Tuesday 14 February 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 14.02.12

Cadel Evans
Born in this day in 1977 in Katherine, a town and important Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory of Australia, Cadel Evans spent much of his childhood living in Armidale, New South Wales where he developed a love for skateboarding and which, he says, helped to shape him as an endurance athlete due to its altitude of almost 1000m. Towards the end of his teenage years, he began mountain biking and immediately showed potential, winning silver medals at the 1997 World Championships.

Cadel Evans
(image credit: Ludovic Péron CC BY-SA 3.0)
He had also displayed notable ability on the road, including winning a bronze medal in 1995 Junior Time Trial World Championship - the beginning of a process that would lead him to manager Tony Rominger and the now-notorious Michele Ferrari and which, by 2000, saw him switch allegiances and become a full-time road racer. He turned professional with Saeco in 2001 (having been a professional with the Volvo-Cannondale MTB squad) and won his first major victor, the Tour of Austria, that same year. As might be expected of a rider as promising as him, switched teams regularly as he rose up through the ranks, riding for Mapei the next year. At Mapei, he came under the guidance of the legendary trainer Aldo Sassi; the man who helped him transform from a world-class mountain biker to a world-class road cyclist. He entered his first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, with them and finished 14th overall - not bad at all in a race that most debutantes don't finish. Earlier in 2001, he'd won the King of the Mountains at the Tour Down Under, as he would again the next year.

2004 brought another Tour of Austria win, then in 2005 he entered his first Tour de France and came a remarkable 8th overall. That was improved to 4th in 2006, along with a third Tour Down Under mountains award and the Tour de Romandie, then honed down to 2nd in 2007. This was the point at which it became apparent that, somewhere in the near future, there was a Tour win with his name on it. It wan't to be 2008 or 2009, though the Points Classification at the Critérium du Dauphiné was a effective way to prove he could sprint as well as climb, and it couldn't be 2010 when Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck decided between themselves who was going to win when they were away together up in the mountains (the decision being made, in Contador's favour, with a little help from a slipped chain in Stage 15).

Then 2011 came round. Contador, whilst able to show that he's still the world's best climber, had been left reeling by an ongoing doping investigation and Bradley Wiggins, a favourite due to his earlier win at the Critérium du Dauphiné (in which Evans came 2nd) was forced out after a crash left him with a broken collar bone. That left Schleck - a rider far, far better at climbing, but nervous on a difficult descent as we saw on the slippery route into Gap from the Col de Manse when the Australian took a full minute from his rival. Schleck clawed back time with an incredible solo break on the Galibier a few days later, a ride hailed as one of the finest stage wins in years, and one perhaps intended to win him the race. But, with a superhuman effort, Evans managed to keep the advantage lower that Schleck would have liked. A win the next day on Alpe d'Huez might have sealed things in Schleck's favour, but it wasn't to be - the mountain, for some reason, seems to be one of the few that doesn't suit him. By the Stage 20 time trial, Schleck's advantage was down to 57" and while he's made heroic efforts to improve in the discipline, he'd have needed a miracle to keep it from Evans.

At the Tour of Germany, 2005
(image credit: Juergen Wohlfahrt CC BY-SA 2.5)
The rest, of course, is history. Evans rode even better than expected, finishing the stage a mere 7" behind winner Tony Martin and gave himself a 1'34" lead. Schleck would need to be content with another 2nd place overall, his disadvantage too great for the race to be won in the final stage into Paris even had he have been the sort of rider sufficiently disrespectful of tradition to attempt to take back the race. Evans had become the first Australian to win the Tour, finally completing a course of events set in motion by Don Kirkham and Ivor Munro right back in 1914.

Evans is known for his philanthropic philosophy, donating Aus$50,000 to charities, including the Amy Gillett Foundation set up in memory of the cyclist who was killed in a road accident in 2005. He is also a vocal supporter of the Free Tibet movement, saying "I don't want to see a repeat of what happened to [Australian] Aboriginal culture happen to another culture."

Gianni Bugno
Gianni Bugno, born on this day in1964 in Brugg, Switzerland,  displayed all the signs of a cyclist who was destined to become one of the great Grand Tour riders - he began winning important races immediately his professional career began, including Stage 18 at the 1988 Tour de France and another at the Giro d'Italia a year later. Then he won the World Cup, two Tour stages, Milan-San Remo and both the overall General Classification and the Points competition at the Giro in 1990. He was World Champion in 1991 and 1992, coming 2nd and 3rd in the Tour those same years.

Unfortunately, he had one serious problem - his career coincided with that of Miguel Indurain and the wins, despite Indurain's claim that Bugno was his biggest threat - that would otherwise have been his were always just out of his reach. For the last five years of his career, he seems to have stopped trying and contented himself with stage wins (two at the Giro, two at the Vuelta a Espana) and overall victory at other races such as the Tour of Flanders, the Tour Méditerranéen and a National Championship.

Today, he is still involved in cycling. However, unlike the majority of retired cyclists who want to remain a part of the scene, he apparently still has a taste for adrenaline and now pilots the helicopter that follows the Giro and provides footage for the RAI television station.

Maurice de Waele
The Belgian Tour de France winner Maurice de Waele died on this day in 1952, aged 55 years. He had come 2nd behind Nicolas Frantz in 1927 and 3rd behind Frantz and André Leducq the year before his win, and for a while it looked as though it wasn't goint to happen in 1929 either. He had been the race leader from the start to Stage 7 when two punctures caused him to lose enough time for Frantz, Leducq and Victor Fontan to move ahead of him (and, by the end of the stage, record equal elapsed times; thus leading to the only situation in the history of the Tour when three riders all wore the yellow jersey on the same day).

