Monday, 4 February 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 04.02.2013

(image credit: Outematic CC BY-SA 2.5)
Viatcheslav Ekimov
On this day in 1966, Viatcheslav Vladimirovich Ekimov was born in Vyborg, USSR. Ekimov's life since he was 12 has been all about riding bikes as fast as possible - picked out at that age, he was sent to a specialist cycling academy associated with of the Soviet Sports schools created to mold young people into iron-hard athletes who would one day excel in their field, ready to be sent into battle against the West and bring back glory. When it was time to leave school, he moved on to an Armed Forces sports society and trained even more.

Eki was never been a Grand Tour General Classification contender but was more than capable of picking up stages and smaller races, adding valuable points to his team's total. His only Tour de France stage win came in 1991 when he won Stage 20, but he would win others at the Tour de Suisse (1993 and 1995), Prudential Tour (1998 - then the name for the Tour of Britain), the Ronde van Nederland (2003) and numerous others in addition to forming part of two winning time trial teams at the Tour. He also won two Olympic gold medals and may yet be awarded another, as he came 2nd behind Tyler Hamilton during the 2004 Time Trial - the American rider has subsequently given the medal back to the IOC after admitting to having doped and it was subsequently awarded to Ekimov as a result.

Despite his success, Ekimov became known for his rather peculiar riding style - which, according to US Postal directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel, "always looks shit." Shortly after his retirement it was announced that he would become assistant directeur sportif to Bruyneel at RadioShack, then in 2011 he revealed that he would be leaving the team at the end of the season prior to the merger with Leopard Trek and taking up a new position as an adviser at the Russian Global Cycling Project.

Nairo Quintana
Born in Tunja, Colombia on this day in 1990, Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas grew up in poverty that, to the majority of Europeans, Antipodeans and North Americans would be absolutely shocking: the nearest school was 16km away, but his parents simply did not have the money to put him on the bus to get there - and the 32km round trip on foot each day left him too tired to concentrate on his studies. They hit on a solution: buy him a second-hand mountain bike. It took them many weeks to save $30 to buy one.

The bike, as tends to be the case with poor children everywhere when they first own one, was Quintana's pride and joy and he daydreamed about winning races on it during his daily journey, which became easier with time - including the long, 8% gradient climb he faced to get back home. Very possibly at least partially due to the hardship his family endured and the insufficient diet they existed upon, Quintana was always diminutive - even today, he stands just 1.66m tall and weighs only 57.3kg. Those dimensions, combined with the toughness developed riding to and from school each day, were ideal for him to become that most specialised of all the species of cyclist - a pure climber.

Tunja lies in Boyaca, a region of Colombia where cycling has been a popular sport for decades, yet Quintana was entirely unaware of that world and had no cycling heroes. His father taught him and his brother how to repair cars to bring in extra money and, incredibly, both boys were able to drive and made money driving taxis (at night, so the police would have a hard time seeing how young they were) by the time they were ten years old, but still they couldn't earn enough to lift themselves out of poverty. Not realising that he might be able to carve out a career in cycling, Nairo joined the army (his Orden de Boyaca medal was awarded for services to Colombian cycling following the 2013 Tour, not for exceptional military service as is usual; when the President phoned Quintana to congratulate him for improving Colombia's reputation overseas, the rider replied that the success he had achieved belonged to "all Colombians," not just to him). In time, the Quintana family discovered that a racing scene existed and soon realised that Nairo would almost certainly bring in some extra cash if he entered them. The trouble was, they didn't have enough to pay entry fees. Fortunately, the rider's father has a way with words: he talked organisers into letting his son race on the promise that they'd be paid from the money he won. It was a big gamble, but Nairo delivered; this was how the first few years of his athletic career would be financed.

