Monday 18 March 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 18.03.2013

Heiri Suter
The Ronde van Vlaanderen was held on this day in 1923 and 1934. In 1923 it was won for the first time by a rider who wasn't Belgian - Heiri Suter, who would be the only Swiss to stand on the podium until Hugo Koblet came 2nd - and the last Swiss winner for 87 years until Fabian Cancellara's victory in 2010 (see below). Suter finished the 243km parcours in 9h16'15", setting the slowest winning average speed in the history of the race at 26.21kph, but would also win Paris-Roubaix two weeks later and was thus the first man to have won both the races in a single year. Precisely half of the 86 starters finished the event.

1934 was won by Gaston Rebry, who also won Paris-Roubaix two weeks later to become the second man to have repeated Suter's achievement (Romain Gijssels had done it in 1932).

Fabian Cancellara
A common complaint among both fans and historians of cycling is that the modern sport seems to lack the magic and wonder that once surrounded it. A decision on whether it truly has changed or not will have to wait for a few decades or so until we can look back on the current era with the same rose-tinted spectacles with which we look at the 1950s and 1960s, the same sort that fans at the time wore when they no doubt told one another that Simpson and Gaul were perfectly good riders but lacked the panache of Leducq and Maes (either one will do), just as those who were lucky enough to see Leducq and Maes race probably didn't find them as heroic as Defraye and Christophe. However, the story of the young boy who found an old bike in his Italian immigrant parent's Swiss garage and later became the greatest time trial rider in the world more than satisfies the romantic soul that can be found within every cycling fan.

Seconds before claiming the 2010
Time Trial World Championship
(image credit: jjron GFDL 1.2)
Fabian Cancellara was born on this day in 1981 in Wohlen bei Bern, a typically Swiss town where a world-famous 18th Century watermill (now colonised by artists) sits side-by-side with modern concrete tower blocks that, because this is Switzerland, are clean and equipped with lists that both work and don't smell of urine; though it probably wouldn't matter too much if the tower blocks looked as ugly and neglected as the ones in Britain because the stunning natural beauty of the surrounding forests and lakes. He fell in love with cycling the first time he rode that old bike, giving up football there and then, and he revealed his talent almost immediately by dominating junior races.

Before long, he had been invited to join the Junior National Team, where coach Yvan Girard remembers him as having been "head and shoulders above everyone else." He became Junior World Time Trial Champion in 1998 and 1999, came 2nd in the 2000 Under-23 competition and then turned professional with Mapei after spending a very short time as a stagiaire. Team manager Giorgio Squinzi would explain that he'd fast-tracked Cancellara and team mate Filippo Pozzato so they wouldn't have to spend time riding in the Under-23 categories where, he said, doping was an even bigger problem that it was higher up - however, that Girard also claimed the Cancellara was "the future Migual Indurain" reveals his wish to get the young rider straight in at the top level where he could win important races.

Mapei came to an end in 2002, at which point Cancellara moved to Fassa Bortolo and served as lead-out man for Alessandro Pettachi. During his second year with the team, he beat Lance Armstrong in the prologue of the Tour de France, winning the yellow jersey with which Armstrong - having won the previous five Tours - had worn at the start and then keeping for two days. Earlier in the year, he'd come a surprise 4th place at Paris-Roubaix which saw him among the favourites in 2005 when he finished a respectable 8th despite a flat tyre some 46km from the finish line.

(image credit: Fliedermaus CC BY-SA 1.0)
Fassa Bortolo also folded at the end of 2005, at which point Cancellara was offered a contract with CSC;  the team that would become Saxo Bank-Sungard and with which he would spend the next four seasons, during which he first rode alongside the Schleck brothers - he would leave the team with them at the end of 2010 to become a part of Leopard Trek. In his first year with the new team, he also revealed himself as a clever tactician at Paris-Roubaix. With 100km still to go, he accelerated hard on the infamous and highly dangerous pavé of the Trouée d'Arenberg - one of the most challenging sections of any race and a place most riders try to survive rather than attack. The plan worked with a field of seventeen riders battling one another to avoid being left behind. Then, with 17km to go on Le Carrefour de l'Arbre, Vladimir Gusev attacked; but Cancellara stayed with him, the dropped him, then mounted a solo break that saw him gain 30 seconds advantage before entering the last few kilometres which he rode like he had fresh legs at the start of a time trial on a smooth road. Flecha, Ballan, van Petegem and Boonen tried to stop him, but for that last stretch Cancellara was the best rider in the world and nobody could take the victory from him. He was more than a minute ahead of the next rider when he crossed the line, the first Swiss rider to win the race for 83 years.

