(image credit: Outematic CC BY-SA 2.5)
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.
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|
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)
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.
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, 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|
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).