Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the oldest and - according to some - greatest Classic of them all took place on this day in 1909. Eugène Charlier was the first over the line, but when officials discovered he hadn't finished the race on the same bike he started with his victory was disallowed - rather than being disqualified, as some sources claim, his time was recorded as being the same as that of Victor Fastre (and the next seven men, this being the first time that the race had ended with a bunch sprint) and he was relegated to second place. In third place was Paul Deman, winner four years later of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and then Paris-Roubaix in 1920 and Paris-Tours in 1923.
1936 covered 3,745km in 19 stages, though Stages 15 and 17 were split - 15a was a short road stage, 15b an individual time trial, 17a and 17b were short road stages. Gino Bartali, who had won the Mountains classification the previous year, returned and performed even better to win the Mountains and his first General Classification, leading the race through the final twelve stages and winning two of them. Olimpio Bizzi won Stage 6 at the age of 18 years and 299 days, making him the youngest Giro stage winner ever.
1969 covered 3,851.3km in 22 stages and would be one of the most controversial editions ever due to a sample provided during Stage 16 by Eddy Merckx, found to be positive for N-ethyl-3-phenyl-norbornan-2-amine, a stimulant prescribed under the name Reactivan and still used, though rarely, in medicine today. For reasons that remain unknown, news of the sample and the rider's expulsion from the race was supplied to the press before he and his team management were notified and when he revealed that he had been offered money to throw the race by an un-named Italian rider the day before, suspicions that something nefarious was going on began to pick up speed. Prince Albert of Belgium sent his own aeroplane to bring him home and the government got involved, demanding an investigation from the Italian Foreign Minister. The Italian Federation continued to insist it had acted correctly and, while Merckx was subsequently given the go ahead to ride in that year's Tour de France, which he won, the official reason for his Giro expulsion has never been retracted. Many believe that the Belgian rider would have won but, with him out of the way, Felice Gimondi dominated the remainder of the race and took the overall General Classification. 43 years later, Merckx still says that the stage was such an easy one that he had no reason to resort to cheating, as does appear to be the case when we take his abilities into account, and to this day he insists he is innocent. So does the official who was in charge of the positive sample.
|From left to right: Hinault, Maertens, Merckx and de Vlaeminck|
1985 came during the reign of the man commonly considered the second greatest cyclist after Merckx, Bernard Hinault who won for a third time. Taking third place after the 22 stages and 3,998km was Greg Lemond, who would slay the Badger the following year when he became the first American to win the Tour de France. When Hinault won the Tour later in the year, he won two Grand Tours in a season for the third time. Strangely, when the Giro next started on this date in 1998, winner Marco Pantani took the first step in adding his name to the list too because he also won the Tour that year. 1998 covered 3,868km in 22 stages.
Simon Gerrans, born in Melbourne on this day in 1980, took up cycling after injuring his knee during childhood; the sport having been recommended to him by his neighbour, who was a reasonably successful rider himself - Phil Anderson, the first non-European to wear the maillot jaune at the Tour de France. It soon turned out that he wasn't bad at it either and he was awarded a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport, where he began to develop into a world-class road racer.
(image credit: GreenEDGE)
In 2008, having moved on to Crédit Agricole, he won Stage 15 after sprinting to the finish without challenge from the other surviving two riders of a four-man break that had escaped early in the stage and managed to stay out in front. The next year he joined the legendary Cervelo Test Team, but managers mystified fans by failing to pick him for the Tour squad. However, he did go to the Giro d'Italia, where he won Stage 14 (Cervelo's first Grand Tour stage win), and the Vuelta a Espana where he won Stage 10; thus becoming the first Australian rider to have won a stage at all three Grand Tours. 2010 saw him depart for the new British team Sky, with whom he went back to the Tour. Another crash ended his chances in Stage 8 and left him with a broken arm. He stayed with Sky through 2011 and began to show promise as a Classics rider, taking third at the Amstel Gold, second at the Waalse Pijl and 12th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, then third for Stage 2 at the Tour.
In 2011, it was announced that a new team, GreenEDGE, was being put together and stood a very good chance of being the first Australian team to receive a ProTour licence from the UCI. Gerrans was invited join and did so - which, in 2012, looked to have been a very wise decision. With them, he became National Champion for the first time, won a second Tour Down Under and then added the highlight of his career so far - victory at the legendary Milan-San Remo Monument when he beat Fabian Cancellara.
Unfortunately, what could have been a great career was marred by bad luck and doping. In the 2004 Tour de France he was left in agony after a bad crash and, while he finished the stage, didn't start the next day. In 2007, he provided a sample that was shown to contain unusually high levels of testosterone; leading to his dismissal from Astana a short while later. Things began to fall apart from that point on and he experienced difficulty in finding a new contract once his two-year ban came to an end. In 2010, while on a training ride in Algaida, Mallorca, he accidentally collided with a cat. The resulting crash left him with serious head injuries.
Other cyclists born on this day: Roger de Beukelaer (Belgium, 1951); Roberts Plūme (Latvia, 1897, died 1956); Im Sang-Jo (South Korea, 1930); Pål Henning Hansen (Norway, 1953); Juan Reyes (Cuba, 1944); Wilhelm Rabe (Germany, 1876); Antonio Hernández (Mexico, 1951); Lennie Kristensen (Denmark, 1968); Gustavo Guglielmone (Argentina, 1971).