Monday 13 May 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 13.05.2013

Stefano Garzelli
(image credit: Sebastián García CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Giro d'Italia started on this date five times - 1909 (see below), 1981, 1982, 1995 and 2000. In 1981, the race consisted of 22 stages and covered 3,895km. The winner was Giovanni Battaglin who had also won the amateur version of the race nine years earlier and would go on to win the Vuelta a Espana five months later, one of only three men to have won both races in a single season. The 1982 edition was again 22 stages, but it had grown to 4,010.5km. Bernard Hinault won, then won the Tour de France - the Giro/Tour double being considered a more impressive achievement than the Giro/Vuelta though seven men have achieved it, three of them twice (Hinault became one of them in 1985) and one three times (that, as tends to be the case with unique road racing achievements, being Eddy Merckx).

By 1995, the race had shrunk down to 3,736km but retained the 22 stage format. Marco Pantani had been a favourite but was kept away by injury, which left the unusual spectacle of sprinter and a climber battling one another for victory: Mario Cipollini was the sprinter and Tony Rominger was the climber, and they fought one another tooth and nail but on different stages all the way to the end. In the end, Rominger's secondary ability in the time trials stood him in good stead and he won the race. In 2000 there were 21 stages and a prologue, adding up to 3,676km in total. Stefano Garzelli won with 98h30'14".

The First Giro d'Italia
Luigi Ganna, photographed
shortly after finishing Stage 8
at the first Giro d'Italia
1909 was the very first edition of the Giro d'Italia. Organised like most races of the day to advertise a newspaper (La Gazzetta dello Sport on this case; which like L'Auto, the paper that organised the Tour de France, wanted to out-sell and ideally completely crush a rival title - the difference being that whereas L'Auto's rival Le Vélo was dead and buried within a year of the first Tour, Corriere della Sera sells around 220,000 more copies each day than La Gazzetta.

The race covered 2,445km over eight stages which, despite the daunting prospect of stages an average of 306km in length (the longest was in fact 397km, Stage 1), makes it the shortest edition ever held. Stage racing was a new concept when the Tour started in 1903 and as a result only 60 riders took part - and then only because director Henri Desgrange halved the entry fee and increase the prizes - but six years later the idea was both established and popular with a number of smaller events having sprung up in the intervening years (sadly, none have survived. The Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, first run in 1911, is the world's third oldest stage race), so 123 Italians and four Frenchmen showed up at the start line. Another similarity with the Tour was that the results were decided on points in early editions, rather than on overall elapsed time as is the case today, with the lowest number of points getting the win. Luigi Ganna, born in Induno Olana in 1883, was declared victor with 25 - had it have been decided in the modern manner, his time of 89h48'14" would have seen Giovanni Rossignoli (third place with 40 points) take the honour.

The race started and finished in Milan, the riders setting off on Stage 1 at 02:53 in the morning. Ganna's prize was 5,325 lira, while La Gazzetta editor and race director Eugenio Costamagna was paid the princely sum of 150 lira. La Gazzetta, incidentally, was and still is printed on pink paper - which is why the race leader's jersey, known as the maglia rosa and first adopted in 1931, is pink; just as the Tour de France's maillot jaune is yellow to reflect the yellow paper used by L'Auto.

Marianne Vos - very possibly the greatest
cyclist in the history of the sport
(image credit: Maarten Thys CC BY 3.0)
Marianne Vos
If you've been reading these Daily Cycling Facts and wondering, as I did while writing them, why it is that an apparently smaller number of notable professional professional cyclists were born in May than any other month, here's the reason: when Marianne Vos was born on this day in 1987, she was given the entire month's-worth of talent for several years in either direction.

A native of 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, Vos' father and brother were both keen cyclists and, when she was five, she decided that she'd like to have a go too. Her first bike was too big for her, but even then she refused to give up. By the time she was six she was out training two nights a week. A few years later, she was taken to see the Alpe d'Huez stage of the Tour de France and spent much of her time hanging around the hotels to meet riders - it's tempting to wonder any of them remember the little Dutch girl who asked them for their autograph, now that her career has eclipsed all of theirs. In fact, and with the arguable exception of Eddy Merckx, Vos has now eclipsed all those who came before her; she is quite simply a phenomenal athlete and very welcome to younger fans who missed out on seeing the greats of days gone by, riders such as Hinault, Ancquetil, Burton, Bartali, Coppi and, of course, Merckx himself.

