Saturday 28 January 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 28.01.12

Abdel-Kader Zaaf
Abdel-Kader Zaaf (also spelled Abdelkader, Abdel-Kaader and various other ways) was born on this day in 1917 in Algiers, Algeria, which at the time was a French colony. Zaaf rode in the 1950 Tour de France with Marcel Molinès as a part of the French North Africa Team (this being the period on national teams, introduced by Henri Desgrange in an effort to prevent the team tactics that he hated so much among the trade teams). During Stage 13, when temperatures rose to 40C, riders were unwilling to exert themselves and the peloton settled into a slow rhythm, aiming to complete the stage with as little effort as possible. Zaaf and Molinès, however, were accustomed to the heat of Algeria and found the conditions far less hard-going than the Europeans, so they broke away from the pack early on in the race.

Abdel-Kader Zaaf found sleeping under a
tree by spectators
Continuing on their way at a high pace, the pair built a lead which reached as much as 20 minutes - sufficient to make Zaaf officially the race leader for a short while (though with the peloton being driven by the Eagle of Adiiswil Ferdy Kübler - spelled with a y because that's how the man himself spells it, rather than the usual "Ferdi" - it couldn't and didn't last). However, by the time they neared the end of the 217km stage, even they were beginning to feel the effects of the weather and stopped to accept drinks offered to them by spectators. Unfortunately for Zaaf, the drink he took was a bottle of wine and, as a Muslim, he'd never consumed alcohol before (Molinès either took a bottle of water or was more used to wine), so it rather went to his head. Before long, he found himself feeling somewhat the worse for wear and wobbling dangerously all over the road so he decided that perhaps he'd better stop for a while in the shade under a tree and see if he started feeling any better.

Some time later - nobody knows how much later - a group of spectators found him and woke him up. He grabbed his bike, leapt aboard and set off. Unfortunately, he was either so keen to make up for lost time or still drunk, so he failed to realise that he was going back the way they'd come. When organisers caught up with him, unaware that his confusion was down to alcohol, they assumed his brain had been scrambled by the heat and had him taken to hospital. The next day, he escaped and hurried to the start line where he begged to be allowed to retake the section of the previous stage that he'd missed and continue the race, but judges wouldn't allow it and upheld his disqualification.

The story sounds like one of misfortune, but in fact Zaaf did rather well out of it. As the first black rider in the Tour, he'd already achieved celebrity simply because he was a novelty. French cycling fans from days gone by seem to have been an admirably non-racist bunch (except, perhaps, towards Belgians, who had an annoying habit of winning the race; but look up "Major" Marshall Taylor, who was pleasantly surprised to find a warm welcome in France after the awful discrimination he faced in his native USA for another example) and the Algerian enjoyed enormous popularity. As a result, he was able to make a very comfortable living from the fees that organisers of criterium races were willing to pay him simply to appear at their events. Perhaps the ultimate accolade came when a wine, which became popular, was named after him; and allowed him to make even more money by appearing in the manufacturer's advertisements. He would ride  in five more Tours, remaining with North Africa in 1951 and 1952, then with Charly Gaul in 1953 and finally with Federico Bahamontes a year later.

When his cycling career came to an end, Zaaf disappeared and for nearly three decades nobody knew if he was in France or had returned to Algeria, or even whether he was alive or dead. Then, in 1982, he suddenly reappeared in Paris for an operation on his eye and revealed the real reason for his strange behaviour in the Tour all those years before.

Gustave Garrigou
Gustave Garrigou, who died on this day in 1963, won one Tour de France out of the eight in which he competed and a total of eight stages. Impressive, but not the palmares of a great, you might think. However, out of a total of 117 stages during his career, he finished in the top five in 65 and the top ten in 96 - which makes him one of the best performers in the history of the race.

He was born on the 24th of September 1884 in Vabres and was remarkably thin. Yet he was also deceptively strong, and had an ability to recover after strenuous exercise that would have the dope test doctors queuing outside the door of the team bus in a modern Tour - in other words, he was a man who could have been born to ride bikes up mountains. His talent was evident right from the start when he won Paris-Dieppe and Paris-Amiens as an amateur. In his first professional season he won Paris-Brussels and the Giro di Lombardia as well as taking two stage wins (10 and 12) and 2nd place in the Overall Classification in the 1907 Tour with no stage wins. He was 4th overall in 1908 (one stage), then 2nd again in 1909 (one stage).

His win came when he was riding with Alcyon in 1911, but like most in those days it was not without controversy. Rural France in those days was a very different place when compared to today and some of its inhabitants were almost a law unto themselves - while nowadays death threats tend to be the work of mentally unstable people who pose no real threat to anybody, many early Tourists faced real violence and several riders were savagely beaten by angry fans, so Garrigou was a very worried man. The threats stemmed from an incident in which Paul Duboc, a rider with La Française who had been successfully catching up with him, was left with crippling abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea after he drank from a bidon that had been poisoned. His manager gave him an emetic and, after some time, he recovered and was able to continue, eventually finishing the race in 2nd place overall, and a man working for a third team was later shown to have been the culprit. In the meantime, Duboc's fans put two and two together and decided that since Garrigou was the man who would most benefit if Duboc abandoned, he must have been the poisoner. Hence the threats.

Duboc himself appears never to have suspected Garrigou and was horrified to learn that in Rouen, his hometown and the place where his fans would be most numerous, persons unknown had put up posters saying "Citizens of Rouen: I would have been leading this race had I not been poisoned. You know what you have to do when the race reaches your city." Each poster bore a forgery of his signature. By this point, Garrigou (at the suggestion of the organisers) had taken to wearing disguise, but the two men realised that if the angry Rouennais even suspected his true identity they were likely to become a lynch mob. Duboc offered to ride on ahead to the city and do what he could to placate them, but an equally concerned Henri Desgrange decided that extreme tactics were required. As a result, Garrigou rode through the city protected on all sides by three cars, each filled with the burliest men Desgrange could find.

