Wednesday 6 November 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 06.11.2013

Frank Vandenbroucke
Frank Vandenbroucke
Born in Mouscron, Belgium on this day in 1974, Frank Vandenbroucke - known as VDB - was one of the bad boys of professional cycling, but initially a charming and colourful one who was supported by legions of adoring fans. Sadly, that likable personality, along with the enormous talent he demonstrated early in his sporting career, would be destroyed by a succession of emotional and drug problems, and he died a tragic and early death.

Aged four, Frank was hit by a car while riding his bike in the village of Ploegsteert and suffered injuries serious enough to require four operations and to give him problems for the rest of his life, yet his mother remembered years later how he hadn't cried until a doctor cut his beloved cycling shorts in order to be able to examine his leg. As a teenager, he tried athletics and showed talent, winning a regional schoolboy's championship, but cycling remained his true love: in 1989 he received his first racing licence, and won his first race. An unnamed rider, speaking to journalist Philippe van Holle, recalled meeting him during a race soon afterwards (as published originally in ProCycling):
"It must have been when I was about 19 or 20 and went out training with a friend on the Belgian borders. As we spun along, out of nowhere this skinny blond kid was on our back wheel. He looked about 14. He was still there 15 minutes later, so we picked up speed. He just sat there, so we picked up the pace again. It was still no problem for him. I looked over my shoulder and he gave me a half-mocking, half-friendly grin. In the end, we went as hard as we could to try to get rid of him and teach the little brat a lesson, because by now he was getting a bit too cocky for our tastes. But whatever we did, he still hung on. After about an hour, we came into a village called Ploegsteert, at which point he came alongside with real arrogance and said 'OK, I'm back home now, so 'bye. By the way, I'm Frank Vandenbroucke.' Neither of us had ever met a kid like him."
In 1991, Vandenbroucke won the National Novices Championship, in 1992 the National Juniors Championship and two Junior races; then in 1993 the National Junior Madison Championship and three races, which earned him a trainee contract with Lotto-Caloi (Jean-Luc, his uncle, was directeur sportif) for the final part of the season. It was upgraded to a professional contract the following year and he won two more races, including Stage 6 at the Tour Méditerranéen, his most prestigious yet. He started 1995 with Lotto but moved to Mapei-GB early in the season, enjoying his best year to date with seven victories, but then smashed it with 17 victories including the General Classifications at the Tour Méditerranéen and Österreich-Rundfahrt as well as first place at the tough Scheldeprijs Classic in 1996. In 1997 he won the Tour de Luxembourg and entered the Tour de France for the first time, stunning the cycling world with two second place stage finishes (2 and 16). In 1998, he won the Paris-Nice stage race and Gent-Wevelgem, another tough Classic in which riders battle against powerful and, frequently, icy-cold winds blasting in off the North Sea. Now there was no doubt that a major new talent - perhaps, even, the new Eddy Merckx that Belgian fans had hoped for for so long - had arrived. Cofidis, a French team, snapped him up for 1999 with a 30 million Belgian Franc (£340,000; 397,000 Euros; $546,600) salary over three years as the bait.

