Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 03.07.12

The Tour de France began on this day in 1934, 1953, 1993, 1999, 2004 and 2010.

Fédérico Ezquerra in the mountains, 1934
23 stages (one split into parts A and B), 4,363km.
Organisers made a few rule changes. The first was an alteration to bonus times, with the winner of each stage now receiving a minute-and-a-half rather than two minutes; secondly, while there had been team time trials in earlier Tours, an individual time trial was included for the first time (Stage 21b). This came about due to the popularity of the ITT-based Grand Prix des Nations, first run in 1932 without much interest and then far more successfully a year later by L'Auto's rival newspaper Paris-Soir (the GP des Nations was itself a response to L'Auto's decision to start Tour stages later in the day, thus preventing Paris-Soir - which was published each evening, rather than in the morning as L'Auto was - from being able to be the first newspaper with each day's Tour results. This had negatively impacted L'Auto's sales and, now that the Tour was no longer open to sponsored trade teams, L'Auto was ultimately responsible for paying all the national teams' food and accommodation costs and thus needed every penny it could make). The addition was not universally favoured by the riders: some said it would encourage riders to forget about team work in other stages. Climbers were especially dismissive - René Vietto claimed that it was dull and that a race should be a test of a rider's intelligence as well as horsepower. The Tour only paid for food and lodgings for the national team riders; there were also twenty riders who paid their own way (some were rich enough to live in considerable luxury, sometimes far better than the team members; others were happy to sleep anywhere they could and eat whatever they found) - these riders had previously been known as touriste-routiers, for the first time in 1934 they became known as independents.

It was during this edition that Vietto rather undeservedly became a popular hero. His team leader, Antonin Magne, had dominated the race from the first stage, wearing the yellow jersey ever since (and would keep it throughout the race). Then disaster struck on the way to the spa town of Aix-les-Thermes during Stage 15 when he rode into a pothole and splintered his wooden front wheel rim. So that he could continue, he took Vietto's wheel, leaving him at the roadside. He discovered a short way further along the road that his frame was damaged too, so he waited for the next rider from his team - Georges Speicher - and took his bike. Thus began one of the most interesting legends in the long history of the Tour.

Vietto, "all alone"
In another version - which is somewhat more accurate - Magne could not make Vietto's wheel fit into his forks and waited for Speicher before taking his wheel instead. Speicher also couldn't use Vietto's wheel. Vietto, meanwhile, was still waiting for a team car to give him another a wheel and had become so upset that his chances of winning the stage - though the time he lost, eight minutes and tiny when compared to the winning margins of the day, would probably have had little if any effect on his overall Tour result (some say that we should also take into account that he was a 20-year-old domestique riding his first Tour, but the fact that he won four stages and came 5th overall that year suggests that he was a stronger rider than most debutantes) - that he'd started crying. A photographer found him at the side of the road and took the picture, which was published the following day accompanied by a story sometimes attributed to future race director Jacques Goddet and earned the rider the adoration of the French public (and, since his new celebrity would allow him to charge high fees to appear at future races, set him up for life). Henri Desgrange, for all his usual enthusiasm for anything that might increase his race's mythos, was said to have been furious at the fabrication and swore he would reveal the truth - but the public, fortunately, seem to have realised that truth should not stand in the way of a good story.

The following day, Magne once again had trouble and broke his back wheel on the fast descent of the Portet d'Aspet. Vietto, trying to make up time, was out in front and didn't see it happen so had carried on. At the bottom of the mountain, an official beckoned him over and relayed the news, informing him that his leader was stuck without support. So Vietto turned around and rode back up to find him, and handed over his bike. Italian Guiseppe Martano, Magne's most dangerous rival, would break his own bike in Stage 17, leaving the Frenchman to finish the Tour without challenge.

