Thursday, 16 August 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 16.08.12

Desgrange was a successful rider in his
own right and won many races - such as
the 1893 National Tricycle Championship
On this day in 1940 Henri Desgrange - Father of the Tour de France, its director from inauguration in 1903 until 1936 and the inventor of modern bicyce stage and Audax racing - died at his Mediterranean villa. He had undergone a prostate operation shortly before the Tour in 1936, then persuaded doctors to give him their permission to follow the race in a car filled with cushions; but suffered great agony during the first stage and gave up the next day, handing over control of the race to Jacques Goddet. (For more on Desgrange's life and why it's likely that he - rather than, as many people claim, Géo Lefèvre - that first came up with the idea of holding a bike race to advertise the L'Auto newspaper, click here.)

Fabio Casartelli
Born in Como on this day in 1970, Fabio Casartelli started cycling when he was nine, encouraged by his father who was a good amateur rider. He won a gold medal at the Olympics during his own amateur career (road race 1992; the first Italian to win since 1968) and turned professional with Ariostea the following year, when he finished in the top three on three stages at the Tour de Suisse. A rider with enormous potential, Casartelli was a fine climber who also performed well on other stages - and was soon being tipped for future Grand Tour success. He moved to ZG Mobili in 1994, then to the US-based Motorola in 1995.

Fabio Casartelli
16.08.1970 - 18.07.1995
On the 18th of July 1995, during Stage 15 of the Tour de France, he lost control of his bike whilst descending the Col du Portet d'Aspet at high speed. Several other riders were also involved in the crash but got away with injuries of varying severity; Casartelli's head struck the low wall running alongside the road. Doctors reached him within ten seconds, but although television cameras showed him lying on the tarmac in a pool of blood for only a second or two it was obvious to fans that he had suffered massive head injuries and was very badly hurt indeed. Aged 24, he died in the helicopter on the way to hospital.

The next day, his Motorola team crossed the finish line together with the other riders following slowly behind them. Prizes were handed out as normal, then all recipients pooled them and donated them to Casartelli's family. Lance Armstrong, also with Motorola, dedicated his Stage 18 to him and there is now a memorial at the spot where he fell. Since 1997, the Youth category at the Tour has been known officially as the Souvenir Fabio Casartelli.

Éric Caritoux
Éric Caritoux, who was born on this day in 1960, had to become a cyclist - he came into the world at Carpentras on Provence, at the foot of cycling's holiest mountain Ventoux. Having begun his career with a local club, the old volcano became a regular feature of his training rides.

Eric Caritoux, Tour 1993
In 1982, Caritoux won the amateurs' Tour de Vaucluse, beating Laurent Fignon and getting noticed by Sem-France Loire boss Jean de Gribaldy, who signed him up for 1983. De Gribaldy was seen as something of an unorthodox character by other managers for his habit of offering contracts to riders that no other teams wanted, especially those reaching typical requirement age. However, Sean Kelly says "he was a long way ahead of his time. He had some great ideas. He was 10 years ahead of everyone else on diet. He was clear about what you could and couldn’t eat 10 years before the other teams started to think about it" - thus, aging riders discovered a new lease of competitive life with de Gribaldy, and good young riders became great (for the story of how de Gribaldy signed up Kelly, click here). Caritoux flourished; that same year he rode his first Tour de France and came 24th overall - a superb result for a debutant and one that elevated him from Kelly's domestique to a team leader.

Caritoux fulfilled that very role at the Vuelta a Espana in 1984, and won overall - a surprise not only because it was his second professional year, but because up until one week before the race began neither he nor the team - now re-named Skil-Reydem - had not planned to be there. De Gribaldy, in his usual eccentric fashion, had completely forgotten that he'd promised the race organisers that he would send a team. They, meanwhile, had not and threatened him with a breach of contract case worth £50,000; so he put a team together as rapidly as possible, phoning Caritoux, who was on holiday at the time, and asking him to fly to the south of Spain where the race was due to begin. In the circumstances, nobody expected Skil-Reydem to do well; but Caritoux unexpectedly found form and won the first mountain stage, then took the leader's jersey - which at that time was yellow, rather than gold as it is today - from Pedro Delgado during Stage 12. Caritoux was every bit as surprised as Delgado was when he then kept it for the rest of the race, especially when he did well enough in the final time trial to hold off nearest rival Alberto Fernández Blanco, who was by far the more talented time trial rider (and who, with his wife, was tragically killed in a car crash on the 14th of December that same year, one month before his 30th birthday). Caritoux's winning margin, 6", is the smallest in the history of the Vuelta.