Since turning professional, Spartacus - his nickname due to his large, muscular physique - has been National Time Trial Champion eight times (2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011), World Time Trial Champion four times (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010) and Olympic Time Trial Champion (2008, also second in the road race). He also won another Paris-Roubaix in 2010, Milan-San Remo in 2008, the Tour de Suisse in 2009, the Tour of Oman and the Tour of Flanders in 2010, a total of six stages at the Tour de France and four at the Vuelta a Espana. In 2011, it looked as though his time trial crown was finally slipping as the German rider Tony Martin launched a concerted onslaught on his reign, but continued good results suggested that his career is far from over, as proved to be the case in 2012 when he won the difficult Strade Bianche - a 190km race that includes some 70km of gravel roads, thus drawing comparisons to the harsh roads of Paris-Roubaix - with a comfortable 42" advantage over second place Maxim Iglinsky; Cancellara had also won in 2008, whereas Iglinsky had won in 2010. He then became popular favourite for Milan-San Remo and looked set to meet fans' expectations with a superb performance descending the Poggio but was ultimately bettered by mere fractions of a second by Simon Gerrans in the final sprint. Nevertheless, his characteristically excellent form left him a favourite for the subsequent classics, especially the Ronde van Vlaanderen; however, a crash and a series of mechanical failures both ruined his prospects at the E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem and turned out to be an omen for the future - more bad luck led to a serious crash at the Ronde and left him with a complex quadruple fracture of the collarbone, an injury that had some experts wondering if his racing days might have reached an early end. Fortunately, he made a full recovery in time for the Tour of his homeland, then he won the prologue at the Tour de France for the fifth time and retained the maillot jaune until the end of Stage 7 (along the way ending René Vietto's claim to be the man to have worn the yellow jersey the most times yet never to have won the Tour) when it passed on to overall winner Bradley Wiggins. Following Stage 11, Cancellara announced via Twitter that he would be withdrawing from the race in order to be with his wife Stefanie as she gave birth to their second child.

He returned to racing at the Olympics, where he was favourite in the Time Trial and considered to be in with a fighting chance in the Road Race. Once again, he was struck with bad luck - a surprisingly amateurish-looking mistake on an easy right-hander bend caused him to crash and, whilst he was able to finish the race, he did so in very visible pain and some 5'53" after winner Alexander Vinokourov for 106th place (only four riders finished within the time limit after him). Having been examined by doctors, he revealed that he had escaped serious injury and would therefore be contesting the Time Trial; he finished in seventh place more than two minutes down on winner Bradley Wiggins and, soon afterwards, announced that he would be ending his season in order to undergo further surgery on his collarbone. The 2013 season, just underway at the time of writing, has got off to a good start with third place at Milan-San Remo and fourth at the Strade Bianche.

(image credit: kei-ai CC BY 2.0)
Cancellara has never been the subject of any serious doping allegation, nor have any of his test results ever been called into doubt. However, in 2009 he became the centre of an unusual and - once the frankly rather ridiculous details emerged - amusing accusations of cheating for many years when an amateur video appeared on YouTube claiming that his bike had an electric motor concealed within the seat tube. The UCI never took the allegation very seriously, but recognised that such a device might be feasible, either at the time or in the near future, and stated that they would look into methods to detect them should there be any suggestion that similar technology was in use. Cancellara, meanwhile, said that the allegation was "so stupid I'm speechless." Absolutely no proof that he - nor any rider - had competed on bikes equipped with the rumoured mechanism was ever found, and after examining videos of races in which the devices had supposedly been used several experts said that in their opinion the acceleration and attacks that the video claimed were made possible by the device would in fact be more likely hampered by the added weight of the motor and batteries.

On the 5th of July 2012, after Stage 5 at the Tour de France, Cancellara put on the maillot jaune for the seventh time - the record for riders who have never won overall.

