Alfonsina Strada and the 1924 Giro d'Italia
16.03.1891 - 13.09.1959
Her name was Alfonsina Strada, nee Morini, and she was born on this day in 1891, but she entered under the name Alfonsin so that organisers thought she was a man until it was too late; because in those days, despite the fine work done by the Suffragettes in other nations who had taken the bicycle to heart, women in conservative, Catholic Italy were not supposed to take part on bike races. Though stories of her early life have probably been somewhat embellished over the years, many state that she faced severe opposition when she began cycling and villagers would cross themselves as she rode by, leading to her nickname Devil in a Dress. Her mother apparently did all she could to persuade her to give up cycling and learn to sew, but her father - who deserves as much praise as she does - seems to have thought differently, and when she was ten years old he bought her a bike of her own for the princely sum of ten chickens. Three years later, she won her first race. The prize was a pig.
In 1915, she married Luigi Strada. Luigi was a cyclist himself and he gave her a racing bike as a wedding gift before they moved to Milan and she began a successful career on track, which accounts for her performance being considerably better than anyone expected at the Giro. She finished the first stage an hour after the winner, which in those days was considered a reasonably close result, but misfortune struck later on when her handlebars snapped in a crash during a stormy 304km stage. A peasant (perhaps realising that Strada came from the same background) cut off a length of broom handle and pushed into the half still attached to the bike, thus permitting her to carry on. Nevertheless, she was unable to finish within the time limit.
Race directors were then faced with a problem - the rules stated that Strada could not continue to ride. However, by now she'd become enormously popular with the public, many of whom would turn out simply to see her - and they cheered her, rather than crossed themselves. There appears to have also been an unspoken desire among some organisers to thumb their noses at the Fascists who had taken advantage of Nationalist discontent following the First World War to win the elections that had taken place just a month before the race began - according to Fascist ideology, the male must be the athletic hero and the female the home-maker: they did not like Strada one bit.
|Alfonsina Strada, who may have had "the most remarkable
life in the history of cycling"
She was, of course, never able to again enter the Giro; but she rode many other races over the years and earned the friendship of some of the greatest names in cycling including Costante Girardengo, who is said to have had an enormous respect for her. In 1938 she set an Hour Record for female riders when she covered 32.8km, a record that stood until 1955. When she retired the couple opened a bike shop in Milan, which Strada ran alone for four years after her husband's death in 1946 until she remarried in 1950. With her new husband - Carlo Messori, also a retired cyclist - she began working on an autobiography, but when he died in 1957 she never finished it. She continued to run the shop for a while, but closed it when she could no longer ride there each day and bought herself a 500cc Moto Guzzi motorbike, which she would ride to and from cycling events - just as she did to the 1959 Tre Valli Varesine. When she got home, she put the motorbike into the garage and it toppled over. She suffered a heart attack as she tried to lift it, thus bringing to an end what may have been the most remarkable life in the history of cycling.
(image credit: James F. Perry CC BY-SA 3.0)
Susanne Ljungskog, born in Halmstad, Sweden on this day in 1976, won both the National Time Trial and Road Race titles in 1994 then won the the latter again in 1996 and 1997, also becoming European Under-23 Champion in 1998 and World Champion in 2002. She kept the title in 2003, also winning back both the National titles the same year and the next. In 2005 she relinquished her hold on the Time Trial Championship but kept the Road Race Championship, then won both again in 2006. She also rode in no fewer than four Olympics (1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008).
Along the way she won the Primavera Rosa and Tour de Suisse Féminin in 2001; the Giro della Toscana Internationale Femminile in 2002; the Holland Ladies' Tour in 2003; another Giro della Toscana and the GP Castilla y Leon in 2005; a second Holland Ladies' Tour in 2006; the Emakumeen Bira in 2007 and the Tour de l'Aude Cycliste Féminin and Chrono des Herbiers in 2008. In 2009 she had to settle for a silver medal in the National Championships and retired in 2010.
