Friday 17 February 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 17.02.12

René Vietto
René Vietto, born on this day in Le Cannet in 1914, was the rider who became a sort of hero for his self-sacrifice in the 1934 Tour de France. His team leader, Antonin Magne, had dominated the race from the first stage, wearing the yellow jersey ever since (and would keep it throughout the race). Then disaster struck on the way to the spa town of Aix-les-Thermes during Stage 15 when he rode into a pothole and splintered his wooden front wheel rim. So that he could continue, he took Vietto's wheel, leaving him at the roadside. He discovered a short way further along the road that his frame was damaged too, so he waited for the next rider from his team - Georges Speicher - and took his bike. Thus began one of the most interesting legends in the long history of the Tour.

In another version - which is somewhat more accurate - Magne could not make Vietto's wheel fit into his forks and waited for Speicher before taking his wheel instead. Speicher also couldn't use Vietto's wheel. Vietto, meanwhile, was still waiting for a team car to give him another a wheel and had become so upset that his chances of winning the stage - though the time he lost, eight minutes and tiny when compared to the winning margins of the day, would probably have had little if any effect on his overall Tour result (some say that we should also take into account that he was a 20-year-old domestique riding his first Tour, but the fact that he won four stages and came 5th overall that year suggests that he was a stronger rider than most debutantes) - that he'd started crying. A photographer found him at the side of the road and took the picture, which was published the following day accompanied by a story sometimes attributed to future race director Jacques Goddet and earned the rider the adoration of the French public (and, since his new celebrity would allow him to charge high fees to appear at future races, set him up for life). Henri Desgrange, for all his usual enthusiasm for anything that might increase his race's mythos, was said to have been furious at the fabrication and swore he would reveal the truth - but the public, fortunately, seem to have realised that truth should not stand in the way of a good story.

The following day, Magne once again had trouble and broke his back wheel on the fast descent of the Portet d'Aspet. Vietto, trying to make up time, was out in front and didn't see it happen so had carried on. At the bottom of the mountain, an official beckoned him over and relayed the news, informing him that his leader was stuck without support. So Vietto turned around and rode back up to find him, and handed over his bike. Italian Guiseppe Martano, Magne's most dangerous rival, would break his own bike in Stage 17, leaving the Frenchman to finish the Tour without challenge.

Feeling sorry for him? Let's delve a little deeper. The famous photograph shows poor Vietto all alone in the world as he waits for a new wheel, but in fact the photographer had realised that he would have a sensational image once he'd cropped out the apparently quite sizable crowd who had gathered around the stricken rider and were taking care of him (it remains, however, one of the sport's most iconic images, commonly used to illustrate the glorious pain and hardship of the Tour). Secondly, while Magne was grateful for his team mate's actions, Vietto was far from magnanimous - he verbally attacked his leader and told him he was a bad rider when he tried to thank him. Magne continued to express thanks for the rest of his life, but Vietto became bitter and ended his life living as a recluse on a pig farm. Magne was also not permitted to ride the victory lap to which he was fully entitled when he won in Paris, where the crowd waved banners declaring Vietto to be "the moral winner of the Tour."

Vietto memorial, Col de Braus
(image credit: Markus Schweiss CC BY-SA 3.0)
Worse still, Vietto allowed the event to turn him into a bully. Tour legend has it - without proof, since none of the people involved are still alive - that when he lost a toe to an infection, he demanded that his domestique Apo Lazaridès chopped off one of his own toes too. "But why? I don't need to," the Greek rider protested. "Because I say so," Vietto replied. Lazaridès, whilst perhaps not the most intelligent rider in cycling history, was not lacking in bravery - he had risked death at the hands of the Nazis when he used his bike to transport supplies through the mountains to the Resistance during the Occupation of France, and so the toe came off. He walked with a limp until the 30th of October 1988, the day he died. The legend says that Magne's toe is kept in a jar filled with formaldehyde (or absinthe, in some versions) in a bar in Marseilles - but nobody seems to know which bar.

Whatever he was, Vietto was a talented rider and wore the yellow jersey for a total of 29 stages either side of the Second World War - a record among riders who never won a Tour. He won the Mountains classification and Stages 7, 9, 11 and 18 in 1934, Stages 6 and 9 in 1935 and Stages 2 and 9 in 1947. His memorial is located on Col de Braus in the Alpes-Maritimes department where he was born and closely resembled those erected in memory of Tom Simpson in Haworth (where he was born) and on Mont Ventoux (where he died).

