Tuesday 19 August 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 18.08.2014

Ruby Miller
Ruby Miller
(© Joolze Dymond)
(Used here with very kind permission - to see more of
Dymond's excellent photos, click here.)
Born in Llantwit Major on this day in 1992, Welsh cyclist Ruby Miller began her athletic career as a triathlete at the unusually early age of ten, encouraged by her mother - a coach at Cardiff's Maindy Triathlon Club. She soon found that the bike race was her favourite part of the events she entered, joined the Maindy Flyers CC, began competing in cyclo cross and was spotted by a British Cycling scout who recruited her to the BC Wales Talent Team.

In 2007, Miller took first place in the National Youth Cyclo Cross Series, then won it again the following year before also winning the National Youth MTB Cross Country Championship, then three silver medals and one bronze in the Under-16 class at the National Track Championships.

Miller signed up to Horizon Fitness RT (which has since become Matrix Pro Cycling, racing at the top level of women's cycling) in 2011, a team well-known for taking talented young riders and turning them into world-class athletes, where she was tipped for the top by directeur sportif and manager Stef Wyman. "Ruby is a great prospect and we know that we can help Ruby develop her potential," he said. "She’s always been impressive off road, but some her road results at the end of last season really caught my eye.  The younger riders on the team are a great squad in their own right.  It’ll be interesting how far they can push things in 2011." Miller soon proved he was right: she won two rounds of the Welsh MTB Series; came third at the Tywyn Criteriums; second at the Jif Summer Criterium, Round 4 of the British MTB Cross Country Series and won Race 11 of the Cornish series. In 2012, Miller acted as a torch bearer during the Olympic Torch relay.

Miller at the Dalby Forest round of the British Cross-Country Series, 2012

Jimmy Michael
Jimmy Michael
Another great Welsh cyclist was born - in Aberaman, about 30km from Llantwit Major - on this day, but 115 years before Miller in 1877. He was Jimmy Michael and, because he was only 1.56m tall people laughed at him when they first saw him step out onto the track with his tall and lanky rivals. They shut up when they saw him race, though - because Michael was very, very fast indeed.

Michael started racing when he was 12 and won a number of local events, then entered bigger ones in Cardiff and won those too. In 1894 he went to London to race the Surrey 100 at the Herne Hill Velodrome, where Sporting Cyclist's Mal Rees was present to see him in action. He later recalled,
"Cycling chroniclers of the day, reporting on the event, were astounded as the Welsh boy matched every attack in the hectic early stages. 'Who was this youth who dared to hang on to London's speediest riders?', they wrote. In the first hour, 24 miles 475 yards had been covered and 'the little hero' Jimmy Michael dogged the heels of the leaders until he succeeded in breaking away himself to lap the field at 46 miles.
At two hours, with 48 miles 377 yards covered, he was just outside the record, but at the 50-mile mark was inside with 2h 4m 42s. There seems to have been no serious threat during the second fifty for Michael consolidated his lead and went on to win in 4h 19m 39s with a seven-minute margin from the runner-up. This was a new record."
L-R: Arthur Linton, Choppy Warburton, Jimmy Michael
and Tom Linton
In 1895, Michael received a professional contract with Gladiator, where he rode alongside Arthur Linton who was also from Aberaman; both men were trained by the notorious coach and soigneur Choppy Warburton. Linton had a bad season and became resentful, seemingly blaming Michael for his bad luck and publicly venting his anger in the South Welsh newspapers until Michael finally decided enough was enough and challenged his rival to a duel, to take place at either the Buffalo or Winter velodrome in Paris, whichever Linton preferred - he even put down a payment of £20 to cover Linton's costs. The race never happened: Linton won Bordeaux-Paris that year, then died six weeks later aged only 24. Officially, his death was blamed on typhoid; however, it's also possible that it was due to the strychnine (a stimulant in small doses) that Warburton administered to his riders and, while nothing was ever proved, Linton is often claimed to have been the first cyclist to die as a result of doping.