He is also a regular on Twitter, where Fabianese - his unique version of English - has won him many new fans...
"The earphones i won true an quiz. Forgot to put it in befor.... Good night to all tom. Last training day. Specialguest the sponsors."
"Have found one other art painting.... @StueyOG what you think about my paint i have found in the hotelroom"
"Lenny Kravitz runs.....the man in the black clothing...."
"Ouch... Wardrobe i dont like you...... Just got kissed by an heavy roof piece..."
The man is, without shadow of a doubt, a genius.

Costante Girardengo
Costante Girardengo, who was born Novi Ligure, Italy on this day in 1893, is regarded as one of the greatest Italian cyclists of all time, by some more so that Gino Bartali or even Fausto Coppi. Veteran fans still maintain that he was more popular than Mussolini prior to the Second World War and claim that whereas children in Italy's remote villages could not recognise the fascist dictator when shown a photograph, they all knew Girardengo. His successes were so many and so admired that all express trains passing through his hometown Novi Ligure would stop, a peculiar Italian honour reserved usually for the upper echelons of great statesmen. Had he not been robbed of his best years by the First World War, which broke out just a few years after he turned professional and during which he very nearly died after contracting Spanish 'Flu (he had a battle getting a racing licence afterwards, as his team manager believed that a rider who had been so ill would no longer be competitive), he might well have become known as the greatest road racer of all time.

During the early years of his career, exceptionally long at 24 years, he was nicknamed "The Ligure Runt" on account of his diminutive stature. Later, he became "Campionissimo," the champion of champions, and had a range of motorbikes named after him. Born on the 18th of March in 1893, his first major win was in 1913 when be became National Champion, a title he would retain for two years, then hold again from 1919 through to 1925.

As was commonly the case in his time, due to the difficulties involved in foreign travel, most of Girardrengo's wins were in his own country. He competed in the Tour de France just once, in 1914 when he was involved in numerous crashes during Stages 5 and 6 and abandoned the race. His record at home, meanwhile, was spectacular overall even though he had bad years as well as good in the Giro d'Italia - that same year, he won the longest stage the race has ever seen, 430km from Lucca to Rome. Racing came to a halt during the war, but he returned in 1918 and won Milan-San Remo - the first of six occasions that he claimed that victory, a record that would remain unbroken until Eddy Merckx topped it five decades later.

All in all, he would win the Giro d'Italia twice, Milan-Torino five times, Milan-San Remo six times, the Giro dell'Emilia five times, the Giro di Lombardia three times, the Giro del Piemonte three times, the Giro del Veneto four times. He began racing professionally with the Maino team, remaining with them for a year before riding with a number of other outfits over the next eleven years and then returning to them for 1923, his best year when he won 15 major races. He then went to Wolsit-Pirelli for three years from 1925, returning to Maino from 1928 to his retirement in 1936. Afterwards, he stayed on as the team's coach; later performing the same role for the Italian national team and coaching Gino Bartali to his 1938 Tour de France win. Girardengo died on the 9th of February, 1978.

Miguel Poblet
Miguel Poblet, born in Barcelona on this day in 1928, has two impressive "firsts" to his name - he was the first Spanish rider to wear the yellow jersey of the Tour de France and the first rider in the world (and is still one of only three) to win stages in all three Grand Tours in a single season.

Poblet first wore the yellow jersey some eleven years into his career, having been fortunate enough to have been sponsored by his father's bike shop from the age of 16, after winning Stage 1 in 1955. He lost it the next day to Wout Wagtmans, but also won the final stage. In 1956, he won Stages 5, 10, 16 and 18 at the Giro d'Italia, then Stage 8 at the Tour de France and Stages 3, 5, 6 at the Vuelta a Espana.

The secret to Poblet's success was firstly his explosive sprint and secondly his extremely detailed preparation. The Spanish had long been known for producing talented climbers, but Poblet was small in stature yet very strong - a similar build to today's Mark Cavendish and which offers two advantages: he had the power to accelerate away from the pack as the finish line drew within sight and there was no shelter behind him for anyone hoping to get into his slipstream for the final few metres (unlike Cavendish, he could also hold his own in the mountains). His preparation for the 1957 Milan-San Remo went far beyond the standards of the day: he scrutinised maps of the parcours, then created a training course that matched it a closely as possible with a large climb of roughly equal height and gradient to Milan-San Remo's Passo del Turchino, in those days the section that frequently decided the outcome of the race in those days, followed by a series of smaller climbs. However, he almost didn't get to enter - early in the year, he was told that his Faema-Guerra team would not be competing. Fortunately, Ignis offered him a contract, and he both won the race for them and remained faithful to them for the rest of his career.

