Monday 10 February 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 10.02.2014

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå
Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå
Born in Bjørheimsbyg on this day in 1973, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå is a Norwegian mountain biker who turned professional in 1995 - having preferred tack running, football and ice skating during childhood, she had started cycling only a few months previously when she was invited to take part in a ride organised by a local club - and came to dominate women's cross country mountain biking worldwide. Her first notable victory came whilst she was still an amateur in 1995 when she won the National Cross Country Championship, then she came fourth in the Cross Country at the Olympics a year later before taking back the National Championship title in 1997. She successfully defended it in 1998, when she also second in the World Championship, and again in 1999, when she was also second in the World Cup and made a move into road racing - where she immediately made her mark with second place at the Sea Otter Classic, Thüringen-Rundfahrt and Tour de Bretagne.

Having had a quiet year in 2000, Dahle Flesjå continued to perform exceptionally well off road and on with another win at the National Cross Country Championship and third place at the National Individual Time Trial Championships, then in 2002 she won both the European and World Cross Country titles followed by the European Championship and World Cup in 2003. However, everything she has achieved prior to 2004 paled into relative insignificance: in that year, she won the National, European and World Cross Country Championships, the Cross Country World Cup, the World MTB Marathon Championship and a gold medal for the Cross Country race at the Olympics. 2005 was every bit as good - she successfully defended all her National, European and World Championship titles and won another World Cup; in 2006 she won the European MTB Marathon Championship, the World MTB Marathon and Cross Country Championships and the World Cup for the fourth consecutive time.

With an admirer, 2012
Despite expectations, she did not retain any of her titles in 2007 and scored only a couple of second and third place finishes - what she had initially believed to be a minor stomach complaint turned out to be a complex viral infection that took some months and a long course of antibiotics to clear and left her unable to train until October. Though still suffering from the infection for much of 2008 she was able to win the World Cross Country and Marathon Championships; she had hoped to perform well at the Olympics too, but a crash three days before the race left her with a broken rib and severe bruising. She took time out in 2009 to give birth to her son Bjørnar, then returned in 2010 to take second place at the European MTB Marathon Championship and tenth at the European Cross Country Championship. In 2011, at the age of 38, she won the European Cross Country title for the sixth time; then for a seventh in 2012; in 2013 - the year she turned 40 years of age, she won the World MTB Marathon Championship, the National MTB XC Championship and two races at Davos in Switzerland and Meribel in France.

Jacky Durand
Jacky Durand
(image credit: Sławek CC-BY-SA 2.0)
The French, as we all know, have not had a winner in their beloved Tour since 1985 when the great Bernard Hinault won his last - and for a nation that has made cycling its national sport, that hurts. However, in the mid and late 1990s it looked for a while as though Jacky Durand would restore their pride.

Durand's career was somewhat sullied by his unfortunate tendency to cheat. He received a one-month ban for doping in the 1996 Tour de la Côte Picarde and was kicked out of the 2002 Tour de France after being caught getting a tow from a team car - several riders claimed to have seen him doing the same in 2001.

Born in Laval in 1967, Durand became known for his aggressive style of riding and ability to attack at any point in a race. However, like many riders with those characteristics, he could be hot-headed and frequently attacked to early, exhausting himself in superhuman solo breakaways that could prove disastrous for his final standing - in fact, he did this so often that Vélo magazine started printing a monthly Jackymeter, recording the number of kilometres he clocked up in solo breaks throughout the year.

Sometimes, it worked - and when it did, he could ride his opponents off the road; as proved to be the case at the 1992 Tour of Flanders when he became the first French winner for 36 years (as an outsider, his success earned him the admiration of the Belgians as well as the French). It also worked in one-day races, such as National Championships, which he won in 1993 and 1994.

Unfortunately, while it meant he could grab the occasional stage here and there in longer races, it was never going to be a wise plan in a three-week Grand Tour. It netted him a few stage wins here and there (Stage 10 in 1994, prologue in 1995 - partly through luck as he'd set out before it started to rain, but he kept the yellow jersey for two days, Stage 8 in 1998), but didn't help him at all in the overall General Classification - he abandoned the race soon after his victory in 1994 and was lanterne rouge in 1999 even though the same year brought the second of his Combativity classification wins that, in the end, proved to be the finest achievement of a rider who was simply too unruly, too wild to threaten the GC contenders. It may have been the worry that he would never be reined in and put to productive use that led to his retirement in 2005 when he received no offers during transfer season.

Naturally, the spectators adored him.

Frederiek Nolf, born on this day 1987 in Kortrijk in Belgium, died on the 5th of February of a heart attack as he slept between Stages 4 and 5 at the Tour of Qatar. Due to his age, suspicions immediately arose that he'd been doping - EPO is frequently linked to heart attacks as it thickens the blood, putting more strain on the heart as it pumps harder in an effort to keep blood flowing around the body. However, no evidence of EPO or any other doping product was ever found and his death is generally assumed to have been caused by an undiagnosed heart defect, a tragically common cause among young athletes who might not have previously exhibited any symptoms due to their high level of fitness. Nolf was a close friend of Wouter Weylandt, who would be killed in a crash at the Giro d'Italia two years later.

Marty Nothstein was an American track (and later, road) cyclist born on this day in 1971 who achieved more than 70 victories during his professional career. His nickname, "The Razor," was frequently attributed to his ability to cut through the pack, but those who followed his career from the early days insist it began due to his tendency to win by razor-thin margins. He retired in 2006 and now competes in drag racing.

Other cyclists born on this day: Nathan Williams (USA, 1988); Kim Eriksen (Denmark, 1964); Nemesio Jiménez (Spain, 1946); Bobby Livingston (USA, 1965); Gaston Alancourt (France, 1888, died 1964); Sergio Tesitore (Uruguay, 1967); Siegfried Denk (Austria, 1951, died 1982); Somkuan Seehapant (Thailand, 1946); Gang Dong-U (South Korea, 1978); Fernando Correa (Venezuela, 1961); Ainārs Ķiksis (Latvia, 1972); Won Chang-Yong (South Korea, 1973); Oleg Grishkin (USSR, 1975).

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