It was an enormous sum to a 24-year-old, and it would start up the machinery of his downfall and eventual demise. At Cofidis, Vandenbroucke met two riders with whom he shared much in common, the Frenchman Philippe Gaumont and the the Maltese-born British rider David Millar. None of the three knew it, but there were dark days ahead for all three of them - Gaumont would be changed with doping (though the case was dismissed) in 1998 and again, as part of the investigation into the notorious "Dr. Mabuse" Bernard Sainz (who wasn't a doctor but never corrected people who believed him to be one, and was later sentenced to three years' imprisonment for illegally practicing as one), a year later. During the second investigation, in an attempt to save his own skin, Gaumont named names, listing riders he believed or knew to be doping, including Millar who was subsequently banned for two years. Gaumont, who burnt every possible bridge back into cycling with the publication of his Prisonnier du dopage, never returned to the sport and died having spent a month in a coma following a massive heart attack in 2013, when he was 40 - heart attacks at relatively young ages being one side-effect of EPO, which thickens the blood by increasing the number of red cells and in doing so strains the heart. Millar, who sunk into the depths of depression and alcoholism, somehow found the mental strength necessary to drag himself back out; he returned to cycling and enjoyed many successes, becoming a highly respected spokesman for the peloton and an authority on anti-doping, and is popularly considered to have become the most honest man in the sport. Vandenbroucke got on with Gaumont and they became friends; he did not like Millar and would not speak to him. It was Gaumont, Vandebroucke said, who first introduced him to recreational drug use, teaching him how to "trip" by mixing nonbenzodiazepine sleeping aid Zolpidem with alcohol, which is reported to create mild euphoria and hallucinations, and to Sainz. He described how he first took the drug in his autobiography:
"After our daily work-out, training for Calpe, we all met in a hotel room to do something that was entirely usual at Cofidis: drinking beer, listening to music and other things. Gaumont put a pill in my mouth, I asked him what he was doing. "Stilnoct," he said [Stilnoct is a brand name of Zolpidem - JO], "here - have one!" I didn't really see much point in taking a sleeping pill at a party. "No thanks," I told him, "perhaps later, when I go to bed." He laughed. "You innocent," he told me, taking another sip of his drink. "We don't take these to sleep, we take them to hallucinate. Come on, have two and some alcohol, then in a quarter of an hour you'll be tripping. You gotta try it, man!" I hesitated. "C'mon, jump in," he said. It was at that very moment that it all started - the machine was switched on, all because I said yes when faced with the question of whether or not I would take those pills."
That 1999 was the beginning of the end is made even more heartbreaking by it also having been Vandenbroucke's most successful year as a rider - and even more so by it being the year that his first daughter, Cameron, was born. He won nine times in total, including highly prestigious events such as the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (one of the most prestigious of the Classics after the five Monuments), Liège–Bastogne–Liège (which is a Monument and, as the oldest of them, is considered the greatest by some - and his victory, 30" ahead of second-place Michael Boogerd, was simply spectacular) and two stages plus the Points classification at the Vuelta a Espana. He and Cameron's mother, Clotilde Menu, were said to have a difficult relationship and were not married; they broke up that year.

He remained with Cofidis in 2000, but already his results were sliding - he came second in the National Championships, but otherwise could not distinguish himself all season, and his contract was not extended into 2001. Instead, he moved to Lampre-Daikin which probably thought it'd found a bargain, but in April a car in which he was travelling was stopped by police. Driving the car was a certain Bernard Sainz, who was unable to provide the police with insurance documents, so they searched the vehicle - and found what they believed to be a very large amount of illegal doping products. In fact, the drugs were homeopathic remedies (some sources, apparently incorrectly in view of Sainz escaping prosecution, say that they were in fact EPO, morphine and bronchodilator clenbuterol, which would later be the reason for Alberto Contador's ban; Sainz still claims to this day that he only ever supplied homeopathic drugs), but Sainz was by that time under so much suspicion that, after he claimed to have spent the night at Vandenbroucke's home, the property was searched. Small quantities of various drugs were found, which the rider claimed had been prescrived by a veterinary surgeon for his dog (as Cycling News later put it, "there have also been no reports of VDB's dog kicking the bucket after" the drugs were removed for analysis). Sainz, incidentally, claimed to have hardly known the rider; he could not be connected to the drugs at Vandenbroucke's home and was not charged.

Vandenbroucke was dragged in handcuffs to a police station to be questioned, prompting fans to start a petition protesting at what they saw as unnecessarily harsh treatment - among the 2,500 people to sign it was his sworn rival Peter van Petegem; nevertheless, he was given a provisional ban of six months, but found a new contract - with a vastly reduced salary - riding for Domo-Farm Frites in 2002, where he rejoined his old friend Johann Museeuw and manager Patrick Lefevère, both of whom he had met at Mapei. That year, he won the Mere road race in Belgium, but was stopped twice for drink-driving in his sports car. Compounding Vandenbroucke's problems was another unsuitable romantic pairing, to an Italian model named Sarah Pennachi; while the couple seem to have loved one another - and had a daughter, Margaux, in 2001 - friends and family termed the relationship "diabolical," saying that when they were together they fought, but when they were apart became depressed. She frequently left him, returning to Italy; he frequently left her, staying with friends at Eeklo. On one occasion, when they argued on the phone, Vandenbroucke pretended to commit suicide by firing a shotgun into the air.