Antonin Magne in the lead
Feeling sorry for him? Let's delve a little deeper. The famous photograph shows poor Vietto all alone in the world as he waits for a new wheel, but in fact the photographer had realised that he would have a sensational image once he'd cropped out the apparently quite sizable crowd of people who had gathered around the stricken rider and were taking care of him (it remains, however, one of the sport's most iconic images, commonly used to illustrate the glorious pain and hardship of the Tour). Secondly, while Magne was grateful for his team mate's actions, Vietto was far from magnanimous - he verbally attacked his leader and told him he was a bad rider when he tried to thank him. Magne continued to express thanks for the rest of his life, even though he wasn't permitted to ride the victory lap to which he was rightfully entitiled and angry crowds waved banners declaring Vietto to be the "moral winner." Vietto became increasingly bitter as he refused to let go of the incident and ended up becoming a distinctly unpleasant bully: Tour legend has it - without proof, since none of the people involved are still alive - that when he lost a toe to an infection, he demanded that his domestique Apo Lazaridès chopped off one of his own toes too. "But why? I don't need to," the Greek rider protested. "Because I say so," Vietto replied. Lazaridès, whilst perhaps not the most intelligent rider in cycling history, was not lacking in bravery - he had risked death at the hands of the Nazis when he used his bike to transport supplies through the mountains to the Resistance during the Occupation of France, and so the toe came off. He walked with a limp until the 30th of October 1988, the day he died. The legend says that Magne's toe is kept in a jar filled with formaldehyde (or absinthe, in some versions) in a bar in Marseilles - but nobody seems to know which bar.

Magne won the individual time trial, though he might not have done had Giuseppe Martano's frame not snapped, and secured his General Classification lead. It was his second win (the first was in 1931) and the fifth consecutive victory for France.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Antonin Magne (FRA) France 147h 13' 58"
2 Giuseppe Martano (ITA) Italy +27' 31"
3 Roger Lapébie (FRA) France +52' 15"
4 Félicien Vervaecke (BEL) Individual +57' 40"
5 René Vietto (FRA) France +59' 02"
6 Ambrogio Morelli (ITA) Individual +1h 12' 02"
7 Ludwig Geyer (GER) Germany +1h 12' 51"
8 Sylvère Maes (BEL) Individual +1h 20' 56"
9 Mariano Cañardo (ESP) Switzerland/Spain +1h 29' 02"
10 Vicente Trueba (ESP) Switzerland/Spain +1h 40' 39"

22 stages, 4,479km.
To mark the half-century since the first Tour, two new competitions were introduced - the first was the Super-Combativity award, given to rider judged to have ridden most aggressively or courageously throughout the race (the daily Combativity award was first given the year before). The second was the Points competition, based upon the points system used to decide the overall winner between 1905 and 1912 before return to the accumulated time format and designed to keep the sprinters interested throughout the race. The jersey given to the rider with the most points (between 1905 and 1912, the winner of a sprint was given zero points, second place one point and so on - so the idea then was to amass as few points rather than as many as possible) was green because it was sponsored by a manufacturer of green lawnmowers.

Hugo Koblet
1952 winner Fausto Coppi did not take part, officially due to an injury - many wondered if in actual fact he wanted to save himself for the World Championships (which he would win for the only time that year), others thought he just didn't want to be on the same time as his old rival Gino Bartali. Whatever the reason, Louison Bobet and 1951 winner Hugo Koblet became favourites in his absence. Bobet was a controversial choice among the French as team leader - the Italians and Swiss had won the last five editions and the race's home nation was becoming desperate for victory; Bobet was still haunted by a widespread belief that he was weak and a cry-baby, allegations that stemmed from his early career and ones that were made by, among others, his own team mate Raphaël Géminiani (Géminiani's comment was probably motivated by personal dislike as much as anything else; other riders - with some justification - found Bobet pompous and snobbish). However, despite many occasions when the rider left him exasperated, team manager Marcel Bidot had always seen potential in Bobet: Bidot had left him out of the selection for 1952 and spent much of the year working on building up his confidence; the lack of which, he believed, was the only thing holding him back.

It worked. In 1953, Bobet won Stage 18, one of the most remarkable stages of post-war Tour history and a classic, text book example of team tactics. His team mate Adolphe Deledda, who was out in front riding with a breakaway group, received the message that Bobet had dropped Jesus Lorono on the way down from the Col de Vars and was on his way. So, he left the group and took his time while Bobet caught up, then helped him all the way to the Col d'Izoard. The landscape of Izoard is frequently compared to that of the Moon (and is in fact far more like the lunar surface than Ventoux - which is much, much stranger) and in those days the road was no better: merely a rough track made of loose stones picking its way between the boulders. Yet Bobet, having had chance to replenish his energy supplies while Deledda nursed him there, attacked it "as if he had wings," according to race historian Bill McGann. At the top, waiting to see the race go by, was Coppi; at his side was the Woman in White, his mistress Giulia Locatelli. Bobet may have been a bit full of himself, but he knew greatness when he saw it and thanked the Italian for coming as he sailed past.

