Saturday 1 March 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 01.03.2014

Gastone Nencini
Gastone Nencini (nicknamed "The Lion of Mugello" after his birthplace, Barberino del Mugello in Tuscany), was born on this day in 1930. He was an example of that rarest of cycling breeds, an ace climber (he won the King of the Mountains at the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in 1957) who could also descend at high speed. Most climbers, due to their typically skeletal figures, lack the physical mass to keep a bike under control while riding fast down a hill - but according to French National Champion and multiple Tour stage winner Raphaël Géminiani, "the only reason to follow Nencini downhill would be if you had a death wish." Roger Rivière, a fast descender and several times a Tour stage winner himself, ignored that advice in 1960 when he tried to follow the Italian down from the Col de Perjuret - shortly after beginning the descent, he hit a low wall, plunged over the side and broke his spine. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Even more unusually for a rider who could climb like he did, Nencini was a chain smoker.

Nencini was the inspiration for one of the first anti-doping drives, set up by official Tour doctor Pierre Dumas after he saw the rider injecting himself with stored blood. He'd learned the technique from Swedish runners, who had apparently been using the technique for several years.

In 1957, the year he won his two King of the Mountains competitions, he also won the Giro outright, beating 2nd place Louison Bobet by 19" and 3rd place Ercole Baldini by almost six minutes. His Tour win came in 1960, when he also finished the Giro in 2nd place overall, beating Graziano Battistini by more than five minutes. Nencini died on the 1st of February in 1980.

Tyler Hamilton
(image credit: Rob Annis CC BY 2.0)
Tyler Hamilton
Tyler Hamilton, who was born on this day in Marblehead, Massachusetts on this day in 1971, became one of the most prominent professional cyclists in the late 1990s and beginning of the 21st Century partly as a result of his association with Lance Armstrong (his subsequent accusations that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs has earned him both enemies and fans), partly due to his own excellent results and largely because of his intelligence, affability and personality. His golden retriever Tugboat, once a frequently-seen and popular character as he waited at the finish line with Hamilton's (now ex-)wife Haven, enjoyed equal popularity and was memorably interviewed on more than one occasion. There is a moving account of the dog's death in Daniel Coyle's Lance Armstrong: Every Second Counts.

Hamilton began cycling whilst still at school, but was more interested in ski racing when he was at university (his BA in economics has been questioned by some authors, most notably David Walsh in From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France, but he can be assumed to have graduated with a reasonable degree of certainty). He also rode mountain bikes, giving up skiing when a mountain bike accident on a ski jump broke two of his vertebrae. He rode his first Tour de France in 1998, working hard for Armstrong in the mountains and time trials.

His palmares in impressive and includes several prestigious victories such as the Danmark Rundt in 1999, Stages 2, 5 and the General Classification at the 2000 Critérium du Dauphiné; Stage 14 and 2nd in the General Classification at the 2002 Giro d'Italia; Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Stage 5 and the General Classification at the Tour de Romandie and Stage 16 at the Tour de France in 2003; an Olympic gold medal; a National Championship and the Tour of Qinghai Lake. He would almost certainly have won many more had he not have spent so much of his career suspended from racing as a result of numerous doping violations.

The first came in 2004, right after his Olympic win when the IOC accused him of doping during the race. However, as his B-sample had been destroyed when an Athens laboratory froze it, he escaped a ban and was permitted to keep the medal. He was less fortunate later in the same year when he was caught out at the Vuelta a Espana: having abandoned the race due to stomach problems, it was announced that a sample given after his Stage 8 time trial win showed a "foreign blood population" - in other words, Hamilton had received a transfusion of somebody else's blood in order to boost his own haematocrit levels, oddly enough the very thing that Gastone Nencini had been seen doing when he inspired one of the Tour's first anti-doping efforts. His team, Phonak, supported him, but withdrew their support after another team member was shown to have used the same technique. Investigation revealed that in April 2004, a hemoglobin to reticulocytes (count of new red blood cells) had registered 132.9. 133 is considered likely evidence of either blood doping or EPO use and results in automatic suspension (a "clean" healthy athlete will register around 90). One year later, he was formally suspended for two years effective from the date of his Vuelta sample. A month later, he mounted an appeal based on accusations that important documents supporting his case had been suppressed/concealed and the bizarre possibility that he might be a chimera, the medical term given to an individual carrying genetically distinct cells from an absorbed zygote with which they shared a womb - the phenomenon popularly known as a "parasitic twin." The appeal was dismissed and Hamilton would later disavow the chimera theory, which appears to have been entirely an invention of his lawyers.

Hamilton with Rock Racing, 2008
(image credit: Richard Masoner CC BY-SA 2.0)
Just three month before his ban was due to expire, his name came up in Operación Puerto when several newspapers published allegations that the investigation had revealed a payment of US$50,000 made by him into an account owned by the notorious Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. Hamilton denied making the payment, stating that he had never received any treatment from Dr. Fuentes and claimed that he had not been contacted by Spanish authorities. He returned to professional cycling at the start of the 2007 season with Tinkoff Credit Systems, soon becoming involved in a messy dispute after the team attempted to renegotiate his contract - and pay him much less than it had originally agreed - in the light of new rumours concerning his alleged doping.  The rider took the team to court, won the case and then won a subsequent appeal. At the time of writing, the case is subject to civil litigation. Unsurprisingly, his contract was not renewed; but he was signed up by Rock Racing.