Lefevère evidently believed that Vandenbroucke could save himself and wanted to give him that chance, because when he started QuickStep-Davitamon in 2003 he offered the troubled rider a place. Incredibly, despite his declining mental health, Vandenbroucke was second at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (another Monument, widely considered the hardest after the brutal Paris-Roubaix). With some justification, he considered second place to be a perfectly adequate result, but Lefevère believed he could have won had he have made the effort. Vandenbroucke walked out, and his second place proved good enough to enable him to secure a new contract with Fassa Bortolo for 2004. Before signing his contract, he asked the team not to pay him unless he won - which can be seen as a desperate attempt to force himself to pull his life back together in order that he could carry on in the sport he loved. It didn't work: after failing to win a single race and not even managing to show up at most of those he was entered for, he was sacked halfway through August. How he managed to persuade the managers of Mr. that he was worth signing up is one of the great unanswered mysteries of cycling, but somehow he did and when he won the 160km Zwevegem race a month later, he secured himself a place on the team for 2005 - even though he finally admitted to police in December 2004 that he had used EPO, steroids, morphine and amphetamines.

Once again, Vandenbroucke missed most of the races for which he was entered in 2005. promoting the team's directeur sportif Hilaire van der Schueren to demand he proved he was still a racing cyclist. When matters did not improve and he failed to keep managers informed of his progress and whereabouts, he was sacked. Also that year, he was sentenced following his 2004 confession, declining his chance to receive a light sentence in return for naming his drug supplier, but the court showed some leniency - presumably due to his obvious addiction problems - and handed him 200 hours of community service. He appealed; another court fined him 250,000 Euros. Even at that point, the promise he'd once shown brought him a contract - he started 2006 with Unibet but left the team - amicably, apparently - in July, then went to Acqua e Sapone a little over a month later. During 2006, Vandenbroucke and Penacchi finally divorced and he returned to live with friends at Eeklo, telling people that he was seeking to build a new, quieter and more peaceful life for himself

Vandenbroucke experienced one of the most bizarre episodes of his life - at an amateur race unaffiliated with either the UCI or the Italian federation, he was recognised by an official. He'd been racing with a licence in the name of Francesco del Ponte, Frank of the Bridge. While he admitted to using the licence and racing with it, claiming that he "needed" to race and was unable to function without it, he was strangely unclear when asked who had made it or suggested the name. "It's inappropriate," he argued. "In Flemish, broucke means pants. I would have called myself Francesco del Pantalone. I don't know who did it and I don't want to know." The photo on the licence depicted Tom Boonen. "I would certainly not have used a photo of Tom," he insisted (it is notable that Boonen was the protege of Vandenbroucke's friend Museuuw, and had already by that point enjoyed all of the successes that Vandenbroucke once seemed destined to win. Could it be, perhaps, that he wished he was Boonen, and wanted to keep quiet rather than be forced to admit it?)

Early in 2007, Vandenbroucke published his autobiography Je ne suis pas Dieu, I'm Not God. It made for worrying reading, leaving no doubt that its author was a man who had experienced a full mental breakdown.
To Stilnoct and amphetamines, I added Valium... Sometimes I didn't sleep a second in five days. I started seeing things, people who didn't exist. Like people hiding around me in the bushes with telephoto lenses. I used to hear them coming, with their combat-shoes; they got out of their bus parked in front of the house. They were coming to arrest me. Shit, my dope! I ran to the bathroom to throw my stock of amphetamines down the toilet and the syringes into the waste bin... Sarah didn't used to see them and tried to get me to understand. But how couldn't she see them, those policemen, dozens of them, and their flashing lights! She must be crazy. But was she making it up: could she see them really?"
In June, four months after the book was published, Vandenbroucke attempted suicide following a year in which he described himself as having been more depressed than ever before. He would later write:
"I went to fetch the most expensive bottle of wine from my cellar, a magnum Château Petrus 1961. I poured it out and I drank a toast to my life. I'd asked the advice of a doctor. Insulin would do it.
I wrote a farewell letter: it knew it was clumsy [lâche] but for me it was the best solution...
"There's no need for an autopsy. I injected 10cc of Actrapid. Please, don't let them open my eyes."
...I was alone. I put on my world champion's jersey, I injected myself and then I went to lie on my bed and I waited to die. I was so happy. No more worries at last... Deliverance at last. It was my mother who found me later that day."
Acqua e Sapone manager Palmiro Masciarelli went to see him in hospital and reported back that he was gravely ill. During the period when he was between Unibet and Acqua e Sapone, then Mitsubishi-Jatarza for the first four months of 2008, he won nothing and was known to be in bad health and, as a result, he could not find a new team for the remainder of 2008, then returned in 2009 with Cinelli-DownUnder. That he won two races that year - Stage 2 (15km ITT) at Les Boucles de l'Artois and Olen - evidence either that he had either backed away from the brink or that he was now using so much doping that his health no longer mattered. That year, on holiday in Senegal, he got drunk and checked into a hotel at 2am on the 12th of October in the company of a Senegalese woman. At 4am, the woman called for a mop and bucket, saying that he had vomited. By 1pm the next day, he had not been seen; by 8pm he was reported as dead. He was 34 years old. Two days later, the Senegalese woman and two other individuals were arrested and charged with stealing two mobile phones and some money from the dead cyclist. One month later, his family requested that no further tests to establish whether he'd been using drugs at the time of his death be carried out.

