Friday 6 January 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 06.01.12

Leopard Trek
On this day in 2011, Brian Nygaard's Luxembourg-based new team Leopard Trek was officially presented to the world. It would be made up of the brothers Frank and Andy Schleck (the latter being the year's 2011 Tour de France favourite among many, with the notable exception of one Cadel Evans), Danielle Bennati, Fabian Cancellara, Will Clarke, Stefan Denifl, Brice Feillu, Davide Vigano, Joost Posthuma, Oliver Zaugg, Jakob Fuglsang (who had revealed the team's name less that a month previously), Linus Gerdemann, Maxime Monfort, Martin Pedersen, Anders Lund, Dominic Klemme, Martin Mortensen, Stuart O'Grady, Fabian Wegmann, Bruno Pires, Robert Wagner, Thomas Rohregger, Giacomo Nizzolo, Tom Stamsnijder, Jens Voigt and Wouter Weylandt.

With a roster including some of the biggest names and personalities in professional cycling, big name sponsors (in addition to Trek, they were supported by LuxAir, Oakley and Mercedes Benz, among others - Mercedes supplying them with team cars which finally ended Jaguar-sponsored Sky's monopoly in the unofficial Poshest Support Vehicles stakes), the snazziest website in the ProTour and a team bus that looked like an unusually luxurious space shuttle, the stage looked set for Leopard Trek to dominate in the Grand Tours and other stage races.

Wouter Weylandt, 1984-2011
(image credit: Dzipi CC BY-SA 2.0)
Unfortunately, the team was beset by first tragedy and then bad luck. Tragedy came when Wouter Weylandt, aged just 26, crashed and was killed on a fast descent in the Giro d'Italia; an accident that contributed a great deal to the demise of Giro director Angelo Zomegnan, who was accused of neglecting rider safety in his quest to equal the Tour de France. Then Andy didn't perform quite as well as everyone was expecting him to do around France, even managing to lose some of his previously-loyal fans after getting a bit whiny following a damp and dangerous descent from the Col de Manse into Gap at the end of Stage 16 (coming so soon after Weylandt's death, he can perhaps be forgiven even if he did sound a bit pathetic at the time). In Stage 18, he pulled off what many people called one of the best victories in recent years with a splendid solo breakaway on the slopes of the Galibier, reaching the summit finish 2'07" before brother Frank who took 2nd place, but even that wasn't enough to give him the advantage he needed after some really quite lacklustre rides earlier on in the Tour and he was left unable to hold off Cadel Evans in Stage 20, when the Australian won the race.

Fabian Cancellara wasn't having his best year either. Having earned himself the reputation of World's Greatest Ever Time Trial Rider (look up Beryl Burton to find out why he wasn't), he seemed unable to light the same fire in his legs and was roundly beaten by Highroad's Tony Martin every time they faced one another. However, he was the team's most successful rider, capturing podium places at a number of races including two stages at the Tour de Suisse, 2nd at Paris-Roubaix and 3rd at the Tour of Flanders. Jens Voigt, meanwhile, was making his way through the year in his characteristic manner, attacking anything that moved and riding like a hooligan on a stolen bike before charming the entire world with his pleasant manners, affability and articulacy when off the bike. He was a favourite to win the Tour of Britain, arriving at the race as team leader, but had to abandon after crashing and breaking a finger in the first stage. And he didn't just break it a little bit, either - being Jens Voigt, he completely smashed it to bits and needed emergency surgery to save it.

Fabian Cancellara
(image credit: Kei-Ai CC BY 2.0)
If we take a look from Leopard Trek' point of view, the year was not entirely wothout point: let's not forget that although the biggest prize slipped their grasp, Leopard riders took 3rd place at the Tour of Qatar (Bennati), 1st and 3rd at the GP Samyn (Klemme und Wagner), 10th at Paris-Nice (Monfort), a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico (Cancellara), 2nd and 10th at Milan-San Remo (Cancellara and O'Grady), 1st in the Critérium International (Frank Schleck), 1st at E3 Harelbeke (Cancellara), 2nd at Ghent-Wevelgem (Bennati), 3rd at the GP Miguel Indurain (Wegmann), 3rd in the Tour of Flanders (Cancellara), 2nd at Paris-Roubaix (Cancellara), 4th in the Amstel Gold Race (Fuglsang); 2nd and 3rd at Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Frank and Andy); 1st and 4th at the Tour of Luxembourg (Gerdemann and Monfort) plus one stage (2, Gerdemann) and the prologue (Cancellara), two stages in the Tour de Suisse (1 and 9, both Cancellara) and 4th and 7th overall (Fuglsang and Frank), Stage 18 in the Tour (Andy) and 2nd and 3rd overall (Andy and Frank), the Team Time Trial at the Vuelta a Espana and, finally, 1st place overall at the Giro di Lombardia (Oliver Zaugg, his first major win).

So it wasn't such a bad year, all in all, for Leopard Trek; they just didn't live up to the hype that others created around them. 2011 proved to be their first and last year when they announced a merger with Johan Bruyneel's RadioShack. We'll miss Wouter, and we'll those lovely black, duck egg blue and white jerseys.

Belinda Goss
Happy birthday to Australian Belinda Goss, winner of several track events and a 3rd place finish at the 2007 Tour of Chongming Island.

Antonio Suarez, Overall and Mountains Classification winner of the 1959 Vuelta a Espana, died on this day in 1981. Very unusually for a rider with the capability of winning a Mountains title, he also won the Points Classification two years later, the same year he finished 3rd overall in the Giro d'Italia behind Jacques Anquetil and Arnaldo Pambianco. Suarez appears to have been one of those Mediterranean riders who performed well only in the Mediterranean climate, for his Tour de France results appear at first glance to be those of a lesser man: his most notable finish was 17th in 1960, while he came 64th in 1958 and 43rd in 1963.

The Welsh professional and ex-British Junior Champion Yanto Barker was born on this day in 1980. Yanto was the highest placed British rider in the the 2005 Tour of Britain

Yanto Barker
Happy birthday to Stephen Cox, the retired New Zealand cyclist born in 1956. Cos was hugely successful in races in his homeland, winning ten major events between 1978 and 1984. He also won a bronze medal at the 1984 Commonwealth Games.

Henry George, winner of a gold medal for Belgium in the 50km Track event at the 1920 Olympics, died on this day in 1976. He was born on the 18th of February 1891.

AG2R's Mattei Montaguti, twice an Italian National Champion and a winner at the Giro della Provincia di Reggio Calabria was born today in 1984. He came 2nd in the Mountains Classification at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana.

Other births: Luigi Arienti (Italy, 1937); Nada Cristofoli (Italy, 1971); Ørnulf Andresen (Norway, 1944); Enzo Sacchi (Italy, 1926, died 1988); Jorge Jukich (Uruguay, 1943); Immo Rittmeyer (Germany, 1936); Kihei Tomioka (Japan, 1932, died 2007); Rusty Peden (Canada, 1916); Paul Camilleri (Malta, 1934); Mark Gorski (USA, 1960); Volodymyr Diudia (Ukraine, 1983); Reinhold Pommer (Germany, 1935); Javier Taboada (Mexico, 1935); Stefan Baraud (Cayman Islands, 1975); Jørgen Jensen (Denmark, 1947); Theodor Rinderknecht (Switzerland, 1958); Augusts Kepke (Russia, 1886).

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