Charley Barden
Later that same year the Gladiator team was hired by William Spears Simpson, who had invented the Simpson Lever Chain (a rather strange apparatus made up of triangular links, the chainrings engaged with the flat bottom of each triangle and the rear cog with the pointed tops). Renamed after the chain, they were then entered into specially-organised "chain races" at which Simpson offered 10:1 odds against riders on machines fitted with normal chains beating those with his chains. It's not known if Simpson truly believed his chains offered any sort of mechanical advantage - and for anyone with any sort of engineering knowledge, it's difficult to see why he would - but the races were a brilliant way to advertise the product: Michael, Tom Linton (Arthur's brother, who also died young and whose body was also found to contain high levels of strychnine, though his death too was recorded as being due to typhoid), Constant Huret and the legendary track cyclist, stunt rider, aviator, racing car driver and hospital director Hélène Dutrieu (the world's first female cycling star) were all accustomed to racing at the big track meets in Paris, Brussels and Berlin; they were, therefore, much stronger than the provincial heroes that took them on at the chain races. At one event (most accounts say that it was in Catford, but it might actually have been in Germany), Michael was scheduled to compete against Charley Barden in a five-mile race. This was a major draw: Michael was by now extremely famous, Barden - who was born in Canterbury in 1974 (the exact date is not known, nor are many things about Barden's life) - was even more so and was said to have been so good-looking that he was mobbed by women wherever he went. Just before the race, Michael was handed a drink by Warburton. Nobody knows what it was, but almost as soon as he'd swallowed it, the rider became disorientated and began shaking; then rode badly once the race began, fell off, got back up and started riding in the wrong direction. The crowd began chanting "Dope!"

Michael and Choppy Warburton (with greatcoat and hat)
depicted by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Note also the
distinctive Simpson Lever Chain
There is a great deal of speculation as to what actually happened. One possibility is that Warburton was entirely innocent and Michael had been taken ill (it's also possible that the Linton brothers did in fact die of typhoid, though the strychnine in their corpses takes some explaining). The most obvious is that Warburton gave Michael something that he believed would help him win the race, perhaps a drug with pain-killing properties such as laudanum, which can cause similar symptoms to those the rider exhibited. A third, backed up by an unconfirmed contemporary report, is that Warburton wanted to take advantage of those 10:1 odds and had placed a bet against his own rider, then took steps to ensure he wouldn't win; a fourth suggests Warburton had heard that an agent from a wealthy American team was at the race to scout out new talent and was planning to headhunt Michael, so he drugged the rider in an attempt to disguise his talent. Whatever the truth, Michael believed that he had been deliberately drugged and accused Warburton of such; Warburton responded with a libel suit, though it was settled amicably.

In 1896, Michael went to America where a successful track cyclist could live in considerable style. His contract promised him $2,500 for each of nine races, whatever the outcome, guaranteeing him an income of $22,500 that year - this being a time when the average annual salary in the USA was around $411; in addition to which he planned to earn another $30,000 by taking payments from manufacturers in exchange for using their products and then praising them during interviews in the cycling press. Yet, by 1899, he was almost broke, having lost the majority of his fortune through gambling and the purchase of a race horse (which he rode); he then returned to Europe to make a fresh start but, in 1903, fractured his skull in a 97kph crash at a track in Berlin. While recovering, he became friends with a rider named Jean Gougloz. According to Victor Breyer, one of Henri Desgrange's assistants at the Tour de France, Gougolz was "a weak-minded, yet lovable fellow when sober, but was bad under the influence of drink." He added that "Jimmy kept sliding down the toboggan" after meeting him.

