Thursday, 23 August 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 23.08.12

Johan Bruyneel
Bruyneel in 2007
Born in Izegem, Belgium on this day in 1964, Johan Bruyneel has been one of the highest-profile figures in professional cycling for almost a quarter of a century - as a rider and as a manager, and for good reasons and bad.

Bruyneel got his first taste of racing glory when he took third place at the Juniors' Trofee van Vlaanderen Reningelst in 1983. Three years after that he won the Amateur Ronde van België, then turned professional with SEFB in 1987 and remained with them until 1989, the year that he won Stages 2 and 9 at the Tour de Suisse. In 1990, riding for Lotto Superclub, he won the Tour de l'Avenir and marked himself out as a man to watch in future Grand Tours; he also rode his first Tour de France that year and - remarkably, for a debutant, finished Stage 17 in second place and was 17th overall. He was not as fortunate at the Tour in 1991 with 35th overall, but he won Stage 12 at the Vuelta a Espana in 1992 and triumphed at the GP des Nations. 1993 was his real break-through year: he not only won Stage 6 at the Tour, but did it at an average speed of 49.417kph - then a record, and since bettered only twice - and was seventh overall. Two years later he won Stage 7, though he would later express disappointment at how he'd won: having launched an attack early on in the stage, he'd found himself desperately hanging to Miguel Indurain's back wheel for much of the parcours before getting the better of him in a sprint. Most riders and fans would claim that simply keeping up with Indurain - especially when the five-time Tour winner was going all-out to win time on his rivals - was sufficiently worthy to make the victory morally his, but Bruyneel apparently felt that since he'd been in Indurain's slipstream for so much of the day he had an unfair advantage in the final sprint to the finish line. At the following Tour he came within centimetres of a career-ending injury when he lost control during a descent on Stage 7, coming off the road and plunging into a ravine. As ever when such things happen, spectators fell silent and for a moment or two, then a few people peered over the edge - just as the rider clambered back up to the road and onto his bike to complete the stage (he abandoned a few days later). He stayed away from the Tour in 1997, then abandoned after Stage 9 in 1998, which would be his last year as a professional rider.

With UCI president Pat McQuaid
Whilst Bruyneel's riding career would be the envy of any cyclist, it was as a manager that he found his greatest success. Immediately after retiring, he was invited to manage US Postal - the team that counted among its number a young American rider who, after showing promise for some years, had finished that year's Vuelta a Espana in fourth place. His name was Lance Armstrong, and he welcomed the new manager's plans to knock the team into shape: US Postal was, according to Armstrong, "the Bad News Bears, a mismatch of bikes, cars, clothing, equipment" and the team was run on an annual budget of "only" $3 million (directeurs sportif and managers of women's professional teams will doubtless be wondering how the team ever made ends meet). At the time of writing, we have reason to doubt the methods Bruyneel used to get his riders race-ready - he is at the centre of a doping investigation that, if he and others are found guilty, could prove to be a greater scandal than the Festina Affair or Operacion Puerto - but there is no doubt at all that when it comes to the logistics and practicalities of running a professional cycling team, he is extraordinarily talented: within a year, US Postal had been transformed from a rag-tag bunch of gifted mavericks into one of the most polished, well-drilled teams ever seen in cycling. Armstrong, of course, went on to win an unprecedented seven consecutive Tours; Alberto Contador won another - his first - in 2007 and the other riders on the team were victorious at a huge number of races during the decade that Bruyneel controlled the outfit.

In 2007, Bruyneel announced that he was going to leave cycling. However, he was then approached by representatives of the Kazakhstan government and offered a position managing the Astana team which, earlier that year, had been accused of running a doping ring and was thrown out of the Tour. Apparently not a man to back down from a challenge (nor, one assumes, a fat cheque), he accepted. Levi Leipheimer and Contador went with him; the team was again blocked from the Tour in 2008, but Contador won the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana while Leipheimer was second at the Vuelta and won the Tour of California. Astana was allowed back into the Tour in 2009 and Contador won in superb style with Armstrong, who had decided to return from retirement, taking third; they also won the team classifications at the Tour and the Giro, another Tour of California (Leipheimer), Paris-Nice (Contador) and numerous other races.

With the ONCE team
Bruyneel left Astana at the end of 2009, but he still wasn't ready to retire and became manager of RadioShack, a team part-owned by Armstrong. With eight members of the 2008 Tour-winning Astana squad also making the move (Contador, who had gone to SaxoBank, was the only one that did not) and several very talented riders from elsewhere signed up to the team, RadioShack looked a force to be reckoned with in 2010 and did indeed win an impressive 23 times, but the season was not without setbacks - in May, it was revealed that Bruyneel was being investigated by the Belgian Federation due to an accusation made by Floyd Landis that he ran a doping ring whilst manager of US Postal and, though RadioShack won the teams classification at the Tour (the second time an American team did so; the other being, of course, US Postal in 2009). At the end of the year rumours that RadioShack and LeopardTrek would merge for 2012 were confirmed, though Leopard owner Flavio Becca claimed that his team was taking over RadioShack's sponsors and some of its riders, thus making it sound more like a corporate take-over than a merger. The resulting team was to be called RadioShack-Nissan, its aim was to propel Andy Schleck to a Tour win - and the differences in how Bruyneel and Becca described its birth were the first indication of friction.

