Friday, 24 August 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 24.08.12

Roger de Vlaeminck
Classic de Vlaeminck territory - on the Koppenberg
Some riders specialise in sprints, others in the mountains and others on the long, flat sections that make up the bulk of the total distance of many races. Some excel in time trials; some perform well on two or more types of stage and may win Grand Tours as a result. A few achieve their victories through their ability to absorb pain, to keep going and attacking in conditions that have other riders fighting simply to survive - at which point, having ridden themselves to the point of exhaustion, they attack again, knowing that this is the point at which they can hurt their opponents the most. They are the Flandriens. Briek Schotte was the toughest of them all, so tough that many claim he was the only Flandrien - but if anyone came close, it was Roger de Vlaeminck.

Born on this day in 1947 into a family of traveling clothes merchants (hence his later nickname, "The Gypsy"), de Vlaeminck's childhood love was football; but if a youngster wanted to make his name as an athlete in Belgium cycling was the way forward, and the best place to start was in cyclo cross. Encouraged by older brother Erik - who by this time had already won 17 races of his own - he began racing cross as a junior in 1965. He won two races that year, both cross, and one cross and one road race in 1966. Then in 1967 he won 14 and reached the podium in ten more.

Having won Belgium's International Amateurs and the World Amateurs Cyclo Cross Championships, the General Classification at the Ronde van Belgie and Stages 10a and 10b at the Tour de l'Avenir in 1968, de Vlaeminck turned professional with Flandria-De Clerck-Krüger in 1969. Most riders find themselves overwhelmed by the increased level of competition in their first professional year, but not de Vlaeminck: he won 21 races, including the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the National Road Race Champion, and he was second at Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem. It was already obvious that here was a potentially great Classics rider, but few suspected just how great he would become. There were more clues the following year, when he won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Scheldeprijs, then more in 1971 with another Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne victory followed by wins at the E3 Harelbeke and Waalse Pijl.

De Vlaeminck remained a professional for 20 years and, for a decade, seemed all but unbeatable in the Classics: his remarkable palmares includes Milan-San Remo (1973, 1978, 1979), two Milano-Torino (1972, 1974), two Giri di Lombardia (1974, 1976), two Omloops Het Volk (1969, 1979) and two Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (1970, 1971), Scheldeprijs (1970), the E3 Harelbeke (1971), Liège-Bastogne-Liège (1970), La Flèche Wallonne (1971), the Ronde van Vlaanderen (1977) and Paris-Brussels (1981) in addition World Cyclo Cross Championship (1975), two National Road Race Championships (1969, 1981), General Classification and six stage wins at the 1975 Tour de Suisse, six consecutive overall General Classification victories at Tirreno-Adriatico between 1972 and 1977 and 22 stage wins (including seven in 1975 alone) plus overall Points competition triumphs at the Giro d'Italia between 1972 and 1979.

De Vlaeminck's pavé on the Chemin des Géants leading
to Roubaix velodrome
However, impressive though his achievements in all of those races are, de Vlaeminck will not be remembered for them. His place in history, as befits his Flandrien status, was earned at the hardest race of them all - Paris-Roubaix, the Hell of the North. Some of the hardest men in cycling - Merckx, Hinault - found Paris-Roubaix and its cobbles that shatter bikes, bones and careers with ease simply too much and, after proving that they could win, preferred to stay away from what has been variously described as "a circus," bullshit," "bollocks," "the true definition of hell... I don't know if it's really necessary to impose it on us" and "the most beautiful race in the world." It could have been made for a rider like de Vlaeminck. Before him, only four men had won three editions since it was first held in 1896 - he won four, in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1977. Only Tom Boonen has equaled that record, but there are many (including de Vlaeminck) who will say that Boonen had no real competitors in 2012.

De Vlaeminck is estimated to have won some 257 races during his career, though the figure may be higher as he continued to race small criterium events the results of which sometimes go unrecorded. He is still involved in cycling today, coaching the cyclo cross stars of the future at his farm near Kaprijke, and he is regularly approached for comments by journalists who know that his passionate and sometimes controversial opinions on modern cycling are always good value.

Cuban Women's Team, Pan-Am Championships 2005.
Second from the right: Yuliet Rodríguez Jiménez
Cuban Yuliet Rodríguez Jiménez, who was born on this day in 1977, became National Time Trial Champion in 1995 then  in 1996 defended the title and added the National Road Race title - she would keep the former until 2001, then win it back from 2003-2006 and the latter until 1999 before winning it back in 2001 and 2004-2006. She also won overall at the Tour of Guadeloupe in 1996 and 1997,  the road race at the 1997 Pan-American Championships and the Points and Scratch races at the National Track Championships in 2004.

José Antonio Hermida, born in Puigcerdà, Spain on this day in 1978, was European Mountain Bike Champion in 2002, 2004 and 2007, National Cyclo Cross Champion in 2007 and 2008 and World Cross Country MTB Champion in 2010.

Romain Hardy, born in Flers, France on this day in 1988, has been riding for the pro continental Bretagne-Schuller team since 2010 - the year that he won Stage 4 at the Tour de l'Avenir.  In 2013, he will be moving up a step to Cofidis and may make his first appearance at the Grand Tours.

Other cyclists born on this day: Matthew Glaetzer (Australia, 1992); Cyrille Monnerais (France, 1983); Mohamed Mir (Algeria, 1963); Wang Yan (China, 1974); Edward Salas (Australia, 1965); Aurélie Halbwachs (Mauritius, 1986); Nguyễn Văn Châu (South Vietnam, 1940); Fredy Arber (Switzerland, 1928).

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