Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 01.08.12

Bernard Sainz
Bernard Sainz, born in Rennes on either this day in 1943 or the first of September (sources vary), began his cycling career when he won a bike in a race on rollers in 1958. Inspired by this success, he joined the UC Créteil, a club based in the Parisian suburbs, where he met, befriended and trained with Pierre Trentin - who would go on to win two gold medals at the 1968 Olympics. In 1964, when he was 21, Sainz won bronze at the National Universities Championships; then his racing career was brought to an early end by a crash during a motorpaced race at Grenoble.

Poulidor, one of Sainz's first "patients"
At the age of 13, Sainz had been taken to see a homeopath after proper medicine proved unable to cure his sinusitis; he says that homeopathy worked and he became fascinated with it. He also claims that, when his cycling career ended, he attended a national homeopathy centre school in Paris and qualified with distinction, but there appears to be little or no evidence that this in fact happened. It appears that when he first began to act as a sports doctor, he used homeopathic treatments alone; whilst homeopathic treatments have no real medical benefits, the extreme dilution used in their preparation leaves no molecules of the active ingredient - they have, therefore, no harmful effect either. Nevertheless, any therapy that makes the promises associated with homeopathy will be of obvious interest in the world of sports and especially in a sport such as cycling, where until recently managers and riders placed as much trust in soigneurs who were little more than witchdoctors as they did in real doctors (in fact, some of the "complimentary therapies" favoured by some riders and their teams, suggests that nothing has changed), and Sainz had the gift of the gab and an apparent qualification to back it up: when he returned to cycling in 1972, working as a manager for the Mercier team (new general manager Louis Caput had little difficulty in persuading owner Edmond Mercier that Sainz would be a valuable tradition - Mercier had already been taken in and was himself receiving treatment from Sainz), he secured his reputation by successfully "curing" an intially sceptical Raymond Poulidor of an ailment that had caused him to announce his retirement. In fact, Poulidor's treatment consisted of little more than pseudo-scientific examinations of his irises and feet and an abnormally long heart rate measurement, more akin to a sort of mesmerism than medicine, but it worked: Poulidor fell for it hook, line and sinker, began training and started winning races again. Whether this was down to mind over matter or a fortuitous natural recovery (there are those who will claim it as proof that Sainz's techniques were more than mumbo-jumbo, of course) is both unknown and irrelevant, because it secured his reputation as a miracle worker.

Cyrille Guimard
Before too long, people began talking about Dr. Sainz. Sainz was no idiot - he realised that if he used the title himself, he would be opening himself up to legal prosecution. However, realising the obvious advantages in being believed to be a doctor, he made very certain that he never corrected the mistake; L'Equipe and other journals fell into the trap, never thinking to question his credentials. He further secured his reputation a short while later when Cyrille Guimard credited him with having relieved a recurrent knee problem (dating back to a collision with a car whilst on a training ride in 1969) from forcing him to abandon the 1972 Tour de France until two stages before the end. Doctors warned that Guimard, continuing despite the pain for so long that he reportedly had to be physically lifted off his bike at the end of each day, had very possibly done serious lasting damage. Few people listened, believing Sainz to be a more skillful physician than them, but it was at this time that the first rumours suggesting that the remarkable "doctor" might be providing riders with something a little more powerful than phials of water and sugar pills. Sainz declared the rumours absurd, comparing them to sightings of the Loch Ness Monster.