Boyaca's local government created a cycling team, Boyaca es Para Vivirla, in 2009, by which time Quintana had won enough races to be an immediate choice for a place - he won a stage at the Vuelta del Huila and, discovering an ability also shown by other pure climbers, became National Under-23 Individual Time Trial Champion that year. Next, he moved to the Continental team Café de Colombia-Colombia es Pasión, where he would remain through 2010 and 2011, getting his first experience of top-level European racing with them. In 2010, he won Stages 6 and 7 and the overall General Classification at the Tour de l'Avenir, in 2011 he won the Combita race in Colombia and the King of the Mountains at the Volta a Catalunya.

For decades, European teams have gone looking in Colombia for new stars: cycling is enormously popular there, and with the Andes dominating the landscape in much of the country, young riders cut their teeth on climbs higher - and, frequently, much tougher due to the poor roads - than anything in the Tour de France. Movistar found Quintana in 2012, and with them he won Stage 1 and overall at the Vuelta a Murcia, then a spectacular victory in Stage 6 at the Critérium du Dauphiné when he proved on the descent leading to Morzine that he has the exceedingly rare (among pure climbers) ability to descend fast, too. Next he won the Route du Sud before getting his first taste of a Grand Tour at the Vuelta a Espana, where he finished Stage 16, the queen stage, in sixth place: SaxoBank, having smashed the peloton to pieces on the 25% gradient slopes of Cuitu Negro, looked more than a little surprised when the tiny Colombian suddenly appeared at the front of the race and found there was little they could do about it, so they instead formed a group with him. He rode alongside Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez, two of the strongest climbers in the world, for many kilometres before his strength finally gave out and he was dropped. It was, quite simply, an extraordinary thing for a 22-year-old to be able to do.

Quintana leading Froome, Mont Ventoux
In 2013, Quintana won the General Classification and the Points competition at the Tour of the Basque Country after sprinting up Eibar-Arrate, one of the toughest climbs in the race. Then he went to the Tour de France and, in Stage 8, led the race across the Col de Pailheres, which at 2001m was the highest point of that edition and won him the Souvenir Henri Desgrange, and might have won the stage had Chris Froome, the favourite and eventual General Classification winner, not gone all-out to catch him on the final climb. What followed was every bit as extraordinary as what had taken place on Cuitu Negro a year before: Quintana did not sit back and let the more powerful, much more experienced rider take the win - he fought him, hard. For his efforts, he won the stage's Combativity award, took the lead in the Young Riders category and began a battle that would be fought throughout the remainder of the race. It next flared up during Stage 15, when Quintana put in a ride that would have made Charly Gaul, the greatest climber that ever lived, proud: he attacked so hard early on that only Froome could go with him, and it was only 2km from the summit that Froome finally got the upper hand. Stage 18 featured a Tour first, a double ascent of the Alpe d'Huez - a weapon that the climbers could use to do serious damage not just to other types of rider, but to one another. Afterwards, Quintana was in third place overall. Stage 20 was something else entirely, one of the most remarkable stages in Tour history: even so near to the end of the race, Quintana didn't stop attacking and, on Annecy-Semnoz, left Froome behind. He won the stage, crossing the line 18" ahead of Rodriguez, 29" ahead of Froome (which, curiously, was precisely the same time by which Froome had won on Ventoux), 1'42" ahead of Valverde and more than two minutes ahead of the next riders, taking enough time to put himself into second place overall - the first time that a rider making his Tour debut had achieved a podium finish since Jan Ullrich in 1996, and the best ever by a South American in history. He also won the Young Riders classification and the King of the Mountains.

Quintana will be 24 on this day in 2014, still four years from the age at which most riders reach their best years. He is already among the greatest climbers cycling has ever seen and he'll get better yet; with his skills in the time trials and - perhaps even more crucially - his ability to maintain speed on the steep descents where so many other great climbers lost Tours that would otherwise have been theirs, it seems as good as guaranteed that he'll win more than one before he retires.

Johan van Summeren
Johan van Summeren
(image credit: Thomas Ducroquet CC BY-SA 3.0
Johan van Summeren, at 1.97m one of the tallest professional cyclists of all time, was born on this day in 1981 in the Belgian town of Lommel. Van Summeren is well known for his ability to ride in support of General Classification contenders, leading Cadel Evans to nominate him as the "number one team mate of the Tour" in 2007 for his work in a race that had seen him praised in almost every stage by commentator and race expert Paul Sherwen.