In 1986, Caritoux joined Fagor, a team that looked set for considerable success but which suffered from its managers' lack of organisational skills; his results suffered as a result, which explains why he was 20th at the Tour - a good result, but not as good as might be expected of a rider who had won a Grand Tour in his second year. His two years with the team brought only one race win, the 1986 Trophée des Grimpeurs (which, first run in 1913 as the Polymultipliée, was last held in 2009 and seems sadly to have vanished forever), though 23rd at the 1987 Tour was another respectable enough result, if not quite up to his abilities. In 1988 he went to Kas-Canal 10, where he would once again ride with Sean Kelly, and his results improved immediately: he won the criteriums at Aulnat, Riom-en-Montagne, Toulouse and Lamballe,  18th place at the Tour and - best of all - the National Road Race Championship. Kas had returned to cycling in 1986, having been dissolved after twenty years in 1979; it would disappear again at the end of the 1988 season, leaving Caritoux in search of another team. This time, he chose R.M.O, where he would stay for four seasons during which he won another National Championship and more respectable Tour placings, then went to Chazal-Vetta-MBK when R.M.O was dissolved at the end of 1992. It was increasingly obvious that his best years were drawing to a close, but Caritoux remained a strong rider: he was 37th at the Tour in 1993, then 22nd in 1994. At the end of the year, he announced his retirement and returned to Carpentras where he now owns a holiday business and a vineyard. Just as it is for all the people who live around Ventoux, cycling remains part of his life.

Piet Rooijakkers
Piet Rooijakkers
Born in Gerwen, Netherlands on this day in 1980, Piet Rooijakkers completed a university degree in business in 2002, then decided to try to make a career from cycling rather than going straight into management. He joined the UCI Category 3 Löwik-Tegeltoko team in 2003 and went to the Olympia's Tour, but his season was ruined by a crash during Stage 5.

Rooijakkers remained with Löwik on 2004 and won the bronze medal at the National Championship for Elite riders without professional contracts, then went to the Continental-class AXA Procycling in 2005 and started showing some serious promise with stage wins at the Olympia's Tour and the Ronde van Midden-Brabant; which earned him a contract with Pro-Continental Skil-Shimano in 2006. That year passed without victory, as is often the case when a cyclist first moves into the upper ranks; 2007 brought him third place at the Berlare criterium. The following year he managed third place on Stage 3 at the Tour of Qatar which, along with tenth place overall at the 2009 Tour Méditerranéen will have helped persuade managers to select him for their Tour de France squad when the team received a wildcard entry - unfortunately, a crash during the Stage 4 time trial left him with a broken arm.

Rooijakkers was undoubtedly a good rider, but he was never able to live up to the promise he'd once shown. In 2010, when his best result was fifth for Stage 1 at the Giro Trentino, Skil decided not to extend his contract and he retired.

Daniel Willems
Daniel Willems, born in Herentals, Belgium on this day in 1956, won 75 professional victories between 1978 (when he joined IJsboerke-Gios) and 1983 (when he rode for Safir-Van de Ven) - he was also extremely successful before turning professional, winning the road races at the National Military Championship in 1976 and the National Amateur Championship a year later.

His professional career got off to an excellent start with victory in the Promises category at the Omloop Het Volk. He lived up to it, going on to win the Brabantse Pijl and Scheldeprijs and taking  third place at the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1979; then in 1980 revealed that he was a stage racer of considerable note too when he won the Prologue and five consecutive stages at the Tour de Suisse and the General Classification at the Vuelta a Andalucia. In 1981 he won the Waalse Pijl, then went to the Tour de France where he finished third in the Prologue, won Stages 11 and19 and finished in the top ten on eight other stages before abandoning in the penultimate stage. The following year he was 23rd in the Prologue and won Stages 3 and 20 but only finished top ten on two stages - however, he did better overall and was seventh in the General Classification and fourth in the Points competition. In 1983 he was 17th in the Prologue and looked all set to do well again, perhaps even bettering his previous results, but after experiencing problems on several stages was in 61st place by the end of Stage 16 and abandoned soon afterwards. Sadly, he would never again find the form he had once enjoyed and began to be plagued by bad health; after going without victory in 1984 and 1985, he retired.

Aksel Gresvig
Aksel Gresvig
Born Aksel Johan Andersen in Græsvig, Norway on this day in 1875, Aksel Gresvig was the son of a village shopkeeper who died when he was six years old; after which the family moved first to Fredrikstad and then to Christiania in Oslo. He bought his first bike when he was 18 and fell in love with it, spending his free time training around the Akerhus Festning castle, which had become a popular spot with competitive cyclists - including World Champion Wilhelm Henie, with who Gresvig became friends - whilst the old race track at Bygdøy was being redeveloped into a proper velodrome. They invited to join their club and, once the new velodrome was complete, his road bike was exchanged for a track bike; he would go on to win three National and two Scandinavian Championships titles between 1897 and 1900.

