Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 11.09.12

Kathy Watt
Kathy Watt
Born Kathryn Ann Watt in Australia on this day in 1964, Kathy Watt is the daughter of marathon runner Geoff Watt, who died of exposure when she was five years old. Kathy initially followed her father into running and won a National Championship racing as a Junior, only taking up cycling to maintain fitness whilst recovering from tendon problems. She very rapidly discovered that she was much better at cycling than at running; in 1990 she won gold in the Road Race at the Commonwealth Games and came third overall at the Giro Donne.

In 1992, Watt became Elite National Road Race Champion for the first time - she would hold the title again in 1993, 1994 and 1998), and she also won the gold medal for the Road Race at the Olympics that year. In 1994, she won another Commonwealth Games Road Race gold and came second overall at the Giro Donne, in 1995 she was third at the World Individual Time Trial Championships and seventh overall at the Tour de France Féminin and in 1996 she won the National Time Trial title. In 1996, she became involved in a legal row with the National Cycling Federation which had chosen her to compete in the Pursuit event at that year's Olympics, then rescinded and gave the place to Lucy Tyler-Sharman, whom she had beaten at the National Track Championships in February after the US-born Australian track specialist suffered an asthma attack. Watt's Olympic place was not without conditions - the Federation had stipulated that, should another rider record a world-class time in the run-up to the Games then that rider would replace Watt. Tyler-Sharman subsequently did so, recording a time five seconds faster than Watt's National Championships personal best and only 0.2" behind the World Record; nevertheless, after an unusually fast hearing the Court for Arbitration in Sport found in Watt's favour and she was reinstated. She finished the event in eighth place.

Watt won the Oceania Championships Time Trial in 1997, then entered a period in which she seemed condemned to stay on the lower steps of the podium with a series of second and third places up until her retirement in 2000, inspired partly by another selection row in which she was unsuccessful. However, three years later she returned with the intention of competing in the 2004 Olympics; but then retired again when she didn't qualify - and then made another comeback in 2005, when she won the Chrono Champenois-Trophée Européen, this time intending to qualify for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, where she was second in the Time Trial. She won the National Time Trial Championship for a second time that year too, then in 2007 she won the Road Race at the Oceania Games and Stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and the General Classification at the Tour of Perth, before adding numerous podium finishes and a few further victories to her palmares over the following two years until her eventual retirement in 2009, when she was 45 years old.

Graeme Obree
Born in Nuneaton on this day in 1965 but raised in Scotland, Graeme Obree was one of the few British cyclists to approach household name status in Britain before Cavendish, Wiggins and Team Sky became superstars. This was largely due to Britain's love of eccentric inventors and to the record he set on a bike that newspapers misleadingly claimed to have been made out of old washing machines.

Obree's first official race was a 10-mile individual time trial, in which he competed wearing a pair of school shorts, an anorak and Doctor Marten boots. He assumed that the start and finish line were in the same place and, having passed the start line on his way back in, had got off his bike and was getting changed into fresh clothes when a race official pointed out his error; he got back on and finished with a time of 30' - not a bad result for a first attempt. He has suffered from bipolar disorder for most of his life and made the first of his three suicide attempts while still a teenager; during the 1990s he took an overdose of aspirin, using dirty water from a puddle to swallow the pills. However, even when in a problematic situation he is sometimes able to think big: when his bike shop failed and he was being pursued for outstanding college fees (and had started sniffing welding gas), he decided upon an unusual way of getting himself out of difficulty - he would set a new Hour Record. He says that, from the day the idea first came to him, he always told himself not that he would attempt the record, but that he would break it.

