Tuesday 7 February 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 07.02.12

Learco Guerra
Learco Guerra, who died on this day in 1963, started out as a footballer. However, he turned out not to be very good at it and so he decided to have a go at cycling instead. He turned out to be very good at that, earning himself the nickname "Locomotive" for his ability to keep on for kilometre after kilometre at high speed.

Born in Bagnolo san Vito on the 14th of October 1902, Guerra's football ambitions meant that he came to cycling unusually late when he was 26. It took him just a year to become National Champion in 1930, the same year he entered the Giro d'Italia for the first time and won two stages (8 and 11), coming 9th overall. Even more remarkably, he also entered the Tour de France for the first time, where he won three stages (2, 13 and 15), wore the maillot jaune for seven days and finished in 2nd place overall and retained his National title. He kept it again in 1931 and added the World Road Race Championship for good measure, having won another four stages in the Giro too. He wasn't World Champion in 1932 but remained National Champion, this time winning six Giro stages (1, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 13). In 1933, he took Stages 1, 3 and 5 at the Giro, then went back to the Tour where he won Stages 2, 6, 7 and 18, once again finishing 2nd overall, won Milan-San Remo and became National Champion for the fourth consecutive year.

Guerra's best year was 1934, when he won 13 major races including the Giro di Lombardia and ten stages at the Giro d'Italia (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 14) - more than enough for an overall win - and won the National Championship for the final time. He settled for 4th overall at the 1935 Giro, this time having to make do with Stages 3, 4, 7, 8 and 10, then had a quieter year in 1936 during which his only notable win was the  Giro della Provincia Milano in which he teamed up with Gino Bartali. His last Giro came a year later and he won Stage 9, polishing off his career in 1940 when he became National Track Stayer Champion.

Sadly, Guerra's enormous success was hijacked by the Italian Fascist government who used him as a heroic figurehead in propaganda. His own politics are not known, but most historians feel he was probably not a fascist himself - his popularity in the peloton, among cyclists of various nations and at a time when many were beginning to develop real suspicions and fear of what was taking place in Italy and Germany, may confirm this; as would his work after retiring as a cyclist when he became a team manager for, among several others, Charly Gaul, a rider who would have made one of the most unlikely fascists ever.

He died aged 60, having been diagnosed Parkinson's Disease some time previously.

Franco Ballerini
Franco Ballerini, who died on this day in 2010, first found fame as a cyclist before becoming a cycling team manager. Born in Florence, his greatest success came in the Classics - he won Paris-Roubaix, the single-day race so hard it's known as commonly by its nicknames "The Hell Of The North" and "A Sunday In Hell" as often as by its real name, on two occasions, first in 1995 and then again in 1998. He also won Paris-Brussels in 1990, the Giro della Romagna in 1991, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 1995 and the Grand Prix de Wallonie in 1996.

Franco Ballerini, 1964-2010
(image credit: Eric Houdas CC BY-SA 3.0)
He was far less effective as a stage racer, finishing the Tour de France 115th overall in 1992 and 61st the following year, when he also took Stage 14 at the Giro d'Italia. He would win Stage 5 in the 1996 Tour of Austria, but that was as far as his stage race success went. He did far better as manager of the Italian team, training among others Mario Cippolini who holds the Giro record of 42 stage wins. He also managed Paolo Bettini, who would become known as the greatest Classics rider of his generation before retiring in 2008.

Ballerini loved rally racing as much as he loved cycling, and it was while participating in that sport that he met his untimely end when he was 45. He was acting as navigator for a driver named Alessandro Ciardi during a race at Larciano when the car went out of control and crashed, leaving him with the horrific injuries that caused his death a short while later.

Elia Vivani, stage winner at the Vuelta a Cuba, Tour of Turkey, Tour of Beijing and USA ProCycling Challenge and victor at the 2010 Memorial Marco Pantani, was born on this day in 1989 in Italy.

Belgian Wim Arras, born today in 1964, was considered destined for great things after winning Paris-Brussels in 1987, also achieving podium finishes and stage wins in numerous other events. However, his career was cut short by a motorcycle accident in 1996.

Other births: Fridrihs Bošs (Russia, 1887, died 1950); Andrejs Apsītis (Latvia, 1888, died 1945); Jairo Díaz (Colombia, 1945); Michael Marx (Germany, 1960); George Corsar (Scotland, 1886); Franco Testa (Italy, 1938); Pedro Pablo Pérez (Cuba, 1977); Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukraine, 1979); Marcel Grifnée (Belgium, 1947); Józef Stefański (Poland, 1908, died 1997); Jo Geon-Haeng (South Korea, 1965); Jo Seong-Hwan (South Korea, 1943).

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