Pascal Richard has been Swiss Hill Climb Champion four times (1986, 1987, 1989 and 1991), National Cyclo Cross Champion three times (1985, 1986 and 1989), National Road Race Champion twice (1989 and 1993) and World Cyclo Cross Champion once (1998). He won Stage 16 at the Tour de France in 1989 - the first time he entered - and Stage 12 in 1996; the overall Mountains Classification and Stage 21 at the 1994 Giro d'Italia, then Stages 13 and 19 the next year and Stage 14 the year after that. In 1993 he won the Tour de Romandie in 1993 and 1994, the Giro di Lombardia in 1993, Liège–Bastogne–Liège in 1996 and numerous other races over the course of his fifteen professional seasons. Oh - and a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics. He was born in Vevey on this day in 1964.
Andrey Mizurov, who born on this day in 1973 in Karaganda, Soviet Union, now Kazakhstan, was National Road Race Champion in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2011; National Time Trial Champion in 2002, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and won the Tour of Qinghai Lake in 2009.
Scott Sunderland is an Australian track cyclist born in Busselton on this day in 1988. Despite being 22 years younger, he is sometimes confused with the retired cyclist (now team manager) Scott Sunderland who was born in Inverell (also in Australia) in 1966.
(image credit: Eric Houdas CC BY-SA 3.0)
Doctors in Mortigny suspected he'd picked up an infection but after administering a series of tests, could find no trace of one. So, the rider was transferred to the main hospital in Lausanne, where two doctors noticed what looked like the symptoms of perfluorocarbon poisoning - an organofluorine compound that at the time was the subject of whispered exchanges among Swiss cyclists who believed it might be a sort of synthetic blood able to transport oxygen to muscle tissue far more efficiently than natural blood. Unfortunately, cyclists at the time being apparently willing to inject or swallow just about anything with little regard for the possible consequences, they seemed to think that PFCs were simply a new form of EPO which, for all the heart attacks connected to it, is relatively safe in comparison. Gianetti would spend ten days in intensive care, and to this day very few tests have been carried out to establish what effects the chemical might have on human health. He has never admitted to taking the PFCs but his experience seems to have persuaded others not to use it.
In retirement, Gianetti became involved in team administration and was manager of Geox-TMC in 2011, until main sponsor Geox - an Italian manufacturer of shoes - suddenly withdrew funding and the team folded.
(image credit: Ken Laidlaw Sportive)
Ken Laidlaw, born on this day in 1936 in Hawick, led the Tour de France for much of Stage 16 in 1961, including a good portion of the final climb to Superbagnères. He couldn't hold up the pace against stage winner Imerio Massignan to the end and he had no chance whatsoever of coming close to an overall win - after all, Jacques Anquetil, Charly Gaul and Jean Stablinski were in the race - but he was awarded the Combativity Prize of £145 for the stage.
Better still that year, he achieved cycling immortality by becoming the first Scotsman (and, with Robert Millar and then David Millar, at present one of only three Scotsmen) to have completed a Tour de France. Laidlaw found many aspects of cycling rather irritating and in 1964, having spent just the 1961 and 1962 seasons riding as a professional, he gave it up entirely and emigrated to the USA where he worked as a carpenter. A cyclosportive event named in his honour is held annually in Hawick.
Marcel Queheille, born on this day in 1930 in Sanguis, France, won Stage 9 of the 1959 Tour de France.
Moldovan Igor Bonciucov, born in Dubăsari on this day in 1973, had a career that lasted for three years. Unusually, they were three non-consecutive years: 1996, 2001 and 2003. His best stage race result was an overall General Classification victory at the 1998 Tour of Romania, during one of his spells as an amateur, and he won his National Road Race Championship, Stage 6a at the Vuelta Ciclista Asturias and Stage 5 at the Tour of Slovakia in 2001.
Other births: Alf Ove Segersäll (Sweden, 1956); Héctor González Baeza (Spain, 1986); Chrissy Redden (Canada, 1966); Ueli Sutter (Switzerland, 1947); Henry Hansen (Denmark, 1902, died 1985); Donald Wilson (Australia, 1944); Sergio Rolando (Argentina, 1973); Jaroslav Bílek (Czechoslovakia, 1971); Petr Hladík (Czechoslovakia, 1948); Józef Lange (Poland, 1897, died 1972); Mashallah Amin Sorour (Iran, 1931).