Obree in the "preying mantis" position
aboard Old Faithful
He did not use a conventional bike, instead designing and building one of his own with an unusual frame and handlebar set-up that allowed him to adopt a position, which became known as "preying mantis," more like that of a downhill skier than a cyclist. opening up his lungs. The bottom bracket was narrower than standard, keeping his knees tucked in for greater aerodynamic efficiency, the fork was one-sided and the chainstays were elevated; the handlebars were narrow and connected to a 0mm reach stem of the old-fashioned quill type. There was also a healthy dose of Obree eccentricity - the tyres were "one banana" wide and the wheels span on with taken from a washing machine, its designer reasoning that since the device they came from had been designed to rotate at 1,200rpm they would be better quality than typical bike bearings. For some reason, this proved highly appealing to journalists, who then ignored the rest of the bike and began the "made of old washing machine parts" myth; he later said that he wished he'd never mentioned it because people took less interest in the numerous other innovative features of the bike and his achievements aboard it.

He named it Old Faithful, and it was far from the prettiest bike ever made - in fact, were it not for the three-spoke carbon fibre wheels and the 53x13 (110"), it looked rather like a Raleigh folding shopper bike from the 1970s. On the 16th of July in 1993, he took it to Hamar Olympic Hall velodrome in Norway and made his attempt at beating the record set by Francesco Moser's nine-year-old 51.151km record - and failed to beat it by a kilometre. But Obree, despite his illness, does not give up easily once he's set out to do something. He had booked the velodrome for 24 hours and so, rather than going home, he decided he would make another attempt the following morning. Lacking the budget to employ a support team with highly trained masseur, he came up with a typically Obreean method to prevent his muscles seizing up over night - he drank several pints of water before going to bed, thus ensuring that he would wake up within a couple of hours needing to visit the lavatory. When he did, he stretched and then drank more water to make sure he'd wake up again. Then, on the 17th, he went back onto the track and recorded 51.596, taking the record.

It lasted for only six days - on the 23rd, Chris Boardman rode 52.270km on the track at Bordeaux, using a bike with a carbon fibre frame and tri-bars. Meanwhile, Francesco Moser was working towards a new Veteran's Hour Record with a new bike that allowed him to copy Obree's "preying mantis" position; on the 15th of January 1994 he did it at altitude (thus in thinner air, creating less resistance) in Mexico City.

Obree and Boardman had become rivals. Obree beat the Englishman in the Pursuit at the World Track Championships in 1993 and won the title; but it wasn't enough: their rivalry came from the Hour Record, and that's where it would be settled. Most riders, backed up by a big-name bike manufacturer, would set out on their mission to regain the Record on a brand new, top-secret machine following many millions of dollars' worth of research - Obree simply made a few minor adjustments to Old Faithful (including bolting a pair of shoes onto the pedals so that his foot wouldn't slip off, as had happened at the World Championships). Then he got himself into the right mental state and, on the 19th of April, went to the same Bordeaux track used by Boardman to set his own record. Obree rode 52.713km, beating Boardman by 443m.

Less than five months later, Obree's record was broken by Miguel Indurain. The UCI now became concerned that innovative new bike designs were making it too easy for old records to be broken, thus the "preying mantis" position was banned in 1994, Obree being informed of the ban hours before he was due to use Old Faithful on the Pursuit at the World Championships. This, he felt (and, according to many, with some justification) was unfair; he refused to adopt a conventional position and was disqualified from the race. He responded by redesigning Old Faithful's handlebars to allow a new position known as "superman," with his arms out in front over the front wheel (Boardman used the position when he set his 1996 record at 56.375km); this two was banned after he won the Pursuit at the Worlds in 1995.

Obree's brother, Gordon, died in a car accident late in 1994, sparking off a new cycle of depression that coincided with his debut as a professional rider. He signed to Le Groupemont for the 1995 season but team manager Patrick Valcke was unable to understand his illness, firing him for what he saw as "lack of professionalism" - however, this may in fact have been fortunate from Obree's point of view because, shortly before the Tour de France that year, the team collapsed with its sponsor backed out cycling amid accusations that it was a disguised pyramid scheme. Obree says there was another reason he was sacked: having been selected to ride the Tour, he discovered that to have any chance at all of keeping up with the competition, he was going to have to dope - which he point-blank refused to do under any circumstances. "I feel I was robbed by a lot of these bastards taking drugs," he says, then adds: "I also hate the way that people think anyone who has ever achieved anything on a bike must have been taking drugs."