Vandenbroucke was the son of Jean-Jacques Vandenbroucke, a professional rider with Hertekamp-Magniflex in 1970, and the nephew of Jean-Luc Vandebroucke who was professional between 1975 and 1988 and winner of the GP des Nations in 1980, the Tour de Picardie in 1981, the Tour de l'Aude in 1986 and the prologue of the 1987 Vuelta a Espana. His brother-in-law Sebastian Six was a very successful amateur rider and his cousin Jean-Denis Vandenbroucke was professional between 1996 and 2000.

Hugo Koblet
It was on this day in 1964 that Le Pedaleur de Charme Hugo Koblet died in a car crash that may have been suicide. Koblet's career was enormously successful with eight National Championships and General Classification victories in the Giro d'Italia (1950) and Tour de France (1951). However, he could not resist giving into the playboy lifestyle made possible by his success, remarkably good looks and charm - Victor Godder, directeur of the Tour, called him "the perfect specimen for demonstrating the miraculous power of the human race," no less, and he might have won even more races had it not have been for a number of beautiful women, countless parties and, eventually, debt.

His death, at the wheel of his Alfa-Romeo sports car when he was 39 years old, was witnessed by a man named Emile Isler. Isler claimed he'd see the cyclist driving at 120-140kph along a stretch of road, then drive back in the opposite direction more slowly while looking at the roadside Then, he turned round again, accelerated to high speed and drove directly into a pear tree.

More on Koblet here.

Heiri Suter
Heiri Suter
Not so well known nowadays is Heiri Suter, another Swiss cyclist who became the first man to ever win Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders in a single year in 1923. Born on the 10th of July 1899 at Granichen, Suter was also unofficial world champion in 1922 and 1925 after winning the Grand Prix Wolber (which served as an unofficial World Championships at that time), official Swiss road champion five times during the 1920s and multiple winner of several Classics including the now defunct Züri-Metzgete (six times in ten years) and Paris-Tours (twice) and the first non-Belgian to win the Tour of Flanders. He died on this day, aged 79, in 1978.

Cherise Taylor-Stander
Born in Pretoria on this day in 1989, Cherise Taylor-Stander came second in the Junior National Championships of 2006, then second in the Junior World Championships a year later. In 2008, she won Stage 4 at the Tour of Chongming Island, then won the National Championships at Elite level before signing her first professional contract, with MTN, for 2009.

As is often the case, the shift into professional cycling proved something of a shock and Taylor went for a season without victory, then left the team at the end of the year. In 2010, however, she won another National Championship and was seventh overall at the Tour of New Zealand, bringing an offer of a door into European cycling with a place on the repected Lotto-Belisol team. With them, she performed well at Chongming Island, the Giro Donne and the Holland Ladies Tour, also winning the Individual Time Trials at the National and African Championships that same year. In 2012, after successfully defending her National ITT title, she scored her biggest victory in Europe to date when she won Stage 2 at the Route du France. She had aimed to take a place on South Africa's Olympic team that summer, but was prevented from doing so by the national Olympic federation.

In May 2012, Taylor married elite mountain biker Burry Stander. Less than one year later, on the 3rd of January as he returned to his bikeshop after a training ride, Burry was hit and killed by a taxi.

Urs Freuler
Urs Freuler, born in Bilten, Switzerland on this day in 1958, Urs Freuler was primarily a track rider (he was World Points Champion from 1981-1987 and then again in 1989, National Points Champion in 1981, 1986 and from 1989-1992, European Sprint Champion in 1981, National Individual Pursuit Champion in 1985, World Keirin Champion in 1983 and 1985 and won a total of 21 six-day races) but also performed well in road race sprints, which is why Ti-Raleigh approached him for their Tour de France team when Jaan Raas was unable to compete in 1981 and nobody on the team was able to replace him - the rules at that time permitting teams to take on unsigned riders for a specific race. However, because he was a track rider and would be embarking on a full season of racing that winter, Ti-Raleigh manager Peter Post agreed that Freuler would ride only the flat stages until the race reached the Alps, then would retire. He was with the team when it won the two Team Time Trial stages, then he won Stage 7 too; but he never again rode in the Tour.