Louison Bobet
When he reached Briançon, he had a five minute advantage - enough to retain the yellow jersey for the rest of the race. A perfect individual time trial in Stage 20 won him the race with an advantage of 14 minutes. When he crossed the finish line he was greeted by Maurice Garin who, after spending many years in obscurity following the mysterious events of 1904 and the ban he received as a result, had been tracked down and invited along with a selection of other previous winners to celebrate the Tour's first fifty years.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Louison Bobet (FRA) France 129h 23' 25"
2 Jean Malléjac (FRA) West France +14' 18"
3 Giancarlo Astrua (ITA) Italy +15' 02"
4 Alex Close (BEL) Belgium +17' 35"
5 Wout Wagtmans (NED) Netherlands +18' 05"
6 Fritz Schär (SUI) Switzerland +18' 44"
7 Antonin Rolland (FRA) France +23' 03"
8 Nello Lauredi (FRA) France +26' 03"
9 Raphaël Géminiani (FRA) France +27' 18"
10 François Mahé (FRA) West France +28' 26"

Miguel Indurain, 1993
20 stages + prologue, 3,714.3km.
1993 was a three-way battle: Chiappucci v. Indurain; Cipollini v. Indurain; Rominger v. Indurain -  Claudio Chiappucci was best able to rival the two-time winner all-round, Mario Cipollini was the fastest sprinter in the world and Toni Rominger had plans to take him on in the mountains. Indurain won the prologue, sat back for the next eight stages (the final one of which was won by a young American rider, on his first Tour, named Lance Armstrong) and then showed them exactly what they were up against by winning the Stage 9 individual time trial by 2'11" and taking 5'18" from Chiappucci - only Alex Zülle had been thought to have any chance of getting near him in the time trial, but his hopes ended the day before when a spectator accidentally dropped a carrier bag right in his path: after it caught up in his spokes, he was left bruised and bleeding. Chiappucci had hoped to do well in the Alps, but Rominger far outclassed him and won both stages - Indurain beat him by 8'49" on the first, then by 13" on the next; the Italian's General Classification hopes ended there. Rominger knew he was unlikely to win but hoped to take back some time in the Stage 19 time trial - he won the stage, but a puncture stopped him from winning as well as he'd have liked and Indurain won overall by 4'59".

The Tour offers a great many impressive sights, but nothing quite like the one that appeared in 1993: a large, bearded German man dressed as the Devil - it was Didi Senft's first Tour.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Miguel Indurain (ESP) Banesto 95h 57' 09"
2 Toni Rominger (SUI) Clas-Cajastur +4' 59"
3 Zenon Jaskula (POL) GB-MG +5' 48"
4 Alvaro Mejia (COL) Motorola +7' 29"
5 Bjarne Riis (DEN) Ariostea +16' 26"
6 Claudio Chiappucci (ITA) Carrera +17' 18"
7 Johan Bruyneel (BEL) ONCE +18' 04"
8 Andrew Hampsten (USA) Motorola +20' 14"
9 Pedro Delgado (ESP) Banesto +23' 57"
10 Vladimir Poulnikov (RUS) Carrera +25' 29"

Passage du Gois
20 stages + prologue, 3,690.8km.
Several riders were not permitted to take part after the scandals of 1998, including Laurent Roux, Richard Virenque, Philippe Gaumont, the entire TVM team and ONCE-Deutsche Bank manager Manolo Saiz who, the year before, had withdrawn his team from the race before informing the press that he had "stuffed a finger up the Tour's arse" (he was thrown of the 2003 Vuelta when he insulted a television cameraman - his foul language making it onto the live broadcast - too). However, Virenque appealed to the UCI, citing his right to make a living under the International Code of Human Rights; Saiz was also allowed back in.

All eyes were on Lance Armstrong as the race set off - after several years rising up through the ranks, the American rider had gradually revealed himself to be a rider the likes of which had not been seen since Indurain (and no matter what one thinks of Armstrong, nor how his current problems pan out, he was a remarkable rider). Stage 2 featured the Passage du Gois, a tidal causeway that, being underwater twice a day, is covered in algae and proved extremely slippery - a large crash caused a six-minute split in the peloton and ended the chances of more than a few riders. Riders were angry, asking why the organisers had included the Passage if - as they claimed whenever the subject of doping came up - riders' health and well-being was their primary concern; nevertheless, it was used again in 2011.