Thomas Frischknecht
Thomas Frischnecht
(image credit: Bakashi10 CC BY-SA 3.0)
Thomas Frischknecht, born in Feldbach in Switzerland on this day in 1970, has been a professional mountain biker since 1990 - earning himself the nickname "the Elder Statesman." The son of a three-time silver medal winner at the cyclo cross World Championships, he has enjoyed considerable success in the same discipline, including a National Championship victories in 1991, 1997, 1999 and 2002.

He became World Mountain Bike Cross Country Champion in 1996, 2003 and 2005. He has always been a vocal opponent of doping in cycling and all other sports, frequently given as an example of how an athlete can rise to the top of a sport through hard work and determination without turning to drugs, and has been sponsored by ex-professional road and mountain bike racer-turned world famous frame builder Tom Ritchey since the beginning of his career.

Bernhard Eisel
(image credit: Ralf Seger CC BY-SA 3.0)
Bernhard Eisel
Bernhard Eisel, born in the Austrian town of Voitsberg on this day in 1981, is best known as part of the Cavendish-Eisel double act in which he leads the Manx rider out from the peloton, providing him with clear space in which to launch the devastating sprint to the line that has seen him become Great Britain's most successful rider in Tour de France history and supporting him through the mountains and long flat stages.

However, Eisel is a very successful rider in his own right, especially in one-day races: he has won the Lancaster and Reading Classics (2007), Paris-Bourges (2008), the E3 Harelbeke (2009) and Gent-Wevelgem (2010) as well as finishing 5th (2006) and 7th (2011) at Paris-Roubaix. In addition, he has won numerous stages in important races such as the Criterium des Espoirs (Stage 3, 2004), the Volta ao Algarve (Stages 1 and 4 in 2005, Stage 5 in 2008) and the Tour de Suisse (Stage 1, 2005 and Stage 2, 2009).

With the demise of the HTC-Highroad team due to sponsorship problems at the end of the 2011 season, it was announced that Eisel would be going to Team Sky with Cavendish for 2012. He is another example of one of those riders who might have achieved much more, but who has been content to ride for the greater good of his team.

Timothy Gudsell became New Zealand National Scratch Race Champion in 2003 and won three gold medals at the Oceania Games in 2005. He was due to make his first Grand Tour appearance at the 2007 Giro d'Italia but was unable to compete due to injuries sustained in a crash. He was born on this day in 1984 in Fielding.

Leire Olaberria Dorronsoro was born in Ikaztegieta, Euskal Herria, on this day in 1977. Her best result to date was a bronze medal in the Points Race at the 2008 Olympics when she was beaten by Marianne Vos and Yoanka González.

Ferdinando Teruzzi was born on this day in 1924 in Sesto San Giovanni, Italy. With Renato Perona, he won a gold medal in the Tandem race at the 1948 Olympics in London.

Antonio Domenicali, born on this day in 1936 in Berra, Italy, won a gold medal in the Team Pursuit at the 1956 Olympics. He died in Lozzolo on the 5th of July 2002.

On this day in 1869, Charles Spencer, John Mayall and Rowley Turner complete what The Times newspaper reported as an "Astonishing Velocipede Feat" by cycling the 53 miles (85km) from Trafalgar Square in London to Brighton in 15 hours.

On this day in 2011, the Spanish Meat Production Association issued a press release strongly denying any possibility that Alberto Contador could have consumed the drug Clenbuterol - used illegally to promote the growth of lean muscle in livestock destined for food production - in contaminated Spanish meat. He had been cleared due to the impossibility of proving his claim was false by the Spanish Cycling Federation two days previously.

Other births: Miguel Fernández (Spain, 1969); Gustavo Faris (Argentina, 1962); Walter Bäni (Switzerland, 1957); Maurice Hugh-Sam (Jamaica, 1955); Frans Cools (Belgium, 1918, died 1999); Carlos Melero (Spain, 1948); Haluk Günözgen (Turkey, 1950); Jacques van Egmond (Netherlands, 1908, died 1969. Also known as Jacobus van Egmond); Ole Højlund Pedersen (Denmark, 1943); Vito Corbelli (San Marino, 1941); Jürgen Tschan (Germany, 1947); Lee Fu-Hsiang (Taipei, 1960); Markus Andersson (Sweden, 1973).

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