Like the stories of a prehistoric beast living in the Scottish lake, the rumours refused to go away. However, it wasn't until 1986 that Sainz was first arrested as part of an investigation into a doping ring, when he faced accusations that he had supplied amphetamine at a six-day race in Paris; he was cleared of all charges. It wasn't really until 1988, when a previously undistinguished three-year-old racehorse named Soft Machine won an important race after being "prepared" by him, that the authorities really began to take an interest in him. Horse racing at the time was, if anything, even more rife with doping than cycling in the same period; but it never suffered from the same omerta that prevented even those cyclists who wanted to end doping from speaking up and allegations that he'd adminstered illegal drugs to the animal appeared immediately. The horse was subjected to accept that homeopathy has no physical effect and that whatever psychosomatic benefits Poulidor and Guimard derived from his therapy would not have been experienced by an animal incapable of understanding what the process was supposed to achieve, then we must also accept that either Sainz was remarkably fortunate in once again carrying out his treatments before a natural improvement in form or that he did in fact dope the horse, and that the product(s) he used went undetected by the limited techniques available at the time. Sainz says that when he first came to horse racing he was amazed at the long recovery periods afforded to the animals - whereas a cyclist might be expected to ride 200km or more every day for three weeks, sometimes without rest days, the standard in the horse racing world was that a horse rested for eighteen days after each race. He insists that it was his introduction of a more intensive technique combined with the instructions he provided to the jockeys and horses that made the difference, and he may be telling the truth - it's not unknown for an individual to enter a new area, armed with knowledge picked up from another area, and then completely transform it. It is notable, meanwhile, that EPO first emerged in cycling at this time, having been brought into the sport by Dr. Francesco Conconi (who unlike Sainz really is a doctor and a very good - if crooked - one at that), and that there was no test for it until 2000. Could it be, therefore, that this was the knowledge he brought with him, that he had seen the dramatic improvements it made to a cyclist's performance and decided to experiment with administering it to his equine charges? Is he, in fact, the Conconi of horse racing? Whatever really happened, he earned a new nickname - Dr. Mabuse, after the villainous doctor and hypnotist who made his first appearance in a novel by Norbert Jacques and was later made famous by the film director Fritz Lang; he would became better-known by that name than his real one.

Frank Vandenbroucke
Sainz was arrested again in 1999, this time facing charges of practising medicine illegally and remaining in custody for two months; once again nothing stuck and he escaped charges. Then in 2002 he was stopped by police after speeding; when officers discovered that he also had no insurance they began to take a greater interest, and then an even greater one when the discovered what appeared to be a large amount of drugs in the car. In fact, the "drugs" were homeopathic remedies, but by now he had become sufficiently notorious and linked with doping for an investigation to take place. When police learned that he had been on his way home from a visit to  Domo-Farm Frites' Frank Vandenbroucke, they raided the rider's home and found EPO, clenbuterol and morphine - Vandenbroucke initially claim that they were intended for his dog. Police then connected Sainz to Philippe Gaumont, who had tested positive for amphetamine during the 1999 investigation (when he and Vandenbroucke both rode for Cofidis) and on numerous other occasions (and who admitted in 2004 that he'd used doping products if various kinds, including EPO, throughout his career), then to another 31 cyclists and 24 footballers. Both riders defended Sainz: Gaumont stated that he had never given them anything other than homeopathic treatments, Vandenbroucke said the same and claimed that he had been highly impressed by the results. However, before long Vandenbroucke began to change his tune - at first, he said that he had been naive to believe in the methods Sainz used and was seduced by photographs of him with greats uch as Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault (these photos seem to have vanished, but would be interesting to see), then he told reporters that he now had doubts that the medicines with which he had been supplied (costing 7,000 francs for some "homeopathic drops" and another 50,000f in fees for the first six months of 1999 alone) had in fact been harmless homeopathic products. Finally, he had become simply too notorious for cycling to maintain its links to him, and with the sport waking up at long last to the fact that it had to combat doping or face oblivion, Sainz was cast adrift. On the 11th of April in 2008, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment for illegally practising as a doctor and supplying banned performance-enhancing drugs to athletes. The first eighteen months were to spent in prison, the remainder on probation.

Sainz still insists that the "medicine" and treatments he administered to horses and human athletes was entirely homeopathic, but he now admits that since qualifications in neither homeopathy nor acupuncture are recognised in France he broke the law by practising as and allowing others to believe that he was a doctor. He neither produced any evidence of medical training during his trial nor claimed to be in a position to do so.