Lance Armstrong
It was a good year for the Americans, being the first of Armstrong's seven consecutive victories, and for the Italians as Cipollini won four stages in a row to beat Bartalo's previous record of three, set in 1948; they also celebrated Giuseppe Guerini's Stage 10 victory on the Alpe d'Huez, which had been all the more remarkable since he collided with a spectator trying to take a photograph in the way up. It was not a good year for the French, however: they had not had a General Classification winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985, this year they didn't even win a stage. Perhaps that's why Le Monde was so quick to publish news that a sample provided by Armstrong after Stage 1 had tested positive for corticosteroid, albeit at a level too low for action to be taken. The US Postal team was able to provide a medical certificate proving that the rider had prescribed a UCI-approved saddle sore cream containing the drug (which has no performance-enhancing properties of its own, but has been used to mask the presence of other steroids that have), but the incident would be brought up many times in the future.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service 91h 32' 16"
2 Alex Zülle (SUI) Banesto +7' 37"
3 Fernando Escartín (ESP) Kelme +10' 26"
4 Laurent Dufaux (SUI) Saeco +14' 43"
5 Ángel Casero (ESP) Vitalicio Seguros +15' 11"
6 Abraham Olano (ESP) ONCE +16' 47"
7 Daniele Nardello (ITA) Mapei +17' 02"
8 Richard Virenque (FRA) Polti +17' 28"
9 Wladimir Belli (ITA) Festina +17' 37"
10 Andrea Peron (ITA) ONCE +23' 10"

20 stages + prologue, 3,391.1km.
The 2004 edition was originally to be competed by 22 teams, but after Jesús Manzano alerted the world to the systematic doping in the team (which had sacked him the previous September as a result of a depression he suffered after collapsing with near-fatal dehydration 2.5km from the finish line of Stage 7 at the 2003 Tour, an incident he blamed on an injection of 50ml of an unidentified substance administered by the team's doctor that morning), Kelme's invitation was revoked. This was the biggest race of Lance Armstrong's career - he had already equaled the five-win record shared by Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain, could he now beat them all with a sixth? Many thought he could not, and as the race drew near he didn't appear to have the form he'd once had. Jan Ullrich was not convinced: "Believe me, he's a lot better than he's letting on. That's Lance's style, to try and fool his rivals," he warned.

Right from the prologue, it looked like Ullrich was right. Fabian Cancellara set a blistering pace on the 6.1km parcours to win, but Armstrong was only 2" slower - of those riders most likely to present him with a challenge for the overall victory Ullrich was closest, but he was a whole 15" slower. Slowly but surely, Armstrong's rivals were picked off either as a result of his efforts or by circumstance: Iban Mayo, who had given him hell in the mountains in 2003, was too light to control his bike over the notorious pavé of Belgium and Northern France; Tyler Hamilton crashed hard on the cobbles too, later on in the race he would abandon after receiving news that his beloved dog Tugboat (who had been frequently seen waiting at the finish line, had been adored by fans as much as any rider and on more than one occasion had been interviewed by reporters) had died. However, it was on the Alpe d'Huez (where spectators spat on him as he went by and the road was covered in abusive slogans, not one of cycling's finest moments) when he recorded a time only once second slower than Marco Pantani's 1997 record of 37'35" (which, fifteen years later at the time of writing, still stands) that he secured victory - he finished the day with a 3'48" advantage. He was favourite for the last mountain stage the following day too, by winning that and the Stage 19 time trial he extended his overall lead to 6'19".

Voeckler in yellow, 2011
The real star of the race was Thomas Voeckler - racing his very first Tour, he took the maillot jaune in Stage 5. That was enough of a surprise as it was; the cycling world was therefore amazed when he kept it until Stage 15 and he earned an entire army of doting fans around the world as a result. Meanwhile, Robbie McEwen lost some - when René Haselbacher lay bleeding in the road with broken ribs, a smashed nose and internal organ damage following a Stage 6 crash, McEwen directed a vicious verbal attack his way and refused to retract his words even when told that the crash was caused by a snapped handlebar rather than by any mistake on the injured rider's behalf.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service 83h 36' 02"
2 Andreas Klöden (GER) T-Mobile +6' 19"
3 Ivan Basso (ITA) Team CSC +6' 40"
4 Jan Ullrich (GER) T-Mobile +8' 50"
5 José Azevedo (POR) US Postal Service +14' 30"
6 Francisco Mancebo (ESP) Illes Balears-Banesto-Santander +18' 01"
7 Georg Totschnig (AUT) Gerolsteiner +18' 27"
8 Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC +19' 51"
9 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Rabobank +20' 12"
10 Óscar Pereiro (ESP) Phonak +22' 54"