In 1958, he finished Paris-Roubaix in second place, thus becoming the first Spaniard to achieved a podium place in the race's 62 year history. He would be the last Spaniard to do so for 47 years, too, until Juan-Antonio Flecha - who was born on Argentina but took Spanish citizenship - finished in 3rd place in 2005.

Rudi Altig
The German rider Rudi Altig, born on this day in Mannheim in 1937, began as a track rider, frequently pairing up with his older brother Willi to compete in madisons, and in 1956 took part with a rider named Hans Jaroszewicz at an event held at the famous Herne Hill velodrome in London. Race promoter Jim Wallace, who had taken a risk booking the riders at a time when German nationals - even those who had been young children during the Second World War - could expect a frosty reception from the British public. He remembered, " They just about slaughtered a top-class field of international riders, with all our best home lads. Only Michel Rousseau, later that year to become world sprint champion, was able to take a points sprint from them. That was in the first sprint, too; thereafter the German pair gained not only every sprint for points but every prime as well." One year later, Altig became National Sprint Champion.

Rudi Altig at Paris-Roubaix - one of the iconic images of
the race
(image credit: CardiffGP)
In 1960, he turned professional. Jim Wallace saw his first races afterwards and was again impressed: "No man ever settled down better or quicker to a pro career than the able Altig. In the hurly-burly world of indoor track racing. Rudi never seemed a novice. Settling down at once, tearing strips off established stars, he soon started to fill indoor tracks which had long forgotten the welcome sight of a 'house full' sign." That year and the next, the rider became World Sprint Champion.

Altig says that he became a track rider because that's where the money was, but Raphaël Géminiani persuaded him to give road racing a go - at first by convincing him that it would be a way to increase his fame and thus put himself in a position to charge higher fees to appear at track meets. In 1962, he wore the yellow jersey of the Tour de France for five days, won Stages 1, 3 and 17 and the overall Points classification. Later the same year, he won Stages 2, 7 and 15 and the overall General Classification at the Vuelta a Espana - convincing him that his future was on the road, as proved to be the case in 1966 when he won the World Championships. That year he would also win Stages 1, 12 and 22b at the Tour and Stages 7 and 11 at the Giro d'Italia.

At the time of writing, Altig is in his mid-70s but still has the look of a professional cyclist - he has not, as many do, continued eating like a professional and thus developed the well-padded look of Eddy Merckx and others. He also retains a keen interest in the sport and can frequently be seen around the Grand Tours for which he acts as a commentator for German television and often gives his insights into the races for networks from other nations.

Eddie Borysewicz
Many writers have claimed that Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer and Floyd Landis were responsible for making the American public fall in love with road cycling, but they merely took advantage of the work already done by Eddie Borysewicz (known as Eddie B due to the difficulties many Americans have in pronouncing his surname), the man who made it possible for the US team to win nine gold medals at the 1984 Olympics - their first for 72 years. What's even more remarkable is that he did this despite being unable to speak English beyond a few basic words when he started.

(image credit: Angela 1999
CC BY-SA 3.0)
Borysewicz was born on this day in 1939 in a part of Poland that is now a part of Belarus and showed athletic prowess as a runner during childhood before switching to cycling and winning two National Junior Champion titles before he completed his obligatory national military service, during which time he was prevented from joining one of the army's specialist sports battalions as his father was suspected of not supporting Communism. He would be diagnosed with tuberculosis after leaving the army, but then won another two National Championships. As such an achievement would suggest, the diagnosis had been wrong - however, the treatment he received for the disease left him with permanent liver damage and forced him to give up competition.

Instead, he studied at the University of Warsaw and gained a degree in physical education, later finding new employment as coach to the Polish national team and helped them win more than 30 national and world championships in a range of disciplines. His first experience of North American cycling came in 1976 when he attended the Montreal Olympics with the team and struck up a friendship with members of the North Jersey Bicycle Club, and it when he happened to wear one of their jerseys while visiting a bike shop one day that he found himself in conversation with Mike Fraysse - the man in charge of the US Cycling Federation's competition committee. At that time, sports organisations in the USA were benefiting enormously from an injection of funds made available by the famously communism-phobic President Jimmy Carter and Fraysse realised that by highlighting Borysewicz's considerable knowledge of Eastern Bloc sports politics, the government would facilitate his immigration - and American cycling would also benefit from his considerable skills as a coach.