A prone bike. Obree's design is longer and lower and will be
fitted with a light-weight, aerodynamic shell
His illness became progressively worse over the coming years and, in 2001, he was discovered unconscious after attempting to hang himself in a barn near to stables where a horse belonging to his family was kept. It was at this point that his bipolar disorder was revealed to the world, his wife Anne - a nurse - attempting to explain the condition. In 2011, having split up from Anne, Obree revealed during a newspaper interview that he is homosexual and said that confusion prior to realising it had been a major cause of his depression and suicide attempts. He had come out to his family in 2005; almost two years after coming out in public he remains one of the very few sportsmen to have been brave enough to do so - and has doubtless been a source of inspiration and encouragement to many others. He seems happier now, and his intelligence makes his engaging and entertaining in interviews. In 2011, he revealed that, aged 47, he was setting out to beat the World Human-Powered Vehicle (HPV) Land-Speed record, using a prone bike (upon which the rider lies in a flat-out position) that he first thought up while lying in the bath and is building himself. Parts of it are made from old saucepans.

Lucien Buysse
Lucien Buysse
Born in Wontergem, Belgium on this day in 1892, Lucien Buysse entered the last Tour de France before the First World War in 1914 with Alcyon-Soly but didn't finish the race. He survived the War, then returned to cycling with Legnano-Pirelli in 1919 and rode another Tour; once again, he did not finish. He didn't enter for the following three years but finished the 1920 Paris-Roubaix in third place, then in 1923 he went back to the Tour with older brother Marcel's M. Buysse-Colonial team, won Stage 8 and finished in eighth place overall. In 1924 and 1925 he rode with Automoto purely to support Ottavio Bottecchia, for which reason he frequently described as having been the first domestique in Tour history. He came third in 1924, then second in 1925.

In 1926, the Tour was reduced to 17 stages, there having been 18 in 1925 - however, it was most definitely not easier. For a start, riders would face the Alps twice, on the way out and the way back in and again, and Henri Desgrange (who believed that the ideal Tour would be one in which only one rider finished) hadn't cut a stage for their benefit - he did it to increase the average stage length. What's more, the parcours followed the nations borders more closely than ever before or since; making this the longest Tour in history at 5,745km (for comparison, the 2012 edition is 3,497km). Bottecchia, having won the previous two editions, was most fans' favourite, but many others fancied Alcyon's Adelin Benoit who had surprised everyone with a stage win and five days in the maillot jaune in 1925. A classic battle was expected, but as tends to be the way in the Tour it turned out far better than anyone had hoped. Right from the first stage unexpected things happened, beginning with a perfect solo break by Buysse, accompanied by another brother named Jules (there was a Michel, too), which lasted until the end of the stage where he won by thirteen minutes. Stage 2 ended with a bunch sprint won by little-known Belgian rider Aimé Dossche, who had picked up his first professional contract with Automoto at the the start of the year but seems to have switched to Christophe (which, like Automoto, was co-sponsored by Hutchinson at that time) before the Tour; so the GC remained virtually unchanged. Then in Stage 3 Gustaaf van Slembrouck managed to grab a lead that kept him in the maillot jaune for six days.

During Stage 3, Buysse received news that his infant daughter had died (some historians say she died before the Tour) but, after thinking things over, decided to honour his family's request that he continue and try to win a stage that could be dedicated to the memory. Stage 4 was perhaps too soon and went to Félix Sellier instead; Stage 5 to Adelin Benoit. Another little-known Belgian named Joseph van Daam won Stage 6 after judges declared that Sellier had broken race regulations (van Daam would win two more later on, so he was much more famous when the race ended), then Nicolas Frantz won Stage 7; since Frantz had finished fourth in 1925 and showed enormous promise, instantly made him a favourite too. Van Daam won Stage 8, this time on his own merit, then Frantz took Stage 9. The race had truly begun now, with a new challenger making things difficult for Bottecchia and Benoit.


