|Luis Ocaña (image c/o Granny Gear Blog)|
Ocaña entered his fifth Grand Tour with Bic, the 1970 Vuelta a Espana, and spent much of the race locking horns with Agustín Tamames of Werner. He won the prologue, then set about making sure the yellow jersey (nowadays, the leader of the Vuelta wears a red jersey - but that's only been the case since 2010. From 1998, it was gold; from 1955-1997 it was yellow and it had varied between white, orange and white with a red stripe before that) remained his. In Stage 13, Tamames took it; those who had followed their careers knew that Ocaña was likely to have little difficulty in getting it back when the race reached Bilbao for the the final stage, a time trial, and they were right - Ocaña screamed around the parcours and beat Tamames by 1'28". The race - the only Vuelta he won - was his, and the Spanish press called him "the best time-trialist that Spanish cycling has ever had, and the best cyclist of the moment." They, meanwhile, were wrong; because a rider from the other end of Europe, one who had already won two Grand Tours and was about to win another, and stood on the very cusp of revealing himself to be the most phenomenally talented rider cycling has ever known.
Had the pinnacle of his career come just a few years earlier or later, and had he have had just a little more luck, Ocaña would almost certainly have earned himself a place among the greatest ever Tour champions with three and possibly more victories. As it happened, he faced an insurmountable hurdle - Eddy Merckx. Merckx had sufficient respect for Ocaña for the two to become rivals (very few riders were that good, most were just people that Merckx saw briefly at the start of a race) and on a good day, the Spaniard was even capable of gaining the upper hand; but Merckx was simply in a different category to anything the cycling world had ever seen before. At the 1970 Tour, Ocaña performed exceptionally well and won a superb Stage 17 victory on the 1,464m Puy de Dôme, the Massif Central volcano that hosted some of the most dramatic moments in Tour history and is still missed since the roads were declared too narrow for future use after 1988; but Merckx, who was so powerful that he could set his sights on stage wins and General Classifications, won eight stages and overall.
|Col de Menté, 1971 - the crash that could so|
easily have killed Ocaña
The next year Ocaña won the Dauphiné (and a second National Championship), but once Merckx announced that he would ride (he originally said he wouldn't, because he'd already won three times and he wanted to concentrate on winning a third Giro and a first Vuelta, but then changed his mind and dropped the Vuelta after hearing claims that he wouldn't have won in 1971 had it not have been for Ocaña's misfortune) it was the Belgian who was favourite. Ocaña attacked again and again, then abandoned with bronchitis in the Pyrenees. In 1973, Merckx stuck to his plans and stayed away from the Tour, but since Ocaña had only finished one of the four Tours he'd previously entered Raymond Poulidor, José Manuel Fuente and Zoetemelk were the favourites (not least of all because Merckx said they were). The race didn't get off to a promising start: he crashed in the prologue when a dog ran out of the crowd and into the peloton, but during Stage 3 when the Tour made one of its periodic visits to Roubaix to pay homage to the Hell of the North he gathered four of his Bic team mates, recruited six other riders from other teams and set off in a break that, for a while, had an advantage of five minutes. By the end of the stage the peloton had reduced it to around two and a half, but what really mattered was that Fuente was a full seven minutes down. Poulidor and Zoetemalk were closer, but all the same - one down, two to go.
Ocaña was always a good climber and had proved that the mountains were the one place where he surpassed Merckx, so it was there that he began his campaign, starting with Stage 5 but concentrating on gaining time rather than winning the stage; Walter Godefroot took the top step on the podium that day. He did the same on Stage 6, where Jean-Pierre Danguillaume won. Stage 7 was split into two sections, the first 86.5km and the second 150.5km. Ocaña won the first and took the yellow jersey, but then Bernard Thévenet won the second and, all of a sudden, Ocaña had three rivals for the General Classification again; but on Stage 8 he attacked on the Col du Télégraphe, led the race over the Galibier and won the stage, finishing up with an advantage of nine minutes over Fuente, ten over Thévenet and a crushing 23 over Zoetemelk. As far as many people are concerned, he'd already won by this point. However, cycling is a strange, unpredictable and dangerous sport, something that Ocaña understood very well after the 1972 crash and he knew he couldn't rest on his laurels - especially as Fuente was promising to get his revenge in the Pyrenees, which are a very different range of mountains to the Alps. On his side was the fact that there were still three individual time trials to go, two of which he won. Another two mountain stage victories, one of them on his old friend the Puy de Dôme, sealed the deal and his Tour was won. It's a great shame, and indication of how cruel cycling can be, that he was never allowed to forget that he'd done it in the year that Merckx stayed away. Sadly, it's also true that he probably wouldn't have won had it have been otherwise. He didn't ride the Tour in 1974 due to an injury, then returned in 1975 but abandoned in Stage 13. In 1976 he was 14th, then the following year 25th. Realising that he was fading, he retired.
