Bernard Sainz, born in Rennes on either this day in 1943 or the first of September (sources vary, and Sainz saw to it that little about his life was certain), began his cycling career when he won a bike in a race on rollers in 1958. Inspired by this success, he joined the UC Créteil, a club based in the Parisian suburbs, where he met, befriended and trained with Pierre Trentin - who would go on to win two gold medals at the 1968 Olympics. In 1964, when he was 21, Sainz won bronze at the National Universities Championships; then his racing career was brought to an early end by a crash during a motorpaced race at Grenoble.
|Poulidor, one of Sainz's first "patients"|
Like the stories of a prehistoric beast living in the Scottish lake, the rumours refused to go away. However, it wasn't until 1986 that Sainz was first arrested as part of an investigation into a doping ring, when he faced accusations that he had supplied amphetamine at a six-day race in Paris; he was cleared of all charges. It wasn't really until 1988, when a previously undistinguished three-year-old racehorse named Soft Machine won an important race after being "prepared" by him, that the authorities really began to take an interest in him. Horse racing at the time was, if anything, even more rife with doping than cycling in the same period; but it never suffered from the same omerta that prevented even those cyclists who wanted to end doping from speaking up and allegations that he'd adminstered illegal drugs to the animal appeared immediately. The horse was subjected to accept that homeopathy has no physical effect and that whatever psychosomatic benefits Poulidor and Guimard derived from his therapy would not have been experienced by an animal incapable of understanding what the process was supposed to achieve, then we must also accept that either Sainz was remarkably fortunate in once again carrying out his treatments before a natural improvement in form or that he did in fact dope the horse, and that the product(s) he used went undetected by the limited techniques available at the time. Sainz says that when he first came to horse racing he was amazed at the long recovery periods afforded to the animals - whereas a cyclist might be expected to ride 200km or more every day for three weeks, sometimes without rest days, the standard in the horse racing world was that a horse rested for eighteen days after each race. He insists that it was his introduction of a more intensive technique combined with the instructions he provided to the jockeys and horses that made the difference, and he may be telling the truth - it's not unknown for an individual to enter a new area, armed with knowledge picked up from another area, and then completely transform it. It is notable, meanwhile, that EPO first emerged in cycling at this time, having been brought into the sport by Dr. Francesco Conconi (who unlike Sainz really is a doctor and a very good - if crooked - one at that), and that there was no test for it until 2000. Could it be, therefore, that this was the knowledge he brought with him, that he had seen the dramatic improvements it made to a cyclist's performance and decided to experiment with administering it to his equine charges? Is he, in fact, the Conconi of horse racing? Whatever really happened, he earned a new nickname - Dr. Mabuse, after the villainous doctor and hypnotist who made his first appearance in a novel by Norbert Jacques and was later made famous by the film director Fritz Lang; he would became better-known by that name than his real one.
Sainz still insists that all the "medicine" and treatment he administered to horses and human athletes was entirely homeopathic, but he now admits that since qualifications in neither homeopathy nor acupuncture are recognised in France he broke the law by practising as and allowing others to believe that he was a doctor. He neither produced any evidence of medical training during his trial nor claimed to be in a position to do so.
A police investigation concluded that he had fainted due to the hot sun and crashed, but his body had been found in the morning before it got hot and as an experienced cyclist and veteran of five Grand Tours, he would have been accustomed to riding in hot weather. Meanwhile, the priest hinted that Bottecchia had been murdered by Fascists: a dangerous thing to say since Mussolini was in power, but could that be why the police had closed the case so rapidly and with such an unlikely verdict?
|Bottecchia with Nicolas Frantz at the 1925 Tour de France|
There is alternative explanation. Years later, a farmer from Pordenone made a deathbed confession that he had killed Bottecchia after finding him stealing grapes from his vineyard. "He'd pushed through the vines and damaged them," he explained. "I threw a rock to scare him, but it hit him. I ran to him and realised who it was. I panicked and dragged him to the roadside and left him. God forgive me!" Where the story falls apart in that Bottecchia was found in Peonis, nearly 60km from Pordenone. Secondly, anyone who has ever picked and tried to eat a grape in mid-June will know that at that time of the year they're small, hard and so bitter as to be almost entirely inedible. Strangely, Bottecchia's brother was murdered in almost the same place two years later.
09.04.1979 - 01.08.2007
Zimbabwean cyclist Timothy Jones, born in Harare on this day in 1975, won a National Time Trial Championship in 1998, then the General Classification at the Giro di Capo later that same year. In 1999 he won the Tour of Slovenia, two years later he rode the Giro d'Italia, his only Grand Tour, and came 73rd overall. Jones was taken on by the Italian Amore & Vita-Forzacore team in 1997 and spent the net ten years with European and US-based outfits, but he never lived up to his early promises and won just one stage at the Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda and a US cyclo cross retirement in the years between his Giro and retirement in 2007.
Sally Zack, born in the USA on this day in 1962, won the National Criterium Championships in 1987 and 1988 and four stages at the Women's Challenge in 1991 - then in 1993, when she seemed to be reach her athletic prime, she gave up cycling to become a champion cross-country skier instead.
Talat Tunçalp was born in Istanbul on this day in 1915, 1917 or 1919 - all three years are listed on official records. He won the National Road Race Championship every year from 1933 (which suggests either that he was born in 1915 or that boys aged as young as 14-16 took part) to 1949, also taking the Sprint Champion title for all but one of those years. He also competed in the Individual Road Race at the Olympics in 1936 and 1948, sharing eighth place the first time around and failing to finish the second. After retiring in 1949 he became president of the Turkish Cycling Federation and held the post until 1969, the same year that he organised and directed the first Tour of Turkey. At the time of writing, he is Turkey's second-oldest Olympian behind Halet Çambel. A retired professional archaeologist and fencer, Çambel is a little under one year older (assuming Tunçalp was born in 1915) and was the first Muslim woman to ever compete in the Games.
|Francesco Gavazzi - one to watch|
Gonzalo Rabuñal, born in Arteixo, Spain on this day in 1980, won the King of the Mountains at the 2010 Tour of the Basque Country. Later that year, he finished the Vuelta a Espana in 30th place.
Other cyclists born on this day: Henri Hoevenaers (Belgium, 1901); Juan Murillo (Venezuela, 1982); Gordon Johnson (Australia, 1946); Wayne Morgan (New Zealand, 1965); Janelle Parks (USA, 1962); Marek Galiński (Poland, 1974); Alfred Reul (Poland, 1909, died 1980); Henri Mouillefarine (France, 1910, died 1994); Kim Gyeong-Suk (South Korea, 1967); Emanuela Menuzzo (Italy, 1956); Ben Duijker (Netherlands, 1903, died 1990).