In April 2009, it was announced that Hamilton had provided another positive sample during the off-season, this time revealing traces of the anti-depressant steroid 5-Dehydroepiandrosterone - a drug of questionable value to the rider, as tests have shown no effect on physical performance except in the case of ageing women. Nevertheless, as a steroid it is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency and, now aged 38, the rider realised his career was likely to be at an end and retired, also revealing that he suffered from depression and had been receiving medical treatment for it for two years. This might have gone in his favour; but it was demonstrated that he was aware that 5-Dehydroepiandrosterone was a banned substance and chose not to inform cycling authorities that he was taking medication. Two months later, he was suspended for eight years.

During his career, Hamilton continued to insist that he was not doping and had never done so. However, in May 2010, he finally came clean and made what is accepted as a full confession during which he also implicated Lance Armstrong. Haven and Hamilton divorced ("amicably," according to both parties) in 2009 and it is reported that he will marry Lindsay Dyan in 2012.

Reg Harris
Reginald Hargreaves Harris, born on this day in 1920 in Bury, Lancashire, became Britain's greatest track cyclist during the 1940s and 1950s with no fewer than four National Amateur Sprint titles (1944, 1945, 1946, 1947), one World Amateur Sprint Championship (1947), a GP de Paris Amateur Sprint win (1946), a professional National Tandem Championship (1948), two silver Olympic medals (1948), one professional European Sprint Championship (1955) and four professional World Sprint Championships (1949, 1950, 1951, 1954)s.

Hargreaves, as he was christened, lost his father at the age of six and took his stepfather's surname when his mother remarried. He left school when he was 14 without any qualifications and was fortunate enough to find an apprenticeship in a car garage, which paid him enough to buy his first bike with which he entered a "roller race" competition organised by Hercules, among the first British bike manufacturers to run a racing team. There is no record of the race to tell us whether he won or not, but that his performance was good enough to earn him an invite to join the Lanacashire Road Club and compete with them suggests he probably did fairly well. He began racing in individual time trials the following year and won his first race, a grass-shortrack event.

Realising that he could make a living from cycling during the summer but would need a source of income during the off-season, Harris found employment at a papermill where he would work for three winters. In 1938, he beat the National Sprint Champion and in 1939 was invited to join the British team that would be competing in the World Championships in Milan. However, shortly after he arrived in Italy and spent some practice time on the famous Velodromo Vigorelli - reputed to be the world's fastest - the Second World War broke out and the team were recalled to Britain.

Harris served as a tank driver in North Africa during the war, being declared unfit and sent home after an injury in 1943. The following year he was racing again and won the first of his National titles, then when the war was over was invited to compete in France where he even impressed the notoriously hard-to-please Parisian crowds. He was unable to compete in the World Championships in 1947 after being left bruised and aching by a heavy-handed masseur. By this time, he was being provided with equipment and (possibly) a salary by Claud Butler, in those days a frame builder of considerable repute rather than a name stuck onto cheap, low quality bikes, but managed to retain his amateur status so that he could be entered into the 1948 Olympics in London. Then, he broke three vertebrae in an on-road training ride, but had recovered in time only to break his elbow in a British race with a few weeks to go before the Games began. Nevertheless, he entered and won his two silver medals.

With the Olympics over, Harris turned professional with a contract from Raleigh and won his first World Championship. He retired in 1957, became the manager of the Fallowfield Stadium which would be renamed in his honour (sadly now demolished and replaced by student accommodation) and worked with Raleigh in a series of business ventures all of which failed. He was, unfortunately, not much of a businessman - after giving up with Raleigh he set himself up producing bikes, but even the cachet his name carried was not enough to prevent the firm going under after just three years. He then did some promotional work with a waterproof coat manufacturer, then found jobs with companies that produced foam rubber.

Harris continued to cycle daily and, in 1971, started racing again. Despite a chronic lack of practice, he won a bronze medal in the National Championships which apparently convinced him that if he trained, there were still a few victories left in his legs - and he was proved right in 1974 when, now aged 54, he won a final British championship. In 1975, he won silver after being beaten by the man he had beaten the year before. He continued to cycle daily until his age made it impossible to do so and died of a stroke on the 22nd of June, 1992. He is buried at St. John's Church in Chelford, Cheshire. The village hosts the start and finish of numerous time trials and other races each year and the church holds an annual Christmas carol service in Harris' memory.

Barney Storey was born in Great Britain on this day in 1977. He and blind team mate Anthony Kappes won two gold medals at the 2008 Paralympics and at the time of writing holds the 200m Tandem World Record - Barney's wife Sarah also won a gold medal in the same Games, competing in the Individual Pursuit. In 2006, they became National Tandem Sprint Champions - the first (and so far only) paralympic team to have done so.

Christian Müller, born in Erfurt, East Germany in 1982, won the German and European Under-23 Individual Time Trial Championship in 2004.

Brian Jolly, winner of the 1965 Tour of Ireland and British Road Race Champion 1973, was born on this day in 1946.

On this day in 2004, the bike component manufacturer SRAM purchased bike brake manufacturer Avid.

Other births: Stefan Nimke (Germany, 1978); Christian Lyte (Great Britain, 1989); Zhang Liang (China, 1983); Choy Yiu Chung (Hong Kong, 1961); Claudio Pérez (Venezuela, 1957); Julio César Herrera (Cuba, 1977); Svein Gaute Hølestøl (Norway, 1971); Mićo Brković (Yugoslavia, 1968).

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