Andy Schleck, along with older brother Frank and several other members of the team, performed considerably less well than expected in the first few months of 2012 - only Fabian Cancellara seemed to have good form, but he ended up out of action after suffering a quadruple collarbone fracture at the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Hints began to emerge that the riders were not happy: Andy dropped heavy hints he wasn't happy about Bruyneel's decision to keep the Schleck's preferred directeur sportif Kim Andersen away from the Tour (and even indicated that he would remain in touch within him during the race), while Frank was understandably not impressed to be accused of "letting the team down" when he abandoned the Giro with an injured shoulder. Jakob Fuglsang openly criticised team management and was not selected for the Tour squad as a result; it was later reported that his salary had been with-held as a punishment, and few fans will have been surprised when he announced that he would be leaving for Astana at the end of the year. Before long, there were rumours that the Schlecks would be going too, either to an existing team or to a newly-formed one: a dangerous situation for Bruyneel, because the brothers had done the same before when they left SaxoBank - and had asset-stripped it of good riders in doing so.

The biggest controversy of the year came in May at the Tour of California - as Bruyneel stepped off the plane onto US soil, he was met by USADA officials who served him with a subpoena as part of their own investigation into doping at US Postal. Further details soon became public, revealing that the scale and scope of the investigation was enormous: in addition to Bruyneel, US Postal's official doctor Pedro Celaya, the notorious Dr. Michele Ferrari and a number of other figures were being investigated, including Lance Armstrong. The case continues.

Manfred Donike
Born in Köttingen, Germany on this day in 1933, Manfred Donike was a highly successful cyclist during the 1950s and 1960s when he rode for a number of professional teams including Bismarck, Express, Altenburger, Feru-Underberg and Torpedo; with the exception of Feru, which was based in Switzerland, he spent his career with German teams. In 1954 he won the National Amateur Madison Championship with Paul Vadder, he would also win the Elite Professional madison at the Nationals three years later with Edi Gieseler and reached the podium in numerous other races, though not at the Tours de France he rode in 1960 and 1961.

Donike's influence on professional cycling has been far greater than his race results suggest, however: after retiring from competition at the end of 1962, he was offered a place at the University of Cologne where he studied chemistry and graduated in 1965 - and then dedicated his life to the fight against doping. In 1972, he perfected the gas chromatography and mass spectrometry method of detecting traces of performance-enhancing drugs and masking agents in samples of riders' urine; it remains the most accurate method available today. Five years later, he became the director of the German Sports University's Institute of Biochemistry.

Donike died of a heart attack aboard an aeroplane traveling between Frankfurt and Johannesburg in 1995, whilst on his way to act as chief of the anti-doping program at a race in Zimbabwe, and the Manfred Donike Institute of Doping Analysis at the German Sports University was named in his honour a short while later. His oldest son, also named Manfred and a successful cyclist in his own right had died of a heart attack two years earlier; his younger son Alexander also enjoyed race success and subsequently worked for the UCI.

Eddie Smart, born in Cardiff on this day in 1946, rode for Wales at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in the kilo, pursuit, scratch, sprint and road races - his best result was 15th, in the kilo. Later, he became co-ordinator for the Welsh federation's track team and assisted annually in the organisation of the Junior Tour of Wales. Smart was killed on the 6th of February in an accident on the M4 motorway; a memorial fund was set up to raise money for the restoration of the Maindy track in Cardiff and a shield commissioned in his honour and named after him is awarded to the most successful Welsh rider each year.

Hennie Top, born in Wekerom on this day in 1956, was Dutch Road Race Champion in 1980, 1981 and 1982 and, in 1985, won Stages 1 and 16 at the Tour de France Féminin. She later became coach to the US National Women's team.

Russell Downing
Russell Downing, born in Rotherham, Great Britain on this day in 1978, won numerous races between 2002 and 2009, then found fame by winning the Tour of Ireland. In 2010, he joined the new Team Sky and became their first victorious British rider when he won Stage 2 at the Critérium International that same year. He went on to win the General Classification at the Tour de la Région Wallonne later that summer and had his contract extended to cover 2011, when he rode his only Grand Tour - the Giro d'Italia, where he finished Stage 18 in eighth place before coming 140th overall. In 2012 he joined Continental team Endura Racing and, so far, has achieved six victories over the season including the prestigious Lincoln International. He also won a silver medal at the National Criterium Championships. Downing is the younger brother of Dean, who is also a successful cyclist.

Other cyclists born on this day: Kemal Küçükbay (Turkey, 1982); Enrico Poitschke (Germany, 1969); Mike Gambrill (GB, 1935); Janildes Fernandes (Brazil, 1980); Hubert Seiz (Switzerland, 1960); Tulus Widodo Kalimanto (Indonesia, 1965); George Van Meter (USA, 1932, died 2007); Majid Naseri (Iran, 1968); Anatoly Stepanenko (USSR, 1949); Edwin Mena (Ecuador, 1958); Andrea Faccini (Italy, 1966); Cristóbal Pérez (Colombia, 1952); Manu Snellinx (Belgium, 1948); Werner Weckert (Switzerland, 1938); Mouhcine Lahsaini (Morocco, 1985).

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