|The memorial (image c/o Lost Boys 2010)|
Born in Perth on this day in 1989, Josie Tomic is one of Australian cycling's great natural talents - having taken up road racing at the age of 14, she was riding for her country at the Oceania Championships only a year later. That same year, she became National Under-17 Pursuit Champion, won the New Zealand Oceania Tour and took bronze medals in the National U-17 Road Race and Time Trial finals.
|Rasmussen has also ridden for SaxoBank|
On the 15th of September 2011, news broke that Rasmussen had failed to supply anti-doping officials with correct details of his whereabouts; as a result missing a test. His road race team, HTC-Highroad, was then informed that he had missed two others during the preceding eighteen months which, under WADA rules, is punishable by a two-year suspension. The team (which for many years had been famous for its anti-doping policies, which went beyond what was legally required) suspended him immediately, then he was deselected from the Danish World Championships and warned that he was likely to face legal prosecution. Highroad was at the time going through financial problems (ironically because sponsors had pulled out due to not wishing to be associated with what they saw as a "druggy sport" and which would ultimately cause the team to close at the end of the year), which had led manager Bob Stapleton to inform his riders that they might want to look for new teams during transfer season - Rasmussen had done so and been offered a contract with Garmin-Cervelo. That contract was torn up.
However, the Union Cyclist International failed to notify the rider that he'd missed a test until ten weeks after the incident; by their own rules and those of WADA, they must do so within fourteen days. As a result, Rasmussen was cleared and Garmin, who became Garmin-Barracuda for the 2012 season, once again signed him up - but then the UCI successfully appealed to the Court for Arbitration in Sport and, in April that year, Rasmussen was banned for 18 months and was sacked from the team. The ban was backdated, meaning that he became free to seek a new contract in April 2013; in late March it was announced that his old team, now renamed Garmin-Sharp, had made him an offer and that he would be returning to them. On the 22nd of May he achieved his first post-suspension victory when he won Stage 1 at the Bayern Rundfahrt.
|Geslin at the 2008 Vuelta a Espana|
Many of the true greats from cycling history are notable in that they excel in two or more areas, for an example an ability to both climb and descend, sprint and time trial, win on the flat stages and in the hills; this being why ultra-specialised riders such as Mark Cavenish will never win a Tour and why some riders win Tours - like Charly Gaul, who descended as well as he climbed and also had an ability (natural, though undoubtedly helped by vast amounts of amphetamines) to withstand pain and suffering far in excess of most human beings - but are greater than others who have won Tours and why a tiny minority of riders who are so phenomenally good at everything, a category into which at present perhaps only Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Marianne Vos can be placed, are the greatest of them all. Geslin had a near unique bonus power to his skills in the sprint, and that was that he could also climb: as he proved by winning the Trophée des Grimpeurs in 2007 and the tough Brabantse Pijl with its repeated slogs up high-gradient hills in 2009. For that reason, it seems strange that Geslin did not achieve a great deal more.
An Van Rie, who was born in Menen on this day in 1974, was Belgian Time Trial Champion in 2006, 2007 and 2008. She also rode well in criterium races with numerous victories over the same time period, during which she rode first with Lotto-Belisol, then AA Drink-Leontien.nl and finally Vrienden van het Platteland.
Sinead Emily Miller was born in South Park, Pennsylvania on this day in 1990, began racing BMX when she was five years old and rose to the top levels of the sport during pre-teen childhood, earning a place on a series of professional teams. Aged 10, she took up road cycling and soon discovered that she enjoyed it, then soon afterwards that she was very good at it, so she entered some races, winning the National Junior Criterium Championship in 2004. It would be the first of many; as a result she was selected to ride for the US team at the Junior Championships in 2006 and 2007. Currently, Miller is studying at Marian University in Indianapolis, where she rides for the cycling team and has attained several good results so far in 2012.
Other cyclists born on this day: Petr Bucháček (Czechoslovakia, 1948); Ilya Chernyshov (USSR, 1985); Gonzalo García (Argentina, 1976); Paul Espeit (France, 1878, died 1960); János Juszkó (Hungary, 1939); Skip Cutting (USA, 1946).