Gresvig began working as an insurance clerk in 1893, but very soon decided he'd rather try to make his living by selling bikes and spent the next few years working in bike shops, learning how to run a retail business and bike mechanics. He opened his own shop in 1901, then seven years later began to produce bikes - he was a sufficiently gifted businessman and designer for the company to actually grow during the Great Depression, taking over failed shops and manufacturers and rejuvenating them.

Gresvig died on the 16th of December 1958. His company, now trading as G-Sport, Intersport and Super-G, has some 330 outlets and is now the largest chain of sports supplies shops in Scandinavia.

Katarzyna Pawłowska, born in Przygodzice on this day in 1989, won the gold medal for the Scratch race at the 2012 World Championships and then went on to become Polish Road Race Champion. She competed in the London Olympic Games, coming 11th in the road race.

Jonathan Bellis, born in Douglas, Isle of Man on this day in 1988, became National Junior Individual Pursuit Champion in 2006 and rode with the winning pursuit team at the European Junior Championships, also winning Stage 4 at the Junior Tour of Wales for the second year running; then a year later won the European Under-23 Points and Scratch Race Championships. In 2009, Bellis was critically injured when he crashed his scooter near Team GB's training camp in Quarrata, spending four weeks in an induced coma. He returned to SaxoBank after recovering, but found the pressures of ProTour racing too great and transferred to the Continental An Post-Sean Kelly team for 2012.

Arnaldo Pambianco, born in Betinoro, Italy on this day in 1935, spent eight days in the maglia rosa before winning the 1961 Giro d'Italia - he had been seventh overall at the Giro and the Tour de France the previous year. Despite the old stereotype stating that Italian riders couldn't perform well in the often cold and wet races of Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Pambianco could: he won the Brabantse Pijl in 1964.

Six-time French National MTB Cross Country Champion (2003-2008) Julien Absalon was born in Remiremont on this day in 1980. He also won the European Championship in 2006, the World Championship 2004-2007, the World Cup in 2003, 2006 and 2007 and gold medals at the Olympics of 2004 and 2008. Still racing today, for Orbea (his home since 2008), he has won eight races thus far in 2012.

Alvaro Tardáguila
Uruguayan Alvaro Tardáguila, who was born on this day in 1975, won the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay in 2005 - 33 years after his father, Walter, won the same race. Later that same year, he tested positive for anabolic steroids and EPO at Milwaukee's Great Downer Avenue Race and received a two-year ban; he returned to competition in 2008 and continues racing in South America to this day.

Jelle Nijdam, born in Zundert, Netherlands on this day in 1963, rode ten Tours de France between 1985 and 1995 - he won the Prologue in 1987,  Stage 5 in 1988, Stages 4 and 14 in 1989, Stage 6 in 1990 and Stage 5 in 1991. Other highlights of his career included the National Pursuit Championship and Tour of Luxembourg in 1985, the National Derny Championship and Postgirot Open in 1986, the Dwars door Vlaanderen in 1987, the Amstel Gold Race in 1988, Paris-Brussels and Paris-Tours in 1989and numerous other stage races and criteriums.

Born in Springfield, Missouri on this day in 1947, John Kennedy Howard was US National Road Race Champion in 1968, 1972, 1973 and 1975, took part in the Olympics of 1968, 1972 and 1976, won the first two Red Zinger Classics and came second at the first ever Race Across America in 1982 (then known as The Great American Bike Race, only four riders took part). In 1985, Howard set a new motor-paced bicycle speed record at 245kph on the Bonneville Salt Flats; it would remain intact for ten years.

Marc Sergeant was born in Aalst on this day in 1959 and became Belgian Amateur Road Race Champion in 1981. The year after that he won the Vuelta a Andalucia, then in 1983 came third at the Ronde van Vlaanderen and then Elite National Champion in 1984, also entering the Tour de France that year and coming 48th. In 1986 he won the Nationals again, then won Stage 5 at the Tour a year later - his only stage win in twelve Tours. Following his retirement in 1996, Sergeant became a manager at Lotto-Belisol.

Other cyclists born on this day: Paul Deem (USA, 1957); Brian McDonough (USA, 1965); Richie Thomson (New Zealand, 1940, died 2012); Gheorghe Bădără (Romania, 1941); Johnnie Matthews (Great Britain, 1884, died 1969); César Daneliczen (Brazil, 1962); Teodor Vasile (Romania, 1947); Mario Beccia (Italy, 1955); Kiril Georgiev (Bulgaria, 1971).

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