Saturday 24 May 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 24.05.2014

The Giro d'Italia started on this date five times - in 19141922, 1947, 1950 and 1992.

The Epic 1914 Giro
1914. The stage isn't known and the rider isn't named,
but he looks like Giuseppe Azzini.
1914 was the last edition before the outbreak of the First World War and the first to decide the eventual winner on overall time rather than points, the same system having been used at the Tour de France the year before (the 1903 and 1904 Tours had also been decided in this way). Whilst the parcours was comparatively short at 3,256km (some sources put it even shorter at 3,162km), the race consisted of only eight stages which meant, as was common in those times, stages far longer than riders today face - though we should be fair to modern riders and remember that early Grand Tours had many more rest days. Five stages were more than 400km, Stages 1 and 8 were 468km (some sources say 428km; either way they began at midnight) and the shortest stage, 5, was 328km; for which reason it's considered by many historians to have been the hardest Giro of all time. Stage 3, 430km in length, took longer than any other stage in Giro history to be completed with Costante Girardengo first over the line after 19h20'47".

Costante Girardengo
As if the distances weren't bad enough, the riders also faced severe weather, incompetent officials who supplied them with incorrect directions on numerous occasions and widespread cheating by other riders, many of whom drafted behind cars, and fans who spread nails over the roads to slow down riders they didn't like. It's perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the average speed of 23.375kph was the lowest ever and only eight out of 81 starters finished - another record. Among those to fail was Giuseppe Azzini, leader of the General Classification for one stage after winning Stages 4 and 5 - he went missing during Stage 6 and couldn't be found anywhere. Organisers discovered the next day at a farmhouse, fast asleep in bed.

1921 winner Giovanni Brunero was favourite to win in 1922, but he faced stiff competition from Girardengo and Gaetano Belloni. He finished the first stage with a good lead, but was then docked 25 minutes for cheating. Rather than giving up, he redoubled his efforts and mounted some long-distance solo breakaways which, bit by bit, enabled him to claw his way back into contention. He then won Stage 7 with a time good enough to take the General Classification leadership, which he retained for the remaining three stages. He took 119h43' to complete the 3,095km - neither Girardengo nor Belloni finished.

1947 covered 3,843km in 19 stages and saw Fausto Coppi finally exert his dominance over Gino Bartali, who had taken what would prove to be his last Giro victory the previous year - but the old warhorse wasn't ready to let the younger man go without a fight just yet. They spent the first stage sizing one another up and allowed Renzo Zanazzi to win (Zanazzi, who few remember now, had won Stage 10 the previous year, would also win Stage 5b and finished a stage in third place in 1948, 1950 and 1952 - at the time of writing, he's still alive), but Bartali attacked hard in Stage 2 and finished with a 1'41" advantage. Coppi was the better man in the mountains from Stage 4, but he wasn't quite good enough to prevent his rival taking the General Classification on that same stage and then keeping it all the way through to Stage 15. However, in Stage 16 Bartali finally cracked on the Passo di Pordoi, at 2,239m the highest paved road in the Dolomites - and Coppi beat him to the finish by 4'24". From that points onwards, his victory was as good as decided and he rode less aggressively, keeping himself out of harm's way and won the race with a 1'43" advantage.

Hugo Koblet
Bartali raced again in 1950, when the race consisted of 18 stages over 3,981km, and looked a likely contender when Coppi broke his pelvis in Stage 9 - but now he also faced problems from the Swiss Hugo Koblet who, having won Stages 6 and 8, realised that he too stood a good chance in Coppi's absence. A rider as clever as he was famously handsome, Koblet rode wisely and effectively and led the General Classification from that point onwards; eventually beating the Italian by 5'12" and becoming the first foreigner to win a Giro.

