Gustaaf van Slembrouck managed to grab a lead that kept him in the maillot jaune for six days.

During Stage 3, Lucien Buysse received news that his infant daughter had died but, after thinking things over, decided to honour his family's request that he continue and try to win a stage that could be dedicated to the memory. Stage 4 was perhaps too soon and went to Félix Sellier instead; Stage 5 to Adelin Benoit. Another little-known Belgian named Joseph van Daam won Stage 6 after judges declared that Sellier had broken race regulations (van Daam would win two more later on, so he was much more famous when the race ended), then Nicolas Frantz won Stage 7; since Frantz had finished fourth in 1925 and showed enormous promise, instantly made him a favourite too (he's have to wait another year for the first of his two overall victories, however). Van Daam won Stage 8, this time on his own merit, then Frantz took Stage 9. The race had truly begun now, with a new challenger making things difficult for Bottecchia and Benoit.

One of the Tour's more inexplicably iconic images: a cow watches Jules Buysse
Desgrange, ever since he'd been convinced that it was possible to ride the high mountains and that the riders wouldn't be eaten by bears (something that, perhaps unfortunately in the eyes of some fans, has yet to happen in the Tour) and that in fact the public enjoyed the race more when it was an heroic spectacle, was always on the look-out for ways to make his race more difficult. Stage 10, however, went far beyond anything from previous years - and, say the ever-dwindling number of people who were there to see it, since. In terms of distance, it wasn't the longest stage that year - ten stages were longer, the longest 433km - but its 326km took the riders over some of the toughest roads in France, and they set out at midnight to be in with a chance of finishing by the following afternoon. Matters were not improved by a storm on the Col d'Aspin, but the Buysse brothers were made of stern stuff: while the rest of the peloton survived, they attacked hard and Lucien won after riding for seventeen hours. He had taken the maillot jaune, but better still he could dedicate the hardest stage in the history of the Tour to the memory of his daughter.

By 18:00, only ten men had arrived at the finish line and Desgrange was becoming concerned, perhaps worried that bears did have a taste for cyclists after all. He sent race organisers out in cars to search of the missing men and before long some had been located, in various states of exhaustion, strung out along the route. A full 24 hours after the stage had begun, 47 of the 76 starters had crossed the line, at which point it was decided that all riders would be permitted an extra 40% of the winning time (6 hours and 48 minutes) in which to finish as the standard cut-off time in which all riders must finish in order to escape disqualification would leave a field so depleted it would reduce competition and make for a boring race. The remaining 22 were disqualified. Incredibly, despite the harsh stage, only one rider abandoned: Bottecchia. The stage had been so difficult that judges had turned a blind eye when some of the riders had arrived at the end of the stage by bus and when a member of the public confessed that he had carried some riders to the finish line in his car but insisted they'd been in such a poor state he had done so through altruism rather than being offered money, officials declined to disqualify the riders - and paid the man for helping them.

Buysse leads over the Tourmalet, Stage 11
When Buysse won Stage 11 two days later, he gained a lead of more than an hour over his nearest rival. From now on, he was able to stay tucked safely away in the peloton, conserving his energy and simply making sure that he finished (which didn't prevent him winning the meilleur grimpeur, a prize for the best climber from the days before the King of the Mountains competition). Frantz won two more stages once the race returned to the flatlands, but he didn't have a hope of getting anywhere near the leader now and had to be content with second place. As they crossed the finish line in Paris behind stage winner Dossche, the gap between them was 1h22'25" (Buysse's overall time was 238h44'25" - around two-and-three-quarter times as long as Cadel Evan's 2011 winning time); a far greater memorial to his daughter than a stage win.

For the first time, not one single stage had been won by a Frenchman (this wouldn't happen again until 1999). Desgrange, who wanted the race to be a spectacle of every-man-for-himself heroism; he was, therefore, not at all pleased with the tactics employed by the teams in an effort to survive the superhuman distances involved in the 1926 Tour. As a result, all but three of the flat stages in 1927 were run as team time trials. Buysse said that he would win again in 1927, but Automoto experienced financial difficulties and, as his best years were gone by the time they could afford to send a team back to the Tour, 1926 was his only victory. Bottecchia decided to retire following his problems on Stage 10. One year later he was dead, possibly due to murder at the hands of Italian Fascists.

Fabian Wegmann
Fabian Wegmann
Fabian Wegmann, born in Münster on this day in 1980, turned professional with Gerolsteiner in 2002 and remained with them until the end of 2008 (older brother Christian, once a professional rider himself, joined the team's management in 2006). In 2009 he followed general manager Christian Henn to Milram, staying there for two seasons until he received an invite to join the new Leopard Trek in 2011. However, as Leopard Trek was based around climbers Andy and Frank Schleck and RadioShack had climbers of its own, Wegmann was judged surplus to requirements when the teams merged at the end of the year and was not one of the riders who made the jump; later being picked up by Garmin-Barracuda

A climber of considerable repute, Wegmann does better in races that favour the grimpeurs. He won the King of the Mountains at the 2004 Giro d'Italia, the 2005 GP San Francisco with its two 18% climbs and the GP Miguel Indurain in 2006 and 2008. He won the National Championships in 2007 and 2008.

Considering their geographic position between cycling-mad Italy and Eastern Europe - who, while not quite as passionate as the tifosi, do enjoy a bike race - the Greeks are strangely under-represented in the annals of cycling history. One name that does show up is that of Zafeiris Volikakis, who was born in Volos on this day in 1990. While he has been successful primarily in track competitions at home, he also won a silver medal in the Team Sprint at the 2006 European Junior Championships and a bronze at the Worlds the same year, also placing 17th in the Keirin at the 2010 Worlds (his team were 13th in the Sprint) and third for the Keirin at the Moscou track meet in 2011 (his older brother Christos was first).

Belgian cyclo cross rider Dieter Vanthourenhout was born in Brugge on this day in 1985 and won the National Debutants Championship in 2001, then the Juniors a year later. In 2006, he was third at the Under-23 Nationals and has added podium finishes in several races since.

Other births: Rita Razmaitė (Lithuania, 1967); William Morton (Canada, 1880); Hailu Fana (Ethiopia, 1967); Eduardo Cuevas (Chile, 1951); Eduardo Trillini (Argentina, 1958); Ilias Kelesidis (Greece, 1953, died 2007); Adrian Timmis (Great Britain, 1964 ); Noël de la Cruz (Cuba, 1968); Zsigmond Sarkadi Nagy (Hungary, 1955); Antón Villatoro (Guatemala, 1970); Émile Demangel (France, 1882, died 1968); Mohd Rizal Tisin (Malaysia, 1984); Michael McCarthy (USA, 1968); Ahrensborg Claussen (Denmark, 1895, died 1967).

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