Thursday 23 February 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 23.02.12

Paris-Roubaix was run on this day in 1913, the earliest calendar date in the long history of the race. With exception of two stages at that year's Tour de France and two more in the 1914 Tour, it was the last race ever won by Luxembourg's François Faber - two years later, he was killed in the trenches of the First World War as he attempted to rescue an injured comrade from No Man's Land.

On this day in 1898 in France, author Émile Zola was imprisoned for writing J'Accuse, an open letter in which he (with good reason) accused the French government of antisemitism in the Dreyfus Affair - which would, in  roundabout way, lead to the inauguration of the Tour de France. Henri Desgrange, the first director of the Tour, was an enormous admirer of Zola and tried to emulate his skill in his own work - thus suggesting that Desgrange was probably not an antisemite himself, even though he was an ardent anti-Dreyfusard.

Theo Middelkamp
Theofiel Middelkamp was born on this day in 1914 in Nieuw-Namen, Netherlands. He was a keen footballer in his youth and had oped to make some sort of living from it, but football was played only as an amateur sport on the Netherlands at the time and he apparently wasn't good enough at it to be able to find a contrct with a professional foreign team. Being an athletic lad, he instead looked to cycling as a career and in 1936 he bcame the first Dutch rider to win a stage at the Tour de France.

He became National Road Race Amateur Champion in 1934 but remained an independent for almost two years before turning professional with the Belgian Van Hauwaert team in 1936 and it was with them that he first entered the Tour. Having spent all his life in one of the flattest parts of the Netherlands, he had never seen a hill before let alone a mountain - yet he won Stage 7 from Aix-les-Bains to Grenoble, one of the most difficult mountain stages of that year's parcours, and came 23rd on the overall General Classification. He won a bronze medal in the National Championships that same year.

In 1938, he became National Champion and entered the Tour for a second time. This time he won Stage 7 and came 43rd overall, winning 8,000 francs. This was far less than he could win in the races of Flanders and he decided that he would not compete in future Tours, telling reporters "I cannot live on fame and honour." During the Second World War be became a smuggler, carrying goods across the borders of Nazi-occupied countries until he was caught and imprisoned for several months.

The National Championship was held in 1943 despite the Occupation, and Middelkamp won it - as he would again in 1945, then he became the first Dutch World Road Race Champion in 1947. The following years brought some 45 podium finishes before he retired and bought a bar in 1951. For a great many years and for reasons unknown, he refused to talk about his cycling career after he'd retired and would become angry with any cyclist who tracked down his bar and tried to pick his brains. Finally, in 2003, whatever had caused him to want to forget it all was far enough in the past and he discussed his remarkable stage win that had taken place 67 years previously. He was 91 when he died in 2005.

Marc Wauters
Marc Wauters, born in Hasselt, Belgium on this day in 1969, won the Junior Time Trial event at his National Championships in 1987 and then set about making a good name for himself before being offered his first professional contract with Lotto-Superclub in 1991. He won a series of Belgian and Dutch races on the following years with many observers remarking that he showed real promise for the future.

Then, for no reason, he stopped winning - he had no victories at all in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. His form was as good as it had ever been, he didn't have any more crashes than usual and there wasn't an unbeatable rival in the races he entered. It seems to have been purely coincidental, but must have bothered him intensely. Thankfully, the wins started coming in again in 1999 with an early season victory at the GP Eddy Merckx, closely followed by Paris-Tours, the Tour of Britain (then called the Prudential Tour) and the Tour de Luxembourg. 2000 and 2001 continued in the same way, including a win for Stage 2 at the 2001 Tour de France and then he won the National Time Trial Championships in 2002 and 2003. He won silver fpr the National Road Race Championship in 2004, then won back the National Time Trial title a year later and continued to achieve good results until his retirement in 2006.

Andrea Moletta
Born on this day in 1973 in Citadella, Italy, Andrea Moletta became involved in a mysterious doping incident during the 2008 Giro d'Italia when he was riding with the Gerolsteiner team. Moletta's father was one of three passengers in a car stopped by police at the race as part of an ongoing investigation into doping at Padua gyms and was discovered to be in possession of 82 packets of Viagra, a syringe hidden inside a toothpaste tube and a portable fridge containing unidentified fluids.

Andrea "Actually, That's The Baguette I'm Having
For Lunch" Moletta
(image credit: PCM Daily)
Viagra - not officially recognised as having any physical effects likely to be of much during a bike race (though some reports had claimed it improved athletic performance at altitudes greater than any reached on any Grand Tour) and, due to the effects it does have, being a tricky one to hide if your job requires you to wear very tight lycra shorts - was not banned under UCI or WADA rules, but a rumour doing the rounds claimed that riders had been taking it to increase their aggression which served to increase suspicion, as did those mysterious fluids. The hidden syringe, of course, was the most damning of all.