Tour director HenriDesgrange, ever since he'd been convinced that it was possible to send the race over the high mountains without the riders dying, rebelling or being eaten by bears (something that, perhaps unfortunately in the eyes of some fans, has yet to happen in the Tour) and that in fact the public enjoyed the race more when it was an heroic spectacle, was always on the look-out for ways to make the parcours more difficult. Stage 10 went far beyond anything from previous years - and, say the ever-dwindling number of people who were there to see it, since. In terms of distance, it wasn't the longest stage that year - ten stages were longer, the longest 433km - but its 326km took the riders over some of the toughest roads in France, and they set out at midnight to be in with a chance of finishing by the following afternoon. Matters were not improved by a storm on the Col d'Aspin, but the Buysse brothers were made of stern stuff: while the rest of the peloton survived, they attacked hard and Lucien won after riding for seventeen hours. He had taken the maillot jaune, but better still he could dedicate the hardest stage in the history of the Tour to the memory of his daughter.


Buysse on Tourmalet
When he won Stage 11 two days later, he gained a lead of more than an hour over his nearest rival. From now on, he was able to stay tucked safely away in the peloton, conserving his energy and simply making sure that he finished (which didn't prevent him winning the meilleur grimpeur, a prize for the best climber from the days before the King of the Mountains competition). Frantz won two more stages once the race returned to the flatlands, but he didn't have a hope of getting anywhere near the leader now and had to be content with second place. As they crossed the finish line in Paris behind stage winner Dossche, the gap between them was 1h22'25" (Buysse's overall time was 238h44'25" - around two-and-three-quarter times as long as Cadel Evan's 2011 winning time); a far greater memorial to his daughter than a stage win.

Buysse retired in 1933, by which time he was 41 years old - still a young man by today's standards,  but well into middle-age by those of the time. He lived for almost half a century more, dying at the age of 87 on the 3rd of January in 1980.



Lieuwe Westra, riding at the time of writing for Vacansoleil-DCM, was born in Mûnein, Netherlands on this day in 1982. Having been a regular inclusion in the top ten placings since turning professional in 2006, 2012 has been the best year of Westra's career to date with one stage win, third place in the Points competition and second place overall at Paris-Nice, second place at the Dreidaagse van De Panne, second place at the Tour of Belgium, victory at the National Independent Time Trial Championship and first place overall at the Post Danmark Rundt.

Roberto Chiappa, born in Terni, Italy on this day in 1973, was Under-19 World Sprint Champion in 1991, Amateur World Tandem Champion in 1993. World Military Sprint Champion in 1994, Italian Keirin Champion from 2004 to 2008 and National Sprint Champion from 2004 to 2010.

Matthew Gilmore, born in Gent, Belgium on this day in 1972, has held one World Track Championship title, five European Track Championships titles and one from the National Championships - the Australian National Championships, having raced with an Australian licence during the first years of his career on account of his father, 1967 Australian National Road Race Champion Graeme Gilmore. Graeme married Tom Simpson's sister; Matthew is, therefore, Tom's nephew.

Dainis Ozols, born in Smiltene, Latvia on this day in 1966, won the Irish Rás Tailteann in 1989, the Regio Tour and a bronze medal for in the Road Race at the Olympics in 1992, the Circuit Franco-Belge in 1993 and was National Independent Time Trial Champion in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Every now and then, a rider comes along who, for no apparent reason, completely confuses race announcers, reporters and on-screen graphics technicians.Ozols was one of them; his name was, more frequently than not, given as Ozolos and occasionally with other surplus letters, while his nationality was often incorrectly listed as Lithuanian or Polish.

Other cyclists born on this day: Willi Fuggerer (Germany, 1941); Christophe Le Mével (France, 1980); Karen Matamoros (Costa Rica, 1982); Suleman Ambaye (Ethiopia, 1935); Vitool Charernratana (Thailand, 1942); Marc Willers (New Zealand, 1985); René Andring (Luxembourg, 1939); Miguel Mora (Spain, 1936, died 2012); Mariano Piccoli (Italy, 1970); Patricio Almonacid (Chile, 1979); Claude Magni (France, 1950); Denis Pelizzari (France, 1960); Roman Čermák (Czechoslovakia, 1959); John Thorsen (Australia, 1957).

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