Saturday, 1 September 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 01.09.12

Franco Bitossi
Franco Bitossi
Born in Camaioni di Carmignano on this day in 1940, the Italian Franco Bitossi became known to friends as Cuore Matto - "Crazy Heart," on account of the cardiac arrythmia that would frequently cause him to have to stop halfway through a race. His palmares, built up over the course of a 17-year professional career, is for that reason all the more impressive.

Bitossi had three successful years as an amateur, during which time he was noticed by 1960 Tour winner Gastone Nencini, who took him under his wing and gave him advice; then got picked up by Philco, managed by Fiorenzo Magni, as soon as he reached the age of 21, the minimum age for professionals at that time - which came as something of a surprise because his arrythmia had already been detected and he'd assumed he wouldn't be able to compete at the top level as a result. He won a stage at the Tre Giorni del Sud that year, 1961, then in 1963 he came second on Stage 20 at the Giro d'Italia and third overall in the King of the Mountains after arrythmia suffered in the first three stages suddenly cleared up. The year after that he attained five podium finishes (but no wins) as the season got under way, then went back to the Giro and won Stages 3, 16, 17 and 20, was second on four others, finished in tenth place overall and won the King of the Mountains. In 1965 he won the Tour de Suisse, then took one stage, seventh place overall and another King of the Mountains at the Giro. After six early-season victories in 1966, Bitossi won Stages 14 and 16 and a third King of the Mountains at the Giro (coming eighth overall this time) and went to the Tour de France where he won Stages 5 and 17; then he won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro di Lombardia in 1967.

One of the best-known truths in cycling is that climbers cannot sprint and vice versa. Climbers are usually finely-boned, sinewy greyhound-like creatures with body fat levels that, were professional cyclists normal human beings, would get doctors worried; their job being to get their bodies and their bikes up the great climbs as quickly as possible. Sprinters are heavy, heavily muscled; homo sapiens robustus compared to the climbers' h. sapiens gracile. They are highly specialised to their environments and do not trespass into one another's territory - except, that is, for Bitossi; who, in 1968 and after all those King of the Mountains trophies, came second in the Points competition at the Giro, then won it at the Tour (where he was also second on the Mountains); and he would win the Points at the Giro in 1969 and 1970. Interestingly, the only other male rider to have performed so well on the climbs and the sprints was Eddy Merckx, who won the General Classification in 1970 and the Points and GC in 1973 - and who also suffered from a heart defect that, had he have been riding as an amateur today, would have prevented his selection for a professional team.

Left: Marino Basso; right: Bitossi
Bitossi never did so well in the Grand Tours again after 1970 as his heart condition worsened, but he remained a force with which to be reckoned for many years. In 1971 he won twelve victories in addition to the National Road Race Championship, then nine victories in 1972 (when he was beaten by an infinitesimal amount by his team mate Marino Basso to the World Champiobship title) and 1973 respectively and 18 in 1974 including Stages 6, 8 and 18 at the Giro. He won six times the following year, the most prestigious being Stage 15 at the Giro and 11 times, including another National Championhip in 1976, and then ten times in total over 1977 and 1978 - a period during which he began to excel in cyclo cross as much as on the road, winning the National Championship in both years.

He is estimated to have won at least 158 races across the course of his career, not including amateur events, yet is frequently described by journalists who interview him as humble, welcoming, humourous and deeply respectful of the riders he raced against. Who knows what he might have achieved without his heart condition?

Riccardo Riccò
Born in Formigine on this day in 1983, Italian Riccardo Riccò is a former professional cyclist who became best known for his second place General Classification finish at the 2008 Giro d'Italia, when he also won the Youth category, but has since become more famous for doping.

Riccò at the 2008 Giro d'Italia
Riccò's first taste of success came in 2001 when he won the National Junior Cyclo Cross Championship. Two years later he won the Coppa della Pace and a stage at the Baby Giro, then in 2004 he became Under-23 National Road Race Champion and in 2005 the Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda and a stage at the U-23 Giro della Toscana. Professional teams began to take an interest that year and he settled on a contract with Saunier Duval-Prodir for 2006, riding his first Tour de France with them and then, late in the season, winning the Japan Cup. He remained with the team throughout 2007, when he won the Points competition at Tirreno-Adriatico and his first Grand Tour stage, Stage 15 at the Giro d'Italia, which he finished in sixth place overall; then when he returned to the Giro in 2008 he won Stages 2 and 8, was third overall on Points and second overall in the General Classification. The new star of Italian cycling, he was selected for Saunier's Tour de France squad later in the summer - and, after Stage 11, the news broke that a sample he'd provided following Stage 4 had tested positive for the EPO variant CERA. He was the third rider to be caught using the same drug that year and was thrown out of the race immediately, after which manager Mauro Gianetti withdrew the team voluntarily, then sacked the rider.