The 1992 edition covered 3,835km in 22 stages. Miguel Indurain gained an early lead in the time trial, but it was on Stage 9 - the first summit finish that year - that he really got the upper hand when he dropped all his main rivals and gained a 30" advantage over Claudio Chiappucci. When he then dominated the final time trial, he secured his winning time of 103h36'08", 5'12" ahead of Chiappucci who took second place. Later that year, he would become the sixth man to achieve the Giro-Tour double when he also won the Tour de France (and the next year, he would become the only man to have achieved two Giro-Tour doubles in consecutive years).

Sean Kelly
John James "Sean" Kelly is frequently listed as the most successful Irish cyclist in history, but he was much more than that - alongside Bernard Hinault, he was one of the most successful cyclists anywhere in the world and remained so for much of the decade.

One of cycling's most iconic images - Sean Kelly
at Paris-Roubaix
Born in Waterford on this day in 1956 to John and Nellie, who made their living from a 48-acre farm, Sean (the name was chosen to prevent confusion at home) has never been much of a talker. Friends at school believed him unintelligent (or believed that he thought he was, at least) and, while he appears the type who may have turned out to be a genius at maths or physics had a teacher ever have been able to discover such a latent talent, he never got the chance to prove it and they never got the chance to find it - aged just 13, he was taken out of school and went to work on the farm. His older brother Joe, still at school, obtained a bike at about the same time to cycle to and from classes every day and Sean got a bike of his own so that they could go for rides together. When Joe began racing (and winning), Sean followed him once again: his very first race was an eight-mile handicap on the 4th of June 1960. Setting out three minutes ahead of the more experienced riders, he remained three minutes ahead at the halfway point and then increased his lead on the return journey to win the race. Two years later, he was National Amateur Champion; a title he held for two years.

In 1975, Kelly travelled with a certain Pat McQuaid and his brother Kieron (coincidentally, Kelly shares his birthday with Pat and Kieron's cousin John McQuaid, who represented Ireland at the 1988 Olympics) to South Africa, where they planned to use the Rapport Tour as part of the preparation for the upcoming Olympics. Aware that the country was being boycotted due to the government's refusal to end apartheid, they entered under false names; however, they were caught and banned from competition for six months by the Irish Federation and then from the Olympics for life. Though this seemed a disaster, it would prove advantageous for Kelly who would, in all likelihood, have found himself outclassed by the top European cyclists at the Games; instead, he entered the 1976 Tour of Britain where he faced opponents closer to his own level and won Stage 6, then came second on Stage 7. This earned him an invitation to join a club based in Metz, which offered him a salary equal to £25 a week, four francs (40p) for every kilometre of every race he won and free bed and board - he accepted, then paid the club back by winning 18 of the 25 races he entered with them, including the amateur version of the Giro di Lombardia.

Unsurprisingly, bosses from professional teams began to take note; among them the legendary Cyrille Guimard and Jean de Gribaldy. De Gribaldy had in fact made him an offer previously but was turned down as Kelly then wished to remain an amateur - this time, though, wanted him so much that he made hasty preparations to go to Ireland to track the rider down, despite having no idea where he lived and not even being sure he's recognise him if he saw him. He did know, meanwhile, where Kelly's parents' farm was located, roughly at least; so, taking an English-speaking rider to act as translator, he flew to Dublin and took a taxi to Curraghduff - a distance of 164km. Eventually, they tracked down the farm only to be told that their quarry was out in the fields somewhere on a tractor and so they ordered the taxi driver to cruise around the lanes looking for him. When they found him, they went to his brother-in-law's house where de Gribaldy offered him £4,000 a year with bonuses - more than three times what the Metz club had been paying him. But, being a simple country boy, Kelly felt loyal to his old club and asked for time to think things over, to which de Gribaldy agreed. Metz offered him more money but couldn't match what de Gribaldy could offer. Kelly, feeling guilty for considering turning his back on the team that had given him his first opportunity, asked de Gribaldy for £6,000, certain the Frenchman would turn his back and walk away. De Gribaldy wrote up a new contract on the spot and Flandria-Velda, at long last, had its great new hope.