However, he refused to give up and rode so hard that when Fontan was forced out with a broken bike (and had attempted to continue on a replacement with the broken one strapped to his back because the rules of the day demanded a rider finish with - but not, apparently on - the bike with which he started) he had 75 seconds on Frantz and more on Leducq. Then, he suffered more punctures and lost the lead again, leaving Frantz leader on the road (ie, overall leader for a period during a stage) - but Frantz was unlucky and had punctures too, so de Waele regained the lead and won the stage. Riders were required to repair punctures themselves; having been permitted to accept help the previous year.

By Stage 10, de Waele was not feeling well and got gradually worse until he collapsed in Stage 15. His team, Alcyon, approached the organisers and requested that the next stage be started an hour later, which was granted. Then - with flagrant disregard for the rules that stated each rider, no matter what team he rode for, had to ride for himself alone - they came together and through combined effort somehow kept him upright and moving forward at a speed sufficient for him to finish the stage in 11th place, losing 13 minutes. Gradually, he improved over the following stages and miraculously retained the leadership all the way to the end of the final stage.

Henri Desgrange, who had instigated the "every man for himself" rule, was predictably furious; later telling journalists that his race had "been won by a corpse." As a result, he abolished trade teams and introduced national teams the following year - a rule that remained in place until 1961 when trade teams were reintroduced (though national teams would make an "experimental" reappearance in 1967 and 1968 as organisers attempted to prevent strikes, a had happened in 1966 when riders showed their displeasure at newly-introduced anti-doping tests).

Marco Pantani
Today is, as all cycling fans know, also the anniversary of the death of Marco Pantani, who was found in a Rimini hotel room after suffering heart failure and a cerebral œdema caused by cocaine poisoning.

Pantani, 1970-2004, on the Alpe d'Huez
(image credit: Hein Ciere CC BY 3.0
Pantani, who was 32 when he died, was a bad boy - he failed several anti-doping tests during his career, but conveniently for him in the days before a reliable test for EPO had been developed, leaving doctors reliant on the rather shaky stop-gap haematocrit reading method (one reading of 60.1% is highly suspicious for even the most rabid of his many fans, meanwhile). However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that even without EPO he'd have been one of the greatest climbers in the sport's history which, combined with his colourful character and appearance and a near-miraculous recovery after he collided head-on with a car in the Milano-Torino, ensured enormous popularity with the fans and with other riders.

A personality such as his meant there were arguments too, of course: the most famous being the one that flared up during the 2000 Tour de France when Lance Armstrong apparently eased off the pace to make him a gift of winning on Mont Ventoux. Ventoux has been known as the mountain that can kill since Tom Simpson met his death there in 1967, and it very nearly finished off Eddy Merckx in 1970 too - it's serious business and, as Armstrong would later be informed in no uncertain terms (according to his book Every Second Counts), "nobody makes a gift of Ventoux." Pantani felt patronised - he had ridden as strongly as Armstrong as they approached the top and would have preferred to have won it on his own merit (as he did the following day). The situation was not helped at all when Armstrong insulted the Italian by calling him Elefantino, a nickname referring to his rather prominent ears that he was known to detest.

The Galibier monument
(image credit: Italian Cycling Journal)
From 2001 onwards, Pantani seemed demoralised by the ongoing accusations that he was doping and began to show signs of depression. Comeback attempts were made at various points in the next two years, but the fire had gone. In 2003, he booked himself into a private clinic to receive treatment for alcoholism, substance addiction and nervous disorders.

Most addicts weaken and "blow out" at least once during the road to recovery, then go back to the hard task they've set for themselves. Some recover, some never do. Sadly, Pantani was not a man who did things by halves, and his blow out was a major one. There is an annual race, the Memorial Marco Pantani, named after him and each year one mountain stage of the Giro d'Italia is dedicated to him. In June 2011, a monument to him was unveiled on the Col du Galibier. Another stands on the Colle della Fauniera, a pass in Piemonte that has become known as the Colle Pantani.

Albert Dejonghe who would win Paris-Roubaix in 1922, then Stage 4 at the Tour de France the following year before finishing in 5th place at the 1925 Tour and 6th in 1926, was born in Middelkerke on this day in 1894.

Giuseppe Guerini was an Italian cyclist born in Gazzaniga on this day in 1970. While he has an impressive palmares stretching right back to his days as an amateur in 1988, he will be remembered as the cyclist knocked off his bike when a German photographer jumped in front of him to get a shot not far from the Alpe d'Huez finish line of Stage 10 at the 1999 Tour de France and apparently forgot that objects seen through the viewfinder are closer than they appear, failing to get out of the way so the rider collided with them. Though he fell heavily, Guerini was unhurt and got back on his bike - and won the stage.

Other births: Ray Jones (Great Britain, 1918); Michael Færk Christensen (Denmark, 1986); Anders Lund (Denmark, 1985); Dirk Baert (Belgium, 1949); Mario Escobar (Colombia, 1940); Mark Whitehead (USA, 1961, died 2011); Willy Debosscher (Belgium, 1943); Frédéric Lancien (France, 1971); Matthias Lange (Germany, 1963); Linas Balčiūnas (Lithuania, 1978); Nicolas Owona (Cameroon, 1952); Tim Veldt (Netherlands, 1984); Oleksandr Symonenko (Ukraine, 1974); José Pacheco (Portugal, 1942); Juan Martínez (Spain, 1962); Sergio Godoy (Guatemala, 1973); Friedrich Neuser (Germany, 1932); Radovan Fořt (Czechoslovakia, 1965); Thorleif Andresen (Norway, 1945).

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