Fabian Cancellara
20 stages + prologue, 3,642km.
As happens every few years, the Tour paid a visit to the treacherous cobbled roads of Belgium and Northern France to pay homage to the Flemish Classics and the hardest race of them all, Paris-Roubaix. Lance Armstrong returned from retirement and was immediately haled as favourite by people who didn't know any better and failed to realise that at the age of almost 40 he didn't stand much of chance against younger men such Andy Schleck in the mountains, Mark Cavendish in the sprints, Fabian Cancellara in the time trials (Cancellara beat him in the prologue in 2004 by 2", this time he beat him by 22" in the prologue and then annihilated him to the tune of 7'05" in the Stage 19 individual time trial) and - most crucially of all - Alberto Contador, even though some sections of the US media rather ill-advisedly claimed that the race would be an epic battle between the Spaniard and the Texan.

In fact, it was to be an epic battle between the Spaniard and a Luxembourger, Andy Schleck. The son of retired Tour rider Johny Schleck and brother of Frank (who was forced to abandon the 2010 race after breaking his collarbone in Stage 3), Schleck had been discovered by Cyrille Guimard - an ex-rider who became one of the most successful managers cycling has ever seen: his proteges have won numerous prestigious races including seventeen Grand Tours, among them Laurent Fignon, of whom he said Andy reminded him, adding that Andy was one of the greatest natural talents he had ever seen. He was, therefore, predicted to do well - but, when he took the maillot jaune in Stage 9 and then hung on to it, it started to look as though he might win despite Contador's efforts to take over.

Andy Schleck
The pivotal point of the race was 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 Schleck 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.

However, following a complicated and long-running case, two years later Contador was found guilty of doping after a sample he provided during a rest day between Stages 16 and 17 (a rest day) was found to contain trace amounts of a banned bronchodilator known as Clenbuterol. While the Court for Arbitration in Sport favoured his explanation that the drug had got into his body without his intention, it decided that the process by which it got there was most likely to have been a contaminated food supplement rather than - as he had argued - via contaminated meat (it's used, rarely and illegally in the EU, as a growth enhancer in cattle). As a result, the court handed him a back-dated two-year ban and stripped him of all results gained during that period, including the 2010 Tour. Schleck was thus declared winner by default, and while he was initially reluctant to accept the yellow jersey he was forced to do so by sponsors and the threat of a UCI fine.

Top Ten Final General Classification

Disq. Alberto Contador (ESP) Astana 91h 58' 48"
1 Andy Schleck (LUX) Team Saxo Bank 91h 59' 27"
2 Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank +1' 22"
3 Samuel Sánchez (ESP) Euskaltel +3' 40"
4 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (BEL) Omega Pharma – Lotto +6' 54"
5 Robert Gesink (NED) Rabobank +9' 31"
6 Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) Garmin +10' 15"
7 Joaquim Rodríguez (ESP) Katusha +11' 37"
8 Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas +11' 54"
9 Chris Horner (USA) Team Radioshack +12' 02"
10 Luis Leon Sánchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne +14' 21"

Cyclists born on this day: Nicolas Roche (Born in France, Irish nationality, 1984); Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg, 1978); Sergey Firsanov (USSR, 1982); Sarah Phillips (Great Britain, 1967); Federico Della Ferrera (Italy, 1887, died 1965); Robert Power (Ireland, 1971); Lothar Claesges (Germany, 1942); Mario Zanin (Italy, 1940); Hugo Machado (Uruguay, 1923); Vasyl Yakovlev (USSR, 1972); András Takács (Hungary, 1945); Wilson Meneses (Colombia, 1981); Serhiy Honchar (USSR, 1970); Willy Vanden Berghen (Belgium, 1939); David Plaza (Spain, 1970); Fred Rodriguez (USA, 1973); Mykhailo Khalilov (USSR, 1975); Kristian Frisch (Denmark, 1891, died 1954); August Schaffer (Austria, 1905).

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