Friday, 14 September 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 14.09.12

Nina Davies in 2008
Nina Davies
Born in the Vale of Glamorgan on this day in 1974, Nina Davies became Welsh National Road Race Champion in 2001, then came ninth at the British Championships in 2002 and seventh in 2003.

Like many female cyclists, Davies excels in several disciplines - in 2007, she was Welsh National Cyclo Cross Champion and won six rounds of the Welsh CX Series; the following year she became British Masters National Cross Country Mountain Bike Champion, then won a silver medal at the World Masters Championships.

Sé O'Hanlon
Sé O'Hanlon (commonly - and incorrectly - spelled Shay O'Hanlon) was born in Dublin on this day in 1941 and became one of Ireland's best amateur riders during the 1960s and 1970s. O'Hanlon holds the record for total victories and consecutive victories in the eight-stage Rás Tailteann, having won it for the first time in 1962 and again in 1965, 1966 and 1967 and was, for many years, the dominant rider in the race with a total of 24 stage wins and 36 stages in the leader's jersey. He also won the Tour of Ulster a record four times, in 1961, 1962, 1965 and 1966.

O'Hanlon might well have gone further, but he was a member of the National Cycling Association, one of three rival national federations and one of two that were not affiliated with the UCI - he was, therefore, ineligible to compete in most of the big foreign races, the World Championships and the Olympics. When he retired from competition he became president of the NCA and built bridges with the other federations, eventually enabling them to merge into one UCI-affiliated organisation.

George Mount
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the USA was as besotted with the bicycle as the French and Belgians were. Top riders of the day such as Frank Waller were household names and track racing was, in some areas, more popular than football or baseball: in 1910, Ty Cobb - one of the most successful and legendary baseball stars of all time - went on strike in order to force his Detroit Tigers team to pay him $9,000 per year; eight years earlier track star "Major" Marshall Taylor was able to command an annual salary of $35,000, despite the fact that in some of the more backward parts of the country he was refused entry to velodromes on account of being black.

But the States, more than any other nation, fell head over heels in love with the motorcar. With enormous natural resources, it was able to produce large luxury cars that retailed at prices within reach of the common man; it also had its own oil reserves and could produce fuel more cheaply than the European nations and had the space for wide, open roads. The bicycle was forgotten by all but children, who would exchange it for a car the moment they became old enough to do (as young as 15 in some states), and a few isolated adult eccentrics.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey on this day in 1955, George Mount was no more interested in bikes or cycling than most other Americans. However, in his teenage years he refused his father's demand that he enlisted in the Army, then fighting in Vietnam, and was thrown out of the family home as a result. A series of odd jobs followed as he tried to pay his way, including one as a groom  at a race track, where he would meet one of those eccentrics - race promoter and cycling fan Pete Rich. Rich had an ability to spot potential good form (possibly in horses as well as in humans, hence his presence at a race track) and talked Mount into giving the sport a try, also offering him cheap lodgings in a room above a bike shop he owned and work as a mechanic. Thus Mount found his way into the world of cycling completely by chance.

Rich became Mount's coach, training him at a neglected velodrome in San Francisco, and by 1973 he was good enough to begin competing as a junior. A year later, he won two races; then in 1975 he started to win a lot of races. In 1997, he recalled: "I won a whole lot of races in a row - for a couple of months in 1975, nobody beat me in a bike race, whether it was a criterium, a road race, a time trial. I mean, I won a whole lot of races." In 1976, he was sixth in the Road Race at the Olympic Games - the first American rider to finish in the top 60 since 1912.

Mount's Olympic success vastly increased cycling' popularity among the American public overnight, but the supportive infrastructure he would need in order to develop into a genuine world class rider simply didn't exist in the USA. Fortunately, at around the same time, he met the greatest cyclist in the world, Eddy Merckx (in the US with Patrick Sercu to race in Pennsylvania), and was able to ask his advice. Merckx told him to get to Italy as soon as possible, saying that France was the place to go to win races but Italy was the place to learn about the sport. Mike Neel, another young rider trained by Rich, had already made the move and was able to provide an introduction to a club called Benotto; teliing them, "Hey, I know this kid in the States who could come over and kick all your guys' butts." The team's manager told him to get the kid over to prove it - Mount arrived in 1977 and immediately began beating the Italians on their home turf.

Mount with the 1981 Sammontana team
The USA had a national team prior to 1978, but it was seen by the European teams and fans as a bit of a joke at worst or as a bunch of plucky underdogs at best. That year, Mount rode for them in numerous high-profile European events and, all of a sudden, more often than not, there was a stars and stripes jersey somewhere near the front of the peloton. He was fourth overall at the Tour of Britain and second at the Under-23 GP Liberazione as well as winning the US Red Zinger and Coors Classics, then in 1979 he won a stage at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe and was fourth overall at the Tour du Vaucluse. In 1981, he was third in the Youth category at the Giro Italia - European fans began to take American cyclists more seriously; more importantly, so did American fans.