The Cavendish of his day, Kelly
was a devastatingly fast sprinter
Now loyal to de Gribaldy, Kelly remained with Flandria for two seasons. However, Flandria was really two outfits: the A team, who raced in the top events around Europe; and the B team which remained confined to smaller, local races in France where they were used as little more than an advertising gimmick for Flandria's mopeds and bikes - while Kelly even to this day is a country boy at heart, he'd glimpsed cycling's upper echelons now and knew that he could get there. The chance to do so appeared to come at the end of 1978 when Michel Pollentier, who had been thrown out of the Tour de France that year when the doctor in charge of taking samples discovered that the rider in front of him in the queue was attempting to fill the jar via a tube connected to a condom filled with somebody else's urine hidden under his armpit demanded that he lift his jersey to prove that he too wasn't using such a device (he was, but later redeemed himself by being one of the first riders to warn others of the dangers of doping when he admitted he'd needed treatment for drug addiction when his racing career came to an end), left to set up his own team. Freddy Maertens, another ex-Flandria rider, wanted him too, as did several other teams that had been hovering around, but when Pollentier secured sponsorship from the very generous Splendor bicycle manufacturer he was able to offer the Irishman a better salary than his rivals.

Unfortunately, Pollentier was not cut out for team management and his new squad faced serious problems - among others, the bikes they rode were of such low quality that they couldn't enter Paris-Roubaix in their first year. Kelly responded by doing what he'd done at school, withdrawing into himself and getting on with things, even winning a few races - including two stages at the Vuelta a Espana (Stage 1 and 8a, 1979) - and, in time, things began to improve as team logistics were ironed out. Meanwhile, Splendor had been joined by Wickes and EuropDecor as sponsors and money was plentiful, Pollentier easily matching offers made by other teams as they tried to lure Kelly away. In 1981, he was paid £30,000 plus bonuses - an astonishingly high figure at a time when the average annual salary in Britain was just over £8,500. However, when Pollentier brought another sprinter - Eddy Planckaert - into the team, Kelly began to wonder what his role was and when he heard that de Gribaldy was assembling a new team decided to find out more.

De Gribaldy had long been known as a rather unconventional manager with a tendency to pick up riders nobody else wanted. More often than not, they'd let him down; but from time to time he'd discover an overlooked diamond. Kelly was of course not overlooked, his results to date had been far too good for that, but he was viewed in a very similar way to Mark Cavendish today - get him in the right position for the final sprint of a race and he was all but unbeatable, but if you wanted a rider who could win stage races look elsewhere. De Gribaldy thought differently - he believed that Kelly had the potential to be more than a sprinter, and this time he signed him up as team leader. Other managers no doubt assumed this was just another de Gribaldy eccentricity, but that year the Irishman won Paris-Nice. Then, he won the Points competition at the Tour de France. The year after that, he won Paris-Nice again, and the Points competition again too. And the Tour de Suisse, and the Critérium International. When he won the Giro di Lombardia, beating Francesco Moser, Hennie Kuiper and Greg LeMond, he proved himself capable of doing battle with the best riders in the world.

Kelly's Paris-Nice record is legendary - having won those first two, he would also win for the following five consecutive years; an achievement unmatched by any rider before or since. This created a sense, especially now that he'd learned climb and ride breaks almost as well as he sprinted, that it was only a matter of time before Kelly won a Tour -  that accolade would escape him, though he finished in the top ten three times with a best result of fourth place. He did win a Grand Tour, however, taking the 1988 Vuelta a Espana with a 1'27" advantage over Raimund Dietzen. He was also a remarkably talented Classics rider, winning nine Monuments (Milan-San Remo twice, Paris-Roubaix twice, Liège-Bastogne-Liège twice and the Giro di Lombardia three times) and came very close to adding his name to those of Eddy Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck and Rik van Looy, the only men to have won all five Monuments, when he finished the Ronde van Vlaanderen in second place three times.

