Entire villages, hills and woodlands had vanished from Flanders during the First World War, leaving a rubble-strewn, shattered wasteland; large parts of the region had been subjected to such heavy bombing and shelling that the landscape had changed beyond recognition, even to people who had lived their entire lives there before the war. Schotte was born into that world at Kanegem on this day in 1919, less than a year after the conflict came to an end. Such is the reverence in which he is held by fans and riders alike, more than half a century since his racing career ended, that it comes as something of a surprise that he won only 59 races during his 21 professional years, far fewer than most of the other cyclists considered to be the best of all time - but it was the races he won, the harsh and unforgiving Flemish Classics that shatter bones and careers, that earned him the nickname Iron Briek..
|Monument to Schotte in Kanegem|
While he was undoubtedly a Classics and one-day specialist, when conditions were right Schotte could perform well in longer races too: he won Stage 21 at the Tour de France in 1947 and came second overall at the 4,922km 1948 Tour when only the supremacy of Gino Bartali in the mountains could keep him from victory. Cycling hadn't finished with him when he retired at the end of 1959 and he worked as a team coach until he was 70 years old. He died aged 84 on the 4th of April in 2004, while the Ronde van Vlaanderen was in progress. At the funeral, his coffin was carried by Eddy Merckx, Rik van Looy, Roger de Vlaeminck, Seán Kelly, Freddy Maertes, Benoni Beheyt, Eric Leman and Frank Vandenbroucke. A race that takes place each year in Desselgem, which he won in 1941 and 1942, has been renamed the GP Briek Schotte in his honour.
|Annie Last at La Bresse, 2012|
Last was 11th at the Elite World Cyclo Cross Championship in 2010, then went to the European Mountain Bike Championships at Haifa, Israel and took fourth place in the Under-23 category; since then she has concentrated on mountain biking. 2012 has been a superb year for her with five victories to date and eighth place at the World Cup round in La Bresse, a result that secured a British presence in the Women's MTB race at the London Olympics - she was the first British woman to take part in the race since 2000 and the only British rider to take part, the fact that she ride without team support making her eighth place finish all the more remarkable. She was offered a place studying medicine at university in 2012 but has decided to turn it down for the time being in order to concentrate on her cycling career.
Jiang Yonghua, born in Jixi, China on this day in 1973, was National 500m Time Trial Champion in 2001 and 2003. On the 11th of August 2003, she set a new 500m TT world record at 34.000 seconds.
Thierry Claveyrolat, who was King of the Mountains at the 1990 Tour de France, cut a corner while driving down the Côte de Laffrey on the 13th of August in 1999. A Renault coming the other way had to swerve to avoid him; the driver lost control and crashed, suffering serious injuries - as did his 14-year-old son, who lost an eye. When the police arrived they discovered that Claveyrolat had been drinking; he was subsequently charged and found guilty. At 3am on this day in 1999, knowing that he was entirely responsible for the accident and the injuries caused, he went into his cellar, took a rifle and ended his life. He was 40 and left behind a wife and two young children.
Other cyclists born on this day: Jean-Michel Monin (France, 1967); Philip Deignan (Ireland, 1983); Sara Cattigan (New Zealand, 1980); Bernardo González (Spain, 1969); Squel Stein (Brazil, 1991); Ronald Rhoads (USA, 1933); Craig Connell (New Zealand, 1967); Bobby Thomas (USA, 1912, died 2008); Arne Pedersen (Denmark, 1917, died 1950).