His first major win was the Under-23 Liège–Bastogne–Liège in 2003, the same year he took a silver medal in the Under-23 Road Race World Championship. He first demonstrated the depth of his stage race potential in 2005 when he came 4th overall at the Tour Down Under, then won the Points Classification at the Tour of Britain the following season and the General Classification at the Tour of Poland a year after that. In 2008, he finished 8th overall at Paris-Roubaix, the world'd toughest one-day race. A year later, he improved to 5th place before a quiet year in 2010. In 2011, he broke away from the peloton with 15km to go and won the race by 19", but in 2012 he could manage only ninth place.

Galina Yermolayeva
Galina Yermolayeva
Born in Novokhopyorsk, Russia on this day in 1937, Galina Vasilievna Yermolayeva (also spelled Ermolaeva) was originally a champion cross country skier who, having suffered serious injury due to frostbite, became the most successful female Individual Sprint rider in the World Track Championships between 1958 and 1973; winning gold every year from 1958 to 1963, silver in 1964 and 1965, bronze in 1967 and 1968, more silver in 1969, 1970 and 1971, another gold in 1972 and a final bronze in 1973.

Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Soviet Union, was so impressed by Yermolayeva's performances that he made her a personal gift of a Volvo, in a time when most Soviet citizens had to wait many years to be able to purchase a far-inferior Russian-made car. Police officers on the streets of Moscow would salute her as she drove past.

John Tanner is a Yorkshire-born cyclist who came into the world on this day in 1968. He competed in two Olympic Games (1996 and 2000) but has primarily concentrated on the British racing scene, becoming National Road Race Champion twice 1999 and 2000) and winning two Archer GPs (1997, 2005), two Tours of the Cotswolds (1997, 2001) and the Manx Trophy (1998), the latter having been the most prestigious British race for many years and able to attract names such as Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Fausto Coppi in addition to the cream of British cycling including Robert Millar, Brian Robinson, David Millar and Tommy Simpson. His greatest achievement has been winning the Premier Calendar, a competition decided by points accrued in a series of races throughout the season, a record five times (1994, 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2002).

Peter Dawson, born in this day in 1982 in Pinjarra, Australia, is a multiple track world champion with five Team Pursuit titles to his name. He has also won stages at the Tour of Tamania, the Tour de Perth, the Tour of the Murray River and the International Cycling Classic.

Fred de Bruyne (born Belgium, 21.10.1930), who died on this day in 1994, was one of the greatest Classics riders of all time. During his professional career, he won Milan-San Remo (1956), Liège–Bastogne–Liège (1956, 1958 and 1959),  the Tour of Flanders (1957), Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (1961) and Paris-Roubaix (1957). He also performed well in stage races, winning Paris-Nice twice (1956 and 1958) and a total of six Tour de France stages in 1954 and 1956.

Tomas Vaitkus was born on this day in Klaipėda, now Lithuania, in 1982. He began his professional career with Landbouwkrediet-Colnago. He would later move to AG2R, then Discovery and in 2008 to Astana. He remained there for two seasons before leaving for RadioShack, the returned to Astana for 2011. At the end of the 2011 season, it was announced that he would race with the new Australian GreenEDGE team in 2012. Vaitkus became Under-23 World Time Trial Champion in 2002, later becoming National Elite Time Trial champ (2003 and 2004) and National Elite Road Race champ (2004 and 2008).

Yvonne Brunen, born in Nunspeet on this day in 1971, became National Road Race Champion of the Netherlands in 1994 and kept the title through 1995 and 1996 before exchanging it for the National Mountain Bike Cross Country Championship in 1997 - and a silver in the National Road Race. In 1998 she won bronze in the National Individual Time Trial Championship, then in 1999 she won bronze in the National Road Race and MTB Cross Country Championships. She won the Flevotour in 2000 and 2002, also winning Stage 2 at the Holland Ladies' Tour in the latter year, then, having won Stage 3b at the RaboSter Zeeuwsche Eilanden in 2003, she retired.