The 1912 race passed without incident for Garrigou, but he was outclassed by Odile Defraye and Eugène Christophe and had to settle for 3rd place overall with no stage wins (in the same year, he finished in 2nd place at Paris-Roubaix). He did a little better the next year, winning Stage 8 and coming 2nd, then won Stage 14 and finished in 5th place at his final Tour in 1914.

Gustaaf Deloor
Gustaaf Deloor, who died on this day in 2002 at the age of 88, was a Belgian cyclist who enjoyed a successful professional career before the Second World War and won the Vuelta a Espana twice. The first time was in 1935 when he won three stages and wore the orange jersey that in those days marked out the race leader for twelve days. He wore orange for all but two of the 22 days the race lasted the following year, winning three stages once again - and, completing the course in 150h07'54", set the longest winning time in Vuelta history. He also won Stage 6 in the 1937 Tour de France.

The Grand Tour winner of today can look forward to fame and fortune, but - perhaps as a result of a general downturn in interest in the sport, perhaps as a result of the tarnished image with which it was left following the notorious doping scandals of the 1990s and early 21st Century - they receive nothing like the adulation that their ancestors got, and which sometimes proved too much for them to bear. Deloor, however, was one rider who benefited enormously from his fame. Having joined the Belgian Army when war broke out, he found himself among the 1,200 men taken prisoner after the Nazis attacked and over-ran Fort Eben-Emael on the 10th of May 1940 and was transported to Stalag II-B, which would earn infamy as the most brutal POW camp operated by the Nazis during the war. Deloor, however, was fortunate enough to be recognised by a  German officer who had been an ardent cycling fan before the conflict and arranged for him to be given a relatively easy job in the camp kitchens.

After the war, Deloor returned to what was left of Belgium. Finding his house a plundered wreck, he emigrated to New York, spending ten years there before moving on to Los Angeles where he remained for the next 21 years up until 1980, at which point he returned to Belgium where he spent the rest of his life.

Carlo Clerici
Surprisingly little is known about the Italian-born Swiss cyclist Carlo Clerici, who died on this day in 2007 when he was 72. This is all the more remarkable considering his impressive palmares - he won the GP de Suisse in 1952, a year after finishing the Tour de Suisse in 3rd place (which he did again in 1955. He also did well in National Championships, winning a bronze medal in 1954. He manged two podium places at the Tour de Romandie (3rd in 1954 and 2nd in 1956), but his greatest success was winning the overall General Classification at the 1954 Giro d'Italia when he beat riders such as Hugo Koblet (2nd), Fausto Coppi (4th) and Fiorenzo Magni (6th). He was the greatest rider you've (probably) never heard of.

Julian Dean
(image credit: Petit Brun CC BY-SA 2.0
Julian Dean
Julian Dean, born today in 1975 in Waihai, New Zealand, has competed in seven Tours de France and finished every one of them, though his best placing to date was 107th in 2007. His record in the other Grand Tours has been chequered - he abandoned his first Giro d'Italia during Stage 6, failed to show up at the start of Stage 19 in both 2008 and 2010, came 93rd in 2007 and 136th in 2010. He had ridden in three editions of the Vuelta a Espana, abandoning his first (2005) in Stage 15, coming 132nd in 2009 and failing to show at the start of Stage 13 in 2010.

However, Dean's performance in shorter races has been highly impressive - he won bronze at the 1993 World Track Championships in the Under-19 Team Pursuit, another in the same event at the 1994 Commonwealth Games and then went on to win stages and General Classifications at a variety of races in the Southern Hemisphere and the USA, culminating in a GC win at the 1999 Tour of Wellington. In that same year, he won two stages in the Tour of Britain, his first success in European racing, then won the Tour de Wallonie in 2003. A year later he was back in Britain, winning the Points Classification and coming 2nd overall, then he became National Road Race and Criterium Champion in 2007, retaining the road title the next year when he also finished 3rd overall at the Tour of Ireland and formed a part of the winning Time Trial team in the Giro d'Italia.

That apparently piqued his interest in the Grand Tours, because he showed a marked upturn in results from then onwards, finishing Stages 14 and 21 in 4th and 6th place respectively at the Tour de France and then 3rd in Stage 10 and 2nd in Stage 18 at the Giro and 2nd in Stages 4 and 18 and 3rd in Stage 20 at the Tour in 2010. He was once again part of a winning Tour Time Trial team in 2011, then finished Stage 3 the next day in 7th place. For 2011, he'll race with the new Australian GreenEDGE team, and though he's now at an age where many riders retire we might not have seen him realise his Grand Tour potential yet.

Other births: Kimberley Smith (USA, 1968); Bjørn Selander (USA, 1988); Gbedikpe Emmanuel Amouzou (Togo, 1954); Dirk Meier (East Germany, 1964); Howard Wing (China, 1916, died 2008); Jesús Rios (Mexico, 1964); Salvador Rios (Mexico, 1963); Valeria Cappellotto (Italy, 1970); Léon van Bon (Netherlands, 1972); Hans Bernhardt (Germany, 1906, died 1940); Erwin Jaisli (Switzerland, 1937); Jozef Žabka (Slovakia, 1975); Antonio Negrini (Italy, 1903, died 1994); Ruggero Berti (USA, 1909, died 1985).

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