Mount retired at the age of just 28, having won around 200 races - he felt that he could have continued racing for at least another five years but that if he did, he'd end up as a burned-out ex-pro earning peanuts in a bike shop, preferring instead to get some qualifications while he was still young and guarantee himself a better future. His legacy is greater even than his palmares - be blazed the trail later followed by Greg Lemond, who would become the first non-European to win the Tour de France, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie, Andrew Hampsten, Kristin Armstrong and all the other great North American cyclists to go to Europe and revolutionise professional cycling from the 1980s to the present, and it is thanks to him that by the end of the 20th Century cycling in the USA was as popular as it had been at the end of the 19th. His nickname was Smilin' George, and he has a lot to smile about.

Francesco Casagrande
Francesco Casagrande
Born in Florence on this day in 1970, Francesco Casagrande turned professional with San Marino-based Mercatone Uno-Zucchini-Mendeghini in 1992, a year after finding international fame by winning the Baby Giro, and remained with the team through its gradual transformation into Saeco until 1997. In his second professional year he came third in the Youth category at the Giro d'Italia; then in 1994 he won seven races including the Giro di Toscana and was second at the National Championships. In 1995, he won five races and finished in third place on one stage at the Tour de Romandie and two at the Giro d'Italia, finishing the latter in tenth place overall, and in 1996 he won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country, also reaching the Giro d'Italia podium after three stages. In 1997, he came second again at the National Championship, then rode in the Tour de France for the first time; he finished eight stages in the top ten, was sixth in the General Classification and third in the King of the Mountains.

Casagrande switched to Cofidis for the 1998 season, getting the year off to an excellent start with third place overall at the Tour de Romandie, a stage win at the Tour Méditerranéen, second place at the Classique des Alpes and numerous other good results. He went to the Tour de France again but seemed not to have his previous form, finishing only two stages in the top 50 before a crash in Stage 10 put him out of the race. Then, in August, it was revealed that he had failed a doping control at Romandie. He denied using drugs and requested that his B-sample be analysed; when it too turned out positive Cofidis sacked him.

He made his return with Vini Caldirola-Sidermec in June 1999 and won the Tour de Suisse, his best result so far, then added victory at the Clásica San Sebastián. The following year, still with the same team, he won the Waalse Pijl and Stage 9 at the Giro and did well on a sufficient number of other stages to take the leader's jersey, which he wore all the way to the penultimate stage before losing it to Stefano Garzelli and settled instead for the King of the Mountains; later winning the bronze medal at the Wirld Championships. That placed him in a position to negotiate a better contract with another team, so he started 2001 with Fasso Bortolo and won the Giro del Trentino before returning to the Tour de France where he was unable to break into the top 100 before abandoning. In 2002 he won another Giro del Trentino, then went back to the Giro d'Italia and looked to be on course for a good result until Stage 16, when he was accused of deliberately pushing Colombia-Selle-Italia's John Freddy Garcia into the railings running alongside the road, causing him to crash and suffer injuries that required 20 stitches in his face. Casagrande denied doing so, saying he would not even think of doing something "that stupid." However, race officials and team managers insisted that was what they had seen happen, and he was ejected from the race for "aggressive riding."

Casagrande would never win another stage race after 2002, though he won some stages and a couple of one-day races in 2003. In 2004 and 2005 he stood on numerous podiums but failed to win anything, then announced his retirement on the 1st of May.

Volodymyr Rybin, born in Kreminna, Ukraine on this day in 1980, was World Points Race Champion in 2005.

Born in Paris on this day in 1924, Dominique Forlini won Stages 6 and 15 at the 1954 Tour de France. With Georges Senfftleben (with whom he also teamed up to win several six-day races in the 1950s), he was European Madison Champion in 1955.

Veelers at the Eneco Tour, 2009
Tom Veelers, born in Oostmarsum, Netherlands on this day in 1984, won the Under-23 Paris-Roubaix and Stages 5, 6, 8 and the General Classification at the Olympia's Tour in 2006. In 2011, he was second overall at the Tour de Wallonie-Picarde.

On this day in 2006, the USA Cycling Federation revealed that it had been supplied with information by the UCI linking Tyler Hamilton to Operacion Puerto. The UCI requested that action be taken; the Federation referred the case to USADA for investigation.

Other cyclists born on this day: Gary Foord (Great Britain, 1970); Chetan Singh Hari (India, 1936); William Fenn (USA, 1904, died 1980); Joe Becker (USA, 1931); Peter Weibel (West Germany, 1950); Kim Refshammer (Denmark, 1955, died 2002); Johannes Knab (West Germany, 1946); Connor Fields (USA, 1992); Robert Maveau (Belgium, 1944, died 1978); Yelena Dylko (Belarus, 1988); Luis Brethauer (Germany, 1992).

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