Ottavio Bottecchia
Ottavio Bottecchi
Born on this day in 1894, Ottavio Bottecchia took Italy's first ever victory in the Tour de France when he won in 1925 - and a second, in 1925. He was found lying unconscious on the 3rd of June next to a road near Peonis, not far from his home, by local farmers who took him to a nearby inn. His injuries convinced them that a priest should be summoned to deliver the last rites, then he was taken in a farm cart to a hospital in Gemona where doctors found that he had several broken bones and a fractured skull. His bike - discovered a short way from his body - was completely untouched; neither were there skidmarks on the road to suggest he'd been hit by a vehicle. He never regained consciousness and when he died on the 14th of June in 1927, suspicions arose that he had been murdered.

A police investigation concluded that he had fainted due to the hot sun and crashed, but his body had been found in the morning before it got hot and as an experienced cyclist and veteran of five Grand Tours, he would have been accustomed to riding in hot weather. Meanwhile, the priest hinted that Bottecchia had been murdered by Fascists: a dangerous thing to say since Mussolini was in power, but could that be why the police had closed the case so rapidly and with such an unlikely verdict?

Why would the Fascists want to kill him anyway? Bottecchia, the son of a poor family, had attended school for only a year before finding work as a bricklayer and was almost completely illiterate until his training partner Alfonso Piccin taught him to read using the Gazzetto dello Sport and anti-Fascist pamphlets published by Mussolini's opponents. In 1924, when he was leading the Tour de France, he had refused to wear the yellow jersey during Stage 9, which passed very close to the Italian border, yet he insisted on wearing it all the way home on the train after he'd won. Several times, his bike had been sabotaged before races begun, which was believed by many - and, apparently, by Bottecchia himself - to have been carried out by Fascists. Was he, therefore, trying to blend into the peloton that he couldn't be as easily singled out for attack as he would have been in the maillot jaune? Known to have liberal political views, could the pamphlets have given him an understanding of the dangers of Fascism and made him actively opposed to it? Were the Fascists concerned that he might use his celebrity to denounce them? Many years later, an Italian man dying of his wounds after being stabbed in New York claimed that he had carried out the "hit" and named one Berto Olinas as the man who, he said, had recruited him; but despite investigation nobody of that name was ever found.

Bottecchia with Nicolas Frantz at the 1925 Tour de France
Bottecchia, many have argued, would not have been seen as much of a foe by Mussolini - after all, his career was fading and, in those days before Europe-wide news coverage, they say he would have been relatively unknown in Italy compared to France. But was this the case? It had only been two years since his second Tour victory when the tifosi flooded over the border into France in such large numbers that extra police had to be drafted in to keep them under control: news traveled slower in those days, but it still traveled - and those same tifosi, with their legendary passion for cycling, would most certainly have known who he was and listened to what he had to say. Secondly, he was very well known indeed in France (despite his French being limited to the phrase "No bananas, lots of coffee thank you!"); Fascism was a Europe-wide movement, and its supporters would have been every bit as concerned about a man capable of stirring up anti-Fascist sentiment there as in Italy - and he had a history trying to educate others about the dangers of the movement, too, which earned him the reputation of a moraliser because at that time few people yet understood just how dangerous the philosophy could be. They also say that Mussolini would not have been especially concerned about an enemy who remained only barely semi-literate, but semi-literacy is not the same thing as stupid - the year before he died, Bottecchia had begun work designing bikes with Teodoro Carnielli (Greg Lemond won the 1989 Tour on a Bottecchia-branded Carnielli bike), which suggests he was able to understand geometry and at least basic engineering principles. He was, therefore, at least reasonably intelligent which, combined with a passionate nature (found in all Grand Tour winners, especially Italian ones) and his fame added up to made him an enemy with too much potential strength for Mussolini to simply dismiss. Therefore, it seems very likely that the Fascists would have known exactly who he was and he may very well have been on their hit list - and anyway, Fascists are known for their willingness to do away with all rivals given a chance, not merely the most powerful ones.