When he got there in 1978, he started a training school in California. With cycling then almost a forgotten sport in the US, he had to literally start from the ground up: "When I started, there was nothing. No office, nothing. I was the first guy, who don't speak English. I have only a telephone and have even to buy a desk," he would later say. He then set about informing the entire team - with one exception - that they were too fat, informing that America was a land of fat people, then dismissed several of the team's star riders whom be believed were too obsessed with their own celebrity as part of an effort to introduce the remaining members to the idea that cycle races are won by teams rather than individuals. This, understandably, did not make him popular; but did help to assert the authority that might otherwise have been lost due to the fact that the only interpreter available to him was the 12-year-old son of a friend. However, the newly hardened team began to get results almost immediately - with his help, first Sue Novara and then Connie Capenter won World Championship silver medals. He also saw promise in one junior rider who would become a sort of special project. That rider's name was Greg Lemond.

The rest is history. In 1987, with his methods still resulting in accusations that he failed to understand the mindset and ethics of American riders, he simply resigned and started his own team - this time, working with amateurs who were hungry for success and didn't expect respect to be handed to them on a silver plate. Within a few years, he had developed the team to a state where it could field professional riders and secured new sponsorship from the US Postal Service and, later, the Discovery Channel - the team that became the home of Lance Armstrong and with which he won seven Tours de France.

Following the 1984 Olympics, suspicions arose that the US team had received what French coach Daniel Morelon termed "extremely elaborate" preparation - an investigation revealed that at least seven athletes had received blood transfusions to increase their red blood cell populations, thus boosting their blood's ability to transport oxygen to the muscles, and four of those athletes had won medals. It's important to realise that at the time, blood transfusions were strongly discouraged by the IOC for reasons of athlete's health as well as in the interest of fair competition, but were not banned: Fraysse said, "we've been looking into this stuff for years and years and years. We weren't gonna fall behind the Russians or East Germans any more." Borysewicz claimed to have no knowledge that the transfusions had taken place and the investigation found no reason to suggest he'd had any part in or knowledge of a make-shift clinic set up in a hotel room at the Games by Ed Burke, a retired professional hammer thrower and US flag bearer at the event, but believed evidence that he had suggested transfusions to his athletes and he was fined one month's salary.

Jayne Parsons was born on Lower Hutt, New Zealand on this day in 1962. She won a bronze medal in the Tandem Time Trial event at the 2008 Paralympics with her sighted pilot Annaliisa Farrell.

Vincent Barteau, born in Caen on this day in 1962, won no stages in the 1984 Tour de France, but after a multi-rider breakaway in Stage 5 he wore the race leader's yellow jersey for no less than twelve days. He could not hold up against the onslaught that Laurent Fignon and Bernard Hinault launched upon the race as they battled with one another for victory, however, and finished 28th overall - just over an hour behind eventual winner Fignon. His proudest moment came in 1989 when he won Stage 13 - on Bastille Day, which to the French is the next best thing to an overall General Classification win.

Phil Griffiths, a British rider born on this day in 1949, won the season-long Best British All-Rounder Award in 1971, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1979; thus making him the fourth most successful rider in the history of the competion after Ian Cammish (9 wins) Kevin Dawson (11 wins) and Beryl Burton (24 wins).

Albert van Vlierberghe was born in Belsele on this day in 1942. The Belgian professional rider - who won three stages in the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia - scored a controversial sixth place result after one stage of the 1979 Deutschland Tour, during which Willy Voets claimed that he gave the rider a lift in his car so as to avoid a hilly section. Since Vlierberghe died on the 20th of December 1991, we will probably never know for certain whether or not this really happened and personal opinions on it depend entirely upon personal opinions on Voet's ability to tell the truth.

Other cyclists born on this day: Arie van Vliet (Netherlands, 1916, died 2001); Henk Ooms (Netherlands, 1916, died 1993); Hector Edwards (Barbados, 1949); Henri Mveh (Cameroon, 1951); Luis Zubero (Spain, 1948); Jim Copeland (USA, 1962); Fritz Siegenthaler (Switzerland, 1929); Brendan McKeown (Great Britain, 1944); Ferrer Dertonio (Brazil, 1897); Leif Hansson (Sweden, 1946); Stefano Allocchio (Italy, 1962).

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