Michael behind one of the monstrous pacer motorcycles
used in track racing in his era
Michael's final races were farcical - he didn't even show up to one prestigious event near the Buffalo in 1903. Breyer, who was race organiser, recalled that Gougolz (who seems not to have been an alcoholic, despite his apparent love of getting drunk) thought he might know where the rider was and so they set off to a bar near the Arc de Triomphe, where they found Michael in a state of serious intoxication. In this day and age, he wouldn't have been allowed to race; in those days he was persuaded to honour his contract and the race was postponed by an hour to give him a chance to sober up. The crowd, therefore, were not in the best of moods when he eventually staggered out onto the track; when he trailed in in last place, a big gap between him and the second-to-last rider, they turned on him and he was booed and hissed out of the building. He decided to try again in America the following year, where he hoped that people might have forgotten the bad days and welcome him as a hero; but he died of delirium tremens aboard the Savoie on the 21st of Novermber whilst it was still at sea. He was 27.

Sarah Hammer
Born in Temecula, California on this day in 1983, Sarah Hammer has amassed a palmares since 2005 that would be the envy of any cyclist - she has won no fewer than twenty National titles, four World Track Championship titles, 18 World TrackCycling Cup races and a number of road races. She also competed in the Olympics in 2008 and 2012, and holds the current World Individual Pursuit record. Yet her professional career very nearly ended before really getting started.

Sarah Hammer's website: click here
Hammer has been cycling since she was eight, encouraged to take up the sport by her father, who realised very soon that she was good at it - and in 1995, she won a National Junior title. By 2002 she was good enough to become a professional, riding for the US Diet Rite alongside the young Joanne Kiesanowski and Tina Pic (who was not so young, but was still going to remain a force in American cycling for the next seven years - and 59 victories - until she retired at the age of 43 in 2009); in 2003 she joined Amber Neben, Kristin Armstrong and Dotsie Bausch at the legendary T-Mobile. Then, at the end of the year, she gave it all up. Professional cycling was harder than she had ever imagined and she sold all her equipment, went to college and made ends meet with a succession of uninspiring jobs.

In 2004, Hammer went to the Olympics to watch her former team mates and realised she'd made the wrong decision. Now aware that cycling was to be her life, she made her comeback with a renewed sense of devotion and determination, winning the Pursuit and Points races at the Nationals in 2005, then the Pursuit, Points and Scratch races at the 2006 Nationals and the Pursuit at the Worlds. She successfully defended her World Championship in 2007 and was selected for the Olympics team in 2008 but went home without a medal, which appears to have encouraged her to try her luck on the road instead - in 2009, she won the Red Trolley criterium and the North End Classic and Tour of Murrieta stage races, but then returned to the track in 2010 and took back her World Pursuit title, then won the Elimination, Points, Flying Lap and Pursuit in the Omnium at the Cali round of the World Cup. The next year, at the Manchester round, she won the Elimination, Flying Lap, Pursuit and Scratch; then the Pursuit at the Nationals. With results like these, she was an obvious selection to compete at the London Olympics and didn't disappoint - this time around, she went home with two silver medals won in the Team Pursuit and the Omnium. Her long winning streak continued into 2013 - having won the Pursuit and the Omnium at the World Championships in Belarus, she returned to her home soil and won the Omnium and the Points at the US Grand Prix of Sprinting in July.

Cédric Vasseur
Cédric Vasseur
Cédric Vasseur, born in Hazebrouck, France on this day in 1970, won a large number of races and stages over the years; but he will forever be remembered for Stage 5 at the 1997 Tour de France and his 147km solo break, which won him the stage and kept him in the maillot jaune for five days. Four years later, riding for US Postal, he was left out of the team's Tour de France squad. This may have been due to his poor results that year - he was third in the Calais criterium, his only podium finish of the season - but it was widely suspected that the real reason was "personal differences" with Lance Armstrong, as he himself claimed and was widely reported by the French media. He left the team and went to Cofidis.

Vasseur was arrested as part of the investigation into doping at Cofidis that also led to the arrest and subsequent ban of David Millar in 2004; he was cleared after his B-sample tested negative but too late for the Tour, and claimed in court that parts of his witness statement were forgeries.

Vasseur's father Alain rode professionally for Bic between 1969 and 1974 and had won Stage 8 at the 1970 Tour with his own solo break; an uncle, Sylvaine, rode with Alain for Bic during the same period, then with Super Ser in 1975 and Gitane-Campagnolo in 1976 and 1977. Younger brother Loïc rode for Home Market-Ville de Charleroi in the late 1990s, but seems not to have received his full share of Vasseur talent.