There is alternative explanation. Years later, a farmer from Pordenone made a deathbed confession that he had killed Bottecchia after finding him stealing grapes from his vineyard. "He'd pushed through the vines and damaged them," he explained. "I threw a rock to scare him, but it hit him. I ran to him and realised who it was. I panicked and dragged him to the roadside and left him. God forgive me!" Where the story falls apart in that Bottecchia was found in Peonis, nearly 60km from Pordenone. Secondly, anyone who has ever picked and tried to eat a grape in mid-June will know that at that time of the year they're small, hard and so bitter as to be almost entirely inedible.  Strangely, Bottecchia's brother was murdered in almost the same place two years later.

Ryan Cox
09.04.1979 - 01.08.2007
South African professional Ryan Cox, born on the 9th of August in 1979, won the Tour of Qinghai Lake in 2004 and the Tour de Langkawi and National Road Race Championship one year later. In July 2007, he underwent vascular lesion surgery in a knotted artery in his leg. Three weeks later, the artery burst and caused massive internal bleeding which led to heart failure. He received several blood transfusions but his condition did not improve, and he died at 05:15 on the 1st of August. He was 28 years old.

Zimbabwean cyclist Timothy Jones, born in Harare on this day in 1975, won a National Time Trial Championship in 1998, then the General Classification at the Giro di Capo later that same year. In 1999 he won the Tour of Slovenia, two years later he rode the Giro d'Italia, his only Grand Tour, and came 73rd overall. Jones was taken on by the Italian Amore & Vita-Forzacore team in 1997 and spent the net ten years with European and US-based outfits, but he never lived up to his early promises and won just one stage at the Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda and a US cyclo cross retirement in the years between his Giro and retirement in 2007.

Sally Zack, born in the USA on this day in 1962, won the National Criterium Championships in 1987 and 1988 and four stages at the Women's Challenge in 1991 - then in 1993, when she seemed to be reach her athletic prime, she gave up cycling to become a champion cross-country skier instead.

Talat Tunçalp was born in Istanbul on this day in 1915, 1917 or 1919 - all three years are listed on official records. He won the National Road Race Championship every year from 1933 (which suggests either that he was born in 1915 or that boys aged as young as 14-16 took part) to 1949, also taking the Sprint Champion title for all but one of those years. He also competed in the Individual Road Race at the Olympics in 1936 and 1948, sharing eighth place the first time around and failing to finish the second. After retiring in 1949 he became president of the Turkish Cycling Federation and held the post until 1969, the same year that he organised and directed the first Tour of Turkey. At the time of writing, he is Turkey's second-oldest Olympian behind Halet Çambel. A retired professional archaeologist and fencer, Çambel is a little under one year older (assuming Tunçalp was born in 1915) and was the first Muslim woman to ever compete in the Games.

Francesco Gavazzi - one to watch
Francesco Gavazzi, born in Morbegno, Italy on this day in 1987, is a rider who seems to have been around forever - in fact, he turned professional with Lampre-Caffita in 2005, but spent the next few years selflessly working hard as domestique and occasionally scoring a good result at the less prestigiou races. In 2008 he went to the Giro d'Italia and, when given an opportunity on Stage 6, proved himself capable of finishing seventh. That secured his place the following year too, when managers decided to see what else he might be able to do: seventh place on Stage 2 and third on Stages 3 and 14 must have impressed. 2011 brought him his first Grand Tour glory with a Stage 18 victory, which brought him the offer of a better contract with Astana; so far in 2012 he has come seventh at the Tour Méditerranéen and achieved four podium placing - currently 27, he seems a rider to watch over the next five or six years.

Gonzalo Rabuñal, born in Arteixo, Spain on this day in 1980, won the King of the Mountains at the 2010 Tour of the Basque Country. Later that year, he finished the Vuelta a Espana in 30th place.

Other cyclists born on this day: Henri Hoevenaers (Belgium, 1901); Juan Murillo (Venezuela, 1982); Gordon Johnson (Australia, 1946); Wayne Morgan (New Zealand, 1965); Janelle Parks (USA, 1962); Marek Galiński (Poland, 1974); Alfred Reul (Poland, 1909, died 1980); Henri Mouillefarine (France, 1910, died 1994); Kim Gyeong-Suk (South Korea, 1967); Emanuela Menuzzo (Italy, 1956); Ben Duijker (Netherlands, 1903, died 1990).

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