Sheldon Brown
Sheldon Brown, who died from a heart attack on this day in 2008 after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the previous August, was born on the 14th of July 1944, was parts manager at the Harris Cyclery bike shop in Massachusetts. Whilst there, his superb memory and eye for detail allowed him to build up a vast  knowledge of bike components which he would use to create an encyclopedic website in conjunction with his employer. The website grew until it included technical information, workshop advice and tips on modification for (probably) almost every bike and bike component ever manufactured. Brown himself became a world-recognised expert on the subject and wrote several books. His writing on hub gears, especially Sturmey-Archer models, is considered authoritative.

Sheldon Brown, 1944-2008
His greatest contribution to the world of racing was probably his work on developing a method of comparing gear ratios, at its time the only method to take crank length into account. Brown and his colleagues Galen Evans and Osman Isvan  produced a formula that used wheel radius (a), crank length (b), size of front gear ring measured conventionally in teeth (c) and the size of the rear gear also measured conventionally in teeth (d). a over b then gives the radius ratio, which can be termed r. r multiplied by c over d gives a final figure that Brown termed the gain ratio. As an example, Brown uses a fairly standard road bike which, with modern tyres, will have a wheel diameter of 680mm and crank length of 170mm. Therefore, a/b=340/170=2. If the biggest chain ring has 53 teeth and the biggest cassette ring has 19, r a/b=2 x (53/19)=5.58. The advantages of this formula are three-fold. Firstly, it's considerably more simple than some earlier attempts to provide a method able to achieve the same result; secondly, the gain ratio is a pure ratio and as such requires no units to be given - the result will remain the same provided a and b have been measured using the same units and thirdly, it only needs to be done once for any bike unless the chain rings, cassette, wheels or tyres are changed as the gear the bike is in at any one point is irrelevant. If the figures used in the example are accurate, each unit through which the pedals move (eg 20cm) will result in the bike moving that distance x 5.58 forward (111.6cm).

In the final years of his life, Brown suffered serious nerve deterioration as a result of his illness, going back some time before MS was diagnosed and gradually destroying his balance so that he could no longer ride a conventional bike. he continued cycling on a recumbent tricycle until, eventually, he lost the use of his lower limbs.

Brown was universally liked by all who met him, cyclists and the general public, his cheery personality proving infectious. As he neared the end of his life, he wrote:
"Multiple Sclerosis is a nasty, rare, incurable disease, but there are lots of nasty rare incurable diseases out there. As nasty, rare, incurable diseases go, it's one of the better ones. If you must acquire a nasty, rare, incurable disease, MS is one of the best things going!... I think of it as not so much a "tragedy" as a Really Major Inconvenience... Another great thing about MS is that it's guilt free and blame free! Since nobody knows what causes it, nobody thinks it's because you didn't eat your vegtables, or had sex with the wrong person, or took inappropriate drugs, or lived in a place you shouldn't have, or didn't go to the gym as often as you should have!"

Other cyclists born on this day: Robert Lelangue (Belgium, 1940); Ronald Cassidy (Trinidad and Tobago, 1939); Kurt Innes (Canada, 1971); Bruno Castanheira (Portugal, 1977); Choijiljavyn Samand (Mongolia, 1937); Fernando Vera (Chile, 1954); Francisco Pérez (Uruguay, 1934); Josef Genschieder (Austria, 1915, died 1943); Aleksandra Dawidowicz (Poland, 1987); Roberto Breppe (Argentina, 1941); Janka Števková (Slovakia, 1976); Juan Esteban Curuchet (Argentina, 1965); Toshiaki Fushimi (Japan, 1976); Eduard Gritsun (USSR, 1976); Peter Brotherton (Great Britain, 1931); Neil Hoban (Great Britain, 1966); Masahiro Yasuhara (Japan, 1963).

1 comment:

  1. Hi John, thanks a lot for the daily facts, enjoying them each and every time. Btw, one note, Ekimov already got the gold medal from Tyler, look at this: So not deserved!