Kelly today, as rooted in the soil and
unpretentious as he always was
Kelly has been the subject of numerous books on cycling, some of them concerned with his own great achievements and others using his career as a frame work to examine a remarkable period in cycling - when he first raced in Europe, Eddy Merckx was the king. His first Tour de France, 1978, was also the Tour debut of Bernard Hinault. Greg Lemond and Laurent Fignon, Francesco Moser and Robert Millar, Jan Raas and many others all came and went in the time that Kelly was winning races. When he retired in 1994, Miguel Indurain had already won three Tours and was eyeing up his fourth while a young American rider named Lance Armstrong began to show he might one day do well, too.

Today, Kelly works as a cycling commentator for Eurosport and still sounds like a farmer's son from rural Ireland. In 2000, he rode across the USA to raise money for a charity that works with blind and partially sighted people. He created and is still actively involved in the Belgium-based Sean Kelly Cycling Academy, home of the Sean Kelly Racing Team that he also established and which has brought a number of promising new Irish and Belgian riders to the sport. Anyone who has listened to him, following his superb dissection of race tactics and admired his enormous knowledge of cycling history, will be in no doubt that his school friends were very, very wrong about him.

Bo Hamburger
Bo Hamburger, born in Frederiksberg, Denmark on this day in 1970, began his professional career with TVM in 1991 and, in 1994, finished the Tour de France in 20th place after winning Stage 8. He improved in the coming years with 1995, then 13th in 1996 and took the silver medal at the 1997 World Championships. Having switched to Casino-C’est Votre Équipe for 1998 he won La Flèche Wallonne, came fifth at the Amstel Gold Race and then 15th again at the Tour, then had a couple of quiet years before joining CSC and winning the National Championship in 2000.

However, his time with CSC would be short, because at the 2001 Tour the team sacked him after he failed a test for EPO. This was the period before reliable tests for the drug had been developed, meaning that when his B sample proved to be below the minimum level that would have caused suspension from competition, he escaped further charges and returned the following season with Alexia Alluminio. Later, in his autobiography, he admitted to using EPO and growth hormones between 1995 and 1997. He says that he stopped taking EPO in 1997 when he discovered that he had a naturally high haematocrit count which, in the days when the only test for the drug was to count red blood cells in an athlete's sample, would have caused him to fail tests had he continued using it. In 2009, Denmark's Ekstra Bladet newspaper received intelligence that he was involved in a financial pyramid scheme and decided to expose him, later getting a scoop when a hidden camera caught him and an accomplice stealing a journalist's video camera.

Left: Antoine Mazairac. Right: Willy Falck Hansen
Antonius "Antoine" Hendrikus Mazairac, born in Roosendal, Netherlands on this day in 1901, won a silver medal for the Sprint at the 1928 Olympics. He died in Dortmund, Germany, on the 1st of September 1966.

Matthew Lloyd, born in Melbourne on this day in 1983, turned professional with Predictor-Lotto in 2007 and was "released" from the team at the end of 2011. This led initially to rumours that he had been caught doping, but the team was quick to reveal th decision had been made due to "behavioural problems" (they chose not to expand on this, citing respect for his privacy as the reason) following an accident involving a car that left him with spinal injuries. In November 2011, he signed a two-year contract with Lampre-ISD and remains with them in 2013. In 2010, he became the first Australian to achieve victory in Grand Tour King of the Mountains, winning the competition at the Giro d'Italia.

Other cyclists born on this day: Christian Stahl (USA, 1983); Joanne Kiesanowski (New Zealand, 1979); Jonas Persson (Sweden, 1913, died 1986); Barthélemy Gillard (Belgium, 1935); Kanako Tanikawa (Japan, 1970); Peter Meinert Nielsen (Denmark, 1966); Fernand Saivé (Belgium, 1900, died 1981); Steffen Kjærgaard (Norway, 1973).

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