Riccò expressed his anger to journalists. "I spent a night in the police station and it was like being in prison," he said. "The magistrate listened to what I had to say. They searched my bags but only found some vitamins that we all use and so they decided to let me go home." He was being half-truthful - his hotel room had been searched and no illegal drugs were found, but a selection of unexplained medical equipment - including intravenous drips and syringes - had been; it was also revealed that he had sped away from Stage 4 apparently in an attempt to evade testers, but they had caught up with him in heavy traffic and obtained the sample (it was also revealed that CERA's manufacturer, Roche Pharmaceuticals, had been working in secret with WADA to develop and perfect a test for the drug, which had previously been undetectable). For once in his life, Riccò decided that honesty was the best policy and made a full confession, stating that he had used CERA to prepare himself for the Tour and that he had done so entirely independently and without the knowledge of anyone at Saunier. He also publicly apologised to the team and to fans and later told journalists that the drug had been supplied to him by Carlo Santuccione, whose licence to practice a a doctor had been suspended from 1995 to 2000 and would be removed for life in 2007 after the investigation into the Oil For Drugs doping ring, of which he was believed to have been ringleader (Santuccione, incidentally, had worked at the University of Ferrara's Biomedical Institute alongside Francesco Conconi, who is thought to have been the man who first brought EPO into cycling and who later served on the medical committee of the Italian Olympic committee CONI, which funded his research into new anti-doping tests - which he then used to devise new ways to get around the tests). It was expected that Riccò would be shown leniency on account of his compliance, but initially he was not and received the full two-year ban. Once again he expressed bitterness to journalists, whilst admitting "I made a mistake and it's fair that I pay;" in March 2009, the Court of Arbitration in Sport reduced the ban to 20 months. As the ban was backdated, he was free to return to competion in March the following year and did so with Irish-based Ceramica Flaminia.

Riccò in 2007
When a rider returns from a doping ban, he or she will usually experience problems finding a contract to ride at the same level as prior to their ban - this is partially because of the loss of race experience and partially because the top teams can afford to be choosy and don't wish to be seen as providing a home for convicted dopers - hence his step back to ProContinental Ceramica. However, his results over the next five months, including overall victory at the Österreich-Rundfahrt, were sufficient to pique the interest of the ProTour teams. Riccò was not the sort of rider who felt that he should repay the second chance Ceramica had given him by riding a full season for them; so he appears to have had few of any qualms about terminating his contract with them in August and going to the ProTour team Vacansoleil-DCM. He won the Coppa Sabatini with them late in the year, then came seventh at the season-opening GP de Ouverture in 2011.

Seven days after the Ouverture, on the 6th of February, Riccò was rushed to hospital. He was in critical condition with acute kidney failure believed to have been caused by a non-medical autologous transfusion (ie, using his own blood) performed using blood that was 25 days old and had presumably been incorrectly stored, which he is alleged to have admitted to the doctor who treated him. He could very easily have died, but fortunately recovered well enough to be discharged after only two weeks. Vacansoleil sacked him, though he insisted that he had neither made the alleged admission to the doctor nor ever used blood doping (in October that year, reports were published that he had admitted it; these were quickly denied by his lawyer). He also claimed that he would be retiring from cycling and began a new life working in a bar, but later announced that he would make a return to cycling. According to reports Amore & Vita offered him a contract with the conditions that he worked with the Italian authorities to help end doping in sport and that he would be sacked if proof arose that he had in fact received an illegal transfusion - if such a contract was offered, he refused it and instead signed to Meridiana-Kamen. He was expected to make his return to racing with them at the Kroz Srbiju, beginning on the 19th of June; however, eight days before the race began CONI suspended him and launched an investigation. On the 19th of April 2012, the Tribunale Nazionale Antidoping found him guilty of the use and attempted use of prohibited methods and banned him from any involvement in professional cycling for a period of 12 years.

Émile Masson Jr., born in Hollogne-aux-Pierres, Belgium on this day in 1912, won La Flèche Wallonne and Stage 17a at the Tour de France in 1938 and Paris-Roubaix in 1939. After the Second World War he returned to cycling and became National Road Race Champion in 1946 (when he also won Bordeaux-Paris) and again in 1947. He died on 2nd of January 2011, aged 95. Masson was the son of Émile Masson Snr., who won Stages 11 and 12 at the Tour in 1922 and his own Bordeaux-Paris a year later.

Andrea Ferrigato, who was born in Schio, Italy on this day in 1969, won Stage 12 at the Giro d'Italia in 1994. Three years later, he won Stage 5 at Tirreno-Adriatico and first place at the GP Ouest-France.

Other cyclists born on this day: Arthur F. Andrews (USA, 1876); Giorgio Ursi (Italy, 1943); Jean Govaerts (Belgium, 1938); Erhard Neumann (USA, 1932, died 2002); Huub Duyn (Netherlands, 1984); Juho Jaakonaho (Finland, 1882, died 1964); Wayne Burgess (South Africa, 1971); Hong Seong-Ik (South Korea, 1940); Alfred Ebanks (Cayman Islands, 1953); Iñaki Lejarreta (Spain, 1983); André Bar (Belgium, 1935).

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