Vos has won all of the most prestigious races in women's road cycling including three World Road Race Championships (2004 Junior Championships, 2006 and 2012 Elite Championships, two European Championships, six National Championships and an Olympic Road Race gold medal in 2012. In addition, she has won two National Time Trial championships (despite claiming not to be very good at time trials), more than 70 stages, 18 criteriums and 30 general classifications. By her 26th birthday, on this day in 2013, her total number of victories in road racing, cyclo cross, track and mountain biking added up to 279. Merckx clocked up 525 by the time he retired shortly before his 33rd birthday; at 26 it's entirely likely that Marianne is just about to enter her best years (it's worth noting that when Merckx was 26, he had won around 40 fewer races than Marianne) - the great Belgian has been asked for his thoughts on her by several journalists and makes it clear that he admires her enormously, perhaps even expecting her to beat his tally sooner or later.

Vos is also known for being one of the most personable professional cyclists around. Highly intelligent and articulate, she regularly talks to fans on Twitter and is as popular among the riders who race against her as she is with her supporters. If you don't already follow women's cycling, Vos is one of many reasons to start doing so - all indications suggest that we have not seen her like in professional cycling before, one who is limited not by her own abilities but by the number of races available to her.

Johnny Hoogerland 
Johnny Hoogerland
(image credit: Thomas Ducroquet
CC BY-SA 3.0)
Born in Yerseke, Netherlands on this day in 1983, Johnny Hoogerland became one of the stars of the 2011 Tour de France for his repeated attacks, five days in the polka dot jersey as leader of the King of the Mountains classification and a horrific crash that could very easily have ended his career.

Nicknamed The Bull of Beveland due to a large tattoo depicting a bull on his arm, Hoogerland came to international attention when he won the Junior Tour of Flanders in 2001 and then followed it up with numerous wins over the next few years, including the tough GP Briek Schotte - a race designed to reveal those riders who can be aid to be Flandriens, the toughest cyclists of them all, of which Schotte is considered to be the definitive example.

Hoogerland - a Flandrien to the core
(unknown copyright, believed public domain due to widespread use)
It was at the 2011 Tour that Hoogerland proved just how tough he is. During Stage 9, as he cycled alongside Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha, an inattentive driver in France Télévisions official car realised he was about to hit a tree. Rather than slamming on the car's brakes - as all drivers at the Tour are trained to do - he swerved right, hitting the two riders. Flecha hit the road hard and received extensive bruising, but Hoogerland was catapulted into a barbed wire fence hard enough to smash a wooden fence post and become entangled in the wire, which tore his shorts to shreds and left him with deep lacerations to his buttocks and legs.

Both men got back on their bikes and finished the stage. Organisers extended the maximum permitted time so that they could do without being disqualified, then jointly awarded them what must have been the most-deserved Combativity Award for many years. Afterwards, Hoogerland was given 33 stitches.

Peter Longbottom
Peter Longbottom, born in Huddersfield on this day in 1959, was one of those cyclists whom were there any justice in this world would have been a household name. Respected among cyclists for his superb tactical mind, he was for many years in high demand among Tour of Britain teams for his ability to re-organise a team "on the road" according to rider performance, terrain, weather, opponents and a host of variable factors; frequently getting it correct and driving his team mates on to victory even when aware that he himself could not win. His skills saw him ride with Chris Boardman, assisting him at the Commonwealth Games, yet he chose never to turn professional and worked a full-time job even during the racing season.

Longbottom retired from competition in 1996 and spent the remaining two years of his life encouraging young people to take up the sport. On the 10th of February 1998, he was hit by a car on the A64 near York, the impact throwing him onto the opposite carriageway where eye-witnesses say he was hit by several vehicles

Gerrit de Vries, born in Oldeberkoop, Netherlands on this day in 1967 (and, so far as we can tell, no relation to Marijn de Vries of AA shared victory in the 1986 Amateur World Team Time Trial Championship. A a professional rider he took part in six editions of the Tour de France, his best result being 34th overall in 1991.

Eugène Van Roosbroeck was born in Antwerp on this day in 1928. At the time of writing, he is the oldest of the three surviving members of the gold medal-winning road race team at the 1948 Olympics.

Nino Schurter, born in Tersnaus, Switzerland on this day in 1986, was World Cross Country Mountain Bike Champion in 2009.

Other cyclists born on this day: David López García (Euskadi, 1981); Tony Gowland (Great Britain, 1965); Fitzgerald Joseph (Belize, 1967); Morten Sæther (Norway, 1959); Marc Blouin (Canada, 1953); Josef Landsberg (Sweden, 1890, died 1964); Domenico Cecchetti (San Marino, 1941); Eugène Van Roosbroeck (Belgium, 1928); Pavel Cherkasov (USSR, 1972); Edoardo Severgnini (Italy, 1904, died 1969); Thomas Harrison (Australia, 1942); Mark Barry (Great Britain, 1964).

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