He did, however, ride in future editions of the Giro d'Italia, and he did very well indeed, winning Stages 5, 6 and 11 (and Stage 2 at the Tour de Suisse a little later) in 1982; finishing top three four times in 1983 (he won stages at the Giro di Trentini and Giro di Sardegna, plus two at the Tour de Suisse); Stages 2, 7, 8, 11 and the overall Points classification in 1984; Stages 1, 13 and 18 plus second place in the Points classification in 1985; Stage 9 in 1987; Stage 21a in 1988 (and Stage 10 at the Tour de Suisse) and Stages 7 and 11 in 1989 (plus Stages 3a and 5 at the Tour de Romandie and Stage 10 at the Tour de Suisse).

Paul Manning
Born at Sutton Coldfield on this day in 1974, Paul Manning was another rider who performed well on road and track. He seemed to have prefered road early on his career but, when it became apparent that he was going to have his greatest success on track, concentrated on that instead.

Manning's first big victory was at the Duo Normand in 1996, which he rode with Chris Boardman; a year later he won Stage 4b at the Postgirot Open, and in 2000 he won Stages 4 and 6 at the Circuit de Lorraine. That year, he also rode with the British Team Pursuit squad at the Olympics and the World Championships, winning a bronze medal at the first event and a silver at the second - they took another silver at the 2001 World Championships (and Manning won Stage 4b at the Sachsen Tour), a bronze in 2002, then another silver in 2003 (when he became National Individual Pursuit Champion and won Stage 8 at the Herald Sun Tour). In 2004, the British team once again won silver in the Pursuit at the Worlds, but won the gold at the Manchester and Sydney rounds of the World Cup; Manning would win the Individual Pursuit at Sydney and at the Nationals. In 2005 he won the Individual Pursuit at the Manchester round of the World Cup and the team won the gold - then they repeated their success with another gold-winning ride at the World Championships. Still riding road races, Manning was a part of the winning team at the National Team Time Trial Championships and won the Tour of the Peak. A year later, he was with the Pursuit team to win at the Commonwealth Games (where he also won the Individual Pursuit), the Moscow, Manchester and Beijing rounds of the World Cup and at both the National and World Championships, and in 2008 he was there when they won the Team Pursuit at the Copenhagen round of the World Cup, at the World Championships and at the Olympics.

Manning's career is interesting because it coincides with the period during which British track cycling transformed itself from neglected, niche sport to near national obsession status, and turned previously little-known riders into gold medal-winning superstars. Though he retired immediately after the 2008 Olympics, he has continued to contribute to the now enormous success of the British track team, becoming coach of the women's pursuit team - and under his tutelage, they have smashed six world records including at the 2012 Olympics when they won gold, beating the US team in the final by more than five seconds.

Marino Vigna
Marino Vigna. The Vitadello jersey
dates the jersey to 1966 or 1967
Born in Milan on this day in 1938, Marino Vigna was a professional rider between 1961 and 1967. In 1960, he rode with the winning Pursuit team at the Olympics, which were held in Rome that year. Three years later he won Stage 14 in his home province of Lombardy at the Giro d'Italia, and in 1964 he won Stage 2 at the Tour de Romandie. Following retirement from racing, Vigna worked for many years as a coach and later for the Bianchi bike firm, where to this day he still manages relations between the company and the various teams that use its products.

Vigna rode the Giro three times in total, abandoning not long after his stage win in 1963 but returning to finish 73rd in 1965 and 62nd in 1966. He rode Milan-San Remo in 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966 and 1967 (best: 12th, 1965); Paris-Roubaix in 1964 (52nd) and 1965 (40th); Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 1965 (26th) and the Giro di Lombardia in 1967 (12th).

In 2005, Marianne Vos won the Elite European Cyclo Cross Championships on this date.

On this day in 2007, bike component manufacturer SRAM purchased the wheel and component manufacturer ZIPP Speed Weaponry.

More cyclists born on this day: Kārlis Kepke (Russia, 1890); Saleh Al-Qobaissi (Saudi Arabia, 1964); Ernie Crutchlow (Great Britain, 1948); Craig Merren (Cayman Islands, 1966); Severo Hernández (Colombia, 1940); Michal Hrazdíra (Czechoslovakia, 1977); Jerome Steinert (USA, 1883, died 1966); Luca Bramati (Italy, 1968).

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