|Louis Trousselier, 1905
67 years later, another Classic took place on this day - the 36th edition of La Flèche Wallonne in 1972. It ran for 249.5km (the longest parcours since 1947) between Verviers and Marcinelle and the winner was the Cannibal himself, Eddy Merckx, who then won Liège-Bastogne-Liège a few days later to become the third man to win the Ardennes Double. In 2003, the 67th edition also fell on this date. That year, it ran over 199.5km between Charleroi and Huy and was won by Igor Astarloa, the first Basque rider to achieve victory in this race. The 72nd edition, which took place in 2008, was the last time that the race fell on this date. It ran again between Charleroi and Huy and used a very similar route, once again measured at 199.5km, and it was won by Kim Kirchen whose career ended two years later when he suffered a heart attack during the Tour de Suisse.
(image credit: Gsl CC BY-SA 2.5)
The Vuelta a Espana has started on this date five times - in 1969, 1970, 1974, 1985 and 1987. The 1969 edition was unusually short at "just" 2,921.4km, which were covered in 18 stages. Frenchman Roger Pingeon won and would have won the Tour de France that year too had it not have been for Eddy Merckx. In fifth place was Michael Wright, the English rider who didn't speak English - soon after Wright's birth in Bishop's Stortford, his father was killed during the Second World War. His mother later remarried to a Belgian soldier and the family relocated to Liège. It took some time for the Belgian love of cycling to take hold, however: he had originally wanted to be a footballer and it was only when his stepfather died that he switched to cycling in order to be able to support his mother and siblings.
1970 was extended to 19 stages and covered 3,568km and Agustín Tamames emerged from nowhere to announce himself as a future great - in his very first Vuelta, he led all the way until the Stage 19b individual time trial where Luis Ocaña took the overall victory. Tamames would win five years later. 1974 was another comparatively short edition, the 19 stages covering 2,987km. The winner was José Manuel Fuente, a highly respected climber who also won in 1972 and took the King of the Mountains four times altogether. Just a year later, still seemingly at the height of his powers, he would be forced to retire with the kidney disease that killed him in 1996.
1987 covered 3,921km in 22 stages. Irishman Sean Kelly, one of the favourites, won two stages, wore the gold race leader's jersey for four and looked very much as though he was going to win his first Grand Tour until he was forced to abandon with a painful boil on his perineum during Stage 19. Laurent Fignon won the stage, but the Colombian Luis Herrera took over the leadership and won the race overall - the first ever Grand Tour victory by a South American rider.
(image credit: Petit Brun CC BY-SA 2.0)
Martin won the National Junior Individual Time Trial title in 2003 and rode with the winning Team Pursuit squad ain the Team Pursuit Championship a year later. He joined Gerolsteiner as a trainee in August 2005, then moved on to Thüringer Energie for the next two seasons during which we won the Under-23 categories at the Thüringen-Rundfahrt (2006 and 2007) and National ITT Championships (2006), results sufficiently impressive to earn him his first full professional contract with Bob Stapleton's legendary Team Highroad for 2008. He remained with the team as it went through the transformation from Team Columbia, Columbia-HTC and HTC-Columbia to HTC-Highroad, the name under which the outfit raced its final season in 2011 before lack of sponsorship brought it to an end.
During his first professional year he won three time trials, then in 2009 he won the time trials at both the Critérium International and Bayern-Rundfahrt and a bronze medal racing at Elite level at the World Time Trial Championship where he finished 2'30.18" behind Fabian Cancellara. He also revealed a talent that is almost unique among time trial specialists - his ability to climb, and climb fast; as was proven when he won the King of the Mountains at Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse and, perhaps most telling of all, 2nd place behind Juan Manuel Gárate in a very tough Stage 20 at the Tour de France which finished at the top of cycling's most feared climb, Mont Ventoux.
|Martin wins the 2011 ITT Championship
(image credit: Mogens Engelund CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cancellara remained a formidable time trial rider, winning the Swiss National Championship in 2011 and while the rest of the year was far from his best the cycling world fully expected him to win back the title in 2012, and excellent form at the Spring Classics made this seem more likely. Meanwhile, Martin had excellent form too, taking second place behind Bradley Wiggins (who had found that once-in-a-career, Tour de France-winning form that most riders never find) at the Volta ao Agarve - and then all bets were called off when both riders were injured early in the 2012 season, Cancellara with a quadruple fractured collarbone from the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Martin with injuries caused during an April training ride when he collided with a car. Martin's recovery was remarkable in its rapidity - by the 23rd of May, just six weeks after the accident, he was able to start the Tour of Belgium and won the Stage 4 time trial and the General Classification. He was a favourite to win the Prologue at the Tour de France but was kept from victory by a mechanical problem, with the honour going instead to Cancellara, then crashed and broke his wrist in Stage 1 but continued until Stage 9, another time trial, where further mechanical problems convinced him that it wasn't to be a good Tour and he abandoned in order to recover for the Olympics. Riding in the Individual Time Trial at the Games, he was once again second behind Wiggins. 2012 was, therefore, a mixed bag, but the season was to end on a highlight: at the World Championships, he rode with the victorious Omega Pharma-QuickStep in the Team Time Trial (which made its return to the Worlds that year after an 18-year absence, and was competed by trade teams rather than national teams as had been the case between 1962 and 1994), then days later he set a blistering time in the Individual Time Trial during which he caught and overtook a stunned Alberto Contador who, incredibly, had left the starting ramp a full two minutes before the German. Martin completed the 42.6km course in 58'38.76"; Taylor Phinney was the only rider to get anywhere near him with +5'37", while third place Vasily Kiryienka was +1'44.99". Following the Championships, Martin went to the Tour of Beijing and enjoyed even more success, winning his first non-time trial stage (Stage 2) for three years and with enough time to give him what proved to be an insurmountable lead in the General Classification.
2013 started well - at the Volta ao Agarve, he won the time trial (Stage 4, the final stage in the race) by 1'07" and thus gained a 58" advantage in the General Classification. His team won the Team Time Trial and he won the Individual Time Trial at Tirreno-Adriatico, then he went on to also win the difficult Individual Time Trial at the Tour of the Basque Country. Cancellara is still a remarkably talented time trial rider, but over the last two seasons he seems to be gradually evolving into a Classics specialist; Martin has already proved himself to be very much a worthy successor.
Other cyclists born on this day: Gintarė Gaivenytė (Lithuania, 1986); Simone Mori (Italy, 1972); Kathy Lynch (New Zealand, 1957); Jack Hartman (USA, 1937); Jure Pavlič (Yugoslavia, 1963); Tore Milsett (Norway, 1944); Paul Nixon (USA, 1914, died 2008); Kenneth Sutherland (Belize, 1943); Aimé Fritz (Germany, 1884, died 1950); Marcel Stäuble (Switzerland, 1961); Charles Hansen (Denmark, 1891); Luigi Magnotti (Italy, 1895, died 1948); Eduardo Bustos (Colombia, 1937).