Jürgen Kissner
Jürgen Kissner was born in Germany in 1942 and, after the war was over, became a citizen of the new "Communist" state of East Germany - where he wasn't permitted to become a sports instructor because his family was deemed as being bourgeois. He was a sufficiently talented rider, however, to be selected for the team sent to the All-Germany Championships held in Cologne, in West Germany, in 1964.

Had he have won a race there, he'd have stood a good chance of being selected for the East German Olympic team, but he had other ideas: on the 15th of September, he climbed into a service elevator at the team's hotel and fled, officially defecting to the West a short while later. The East German authorities tried to claim he'd been abducted, but news that he had left of his own free will soon reached the public. His parents were interrogated by the Stasi and his mother was sent to Cologne to beg him to return, but she told him to stay where he was even if it meant they would never see one another again.

In 1968, Kissner went to the Olympics with the West German team; but a mistake on his part in the team sprint led to disqualification. Newspapers printed stories claiming that he was a "ringer," a secret agent sent by the East Germans specifically to sabotage the West German team's chances; however, one year later the race was re-examined and the team was reinstated, then awarded a silver medal.

Lisa Brambani, who was born in Bradford, Great Britain on this day in 1967, won the National Road Race Championship in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989. She was also 11th in the road race at the Olympics in 1988, won the Women's Challenge in 1989 (when the UCI refused to have anything to do with the race, claiming that "excessive climbing, stage distances, number of stages, and duration of event" made it too difficult), and in 1990 she won a silver medal in the road race at the Commonwealth Games. She should be a household name, among cycling households at any rate; had she have been a man and thus able to compete in events to which the media pay attention, she probably would be.

Gordon "Tiny" Thomas, born in Shipley, Great Britain on this day in 1921, competed in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London where he - along with Ian Scott and Bob Maitland - came second on the team road race. In 1952 he won Stage 13 at the Tour of Britain, then won it overall a year later. At the time of writing, he is 91 years old.

Loretto Petrucci, born in Capostrada, Italy on this day in 1929, won Milan-San Remo in 1951, 1952 and 1953.

George Atkins, born in Leicester, Great Britain on this day in 1991, won the National Junior Road Race, Pursuit and - with Dan McClay - Madison championships in 2009. In 2010, he won the Points race at the National Track Championships and came second on Stage 1 at the Under-23 Tour of Berlin, then in 2011 he won the Scottish Hill Climb Championships and was second at the National Under-23 Individual Time Trial Championships and in 2012 he won the Jock Wadley Memorial.

Serge Baguet, born in Opbrakel, Belgium on this day in 1969, won Stage 2 at the 1993 Tour of Britain, Stage 17 at the 2003 Tour de France and the National Road Race Championship in 2005.

Paul Egli
Jeff Williams, who was born on this day in 1958, won the British National Hill Climb Championship in 1979 on the Bovey Tracey-Haytor road in Devon. His time, 12'44", remains the record at the time of writing. In 1982 he won the National Hill Climb and Road Race Championships, the only man to have ever done so.

Paul Egli, born on this day in 1911, was Swiss Amateur Cycle Cross Champion and won a silver medal at the World Amateur Road Race Championship in 1932, the took the gold at the latter event the following year. In 1935 he became the professional National Road Race Champion, a title he defended in 1936, when he also won Stage 1 and wore the maillot jaune at the Tour de France. Racing in the professional World Road Race Championships a year later he won bronze, then silver in 1938.

Other cyclists born on this day: Thomas Kvist (Denmark, 1987); Boontom Prasongquamdee (Thailand, 1946); Alges Maasikmets (Estonia, 1968); John Lieswyn (USA, 1968); Alan McCormack (Ireland, 1956); Gianni Giacomini (Italy, 1958); Theo Nikkessen (Netherlands, 1941).

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