Gerolsteiner suspended the rider pending further investogation. The fluids turned out to be an intravenously-injected substance known as Lutelef, a drug that could be used in a virtually undetectable blood doping technique but also came with a host of common side effects including a "painful, prolonged erection," leading to its use in very tiny quantities in so-called "non-prescription blue pills" used as an alternative to Viagra (generally by men who confuse ability to achieve an erection with status and thus feel ashamed to admit impotence to their doctor).

The investigation could find no suggestion that Moletta had been using Viagra, Lutelef or any other drug, so he was cleared of all suspicion. His father continues to deny that the drugs were to be used for nefarious means and no link to any doping programme was ever found. Nor was anybody, perhaps unwilling to risk damaging the Italian Stallion stereotype, willing to come forward and admit that they had a legitimate use for 82 packets of Viagra and an extremely questionable hormone should the Viagra not work its magic. To this day, nobody knows who the drugs were owned by, nor whom they were going to.

Roger Rivière, World Champion
Roger Rivière
Roger Rivière, born in St-Etienne this day in 1936, was a highly talented track cyclist who, at the age of just 19, beat Jacques Anquetil in the National Pursuit Championships at the Parc des Princes. In 1957, he became World Pursuit Champion and set a new Hour Record at 46.923km along with a new World 10km record at 12'31.8". He repeated this success the following year when he beat the 10km time by 9", set a new World 20km record at 25'15" then beat it with 24'50.6" and another new Hour Record at 47.364km - which remained intact for the next nine years. He then took the World Pursuit Champion title again in 1959.

Around 1956, he had started to perform well on the road too and won the Tour d'Europe. In 1959, he finished the Vuelta a Espana in 6th place overall and three stage wins and the Tour de France in 4th with two stage wins, leaving him among the favourites for General Classification success at the 1960 Tour. However, tragedy struck during Stage 14 when he attempted to follow the Italian rider Gastone Nencini down the difficult descent of the Col de Perjuret, despite Raphaël Géminiani's warning that "the only reason to follow Nencini downhill would be if you had a death wish."

Just a short way into the descent, he lost control and hit a small wall at the side of the road, plunging over it into a ravine. Spectators and officials present at the scene slowly peered over, expecting to see a mangled corpse if they could see any trace of the rider at all. Precisely how far he fell is not known, eyewitness reports vary from 10 to 20 metres, but his fall had been broken by scrawny bushes and he was both alive and conscious. The helicopter was unable to land (the writer Antoine Blondin said that it "turned above us in the way that vultures circle"), delaying the time before he could receive medical treatment - and when he was eventually pulled out, it was soon discovered that his spine was broken. When Nencini received his bouquet for winning the stage, he made arrangements for it to be given to his rival in hospital.

Rivière, his spine broken, is carried from the ravine
Rivière dishonoured himself somewhat a short while later by blaming his mechanic, saying that his brakes had either not been set up properly and had failed or that there had been oil on the wheel rims and/or brake pads. However, further investigation revealed that his brakes were in fact working perfectly and were not contaminated with oil. Then, doctors revealed that they had found a large amount of painkillers in the pockets of the rider's jersey and, based on what they'd seen when he was brought to the hospital, concluded that he had probably taken so many of them that he'd been incapable of reacting quickly enough to prevent the accident. Soon, he confessed; admitting that he was swallowing "thousands" of pills each year and that he'd been doping throughout his career.

Even a man who tries to blame others for his own mistake doesn't deserve the outcome that befell Rivière, though. He never recovered from his injuries and was left an 80% paraplegic, confined for the rest of his life to a wheelchair. He spent the proceeds of his career on a bar and restaurant in St-Etienne which he renamed Le Vigorelli after the velodrome where he had set his world records, but the venture failed and left him with little. Then he opened a garage, but that too failed so he tried his luck with a holiday camp. When that failed, he was left with nothing. He died soon afterwards of throat cancer, aged just 40. "Rivière, who succeeded at the impossible, found the possible more difficult," said the writer Olivier Dazat.

Gustav-Adolf Schur
Täve Schur, as he became known, was born on this day in 1931 in Heyrothsberge, a town that would become part of East Germany after the Second World War. He began cycling in 1950 and won races immediately, including six major victories during his first two years of riding competitively. In 1954, he became Amateur National Road Race Champion, a title he would win for a second time three years later and again in 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1961 - and in 1959, he was Amateur World Champion too, thus becoming the first East German to hold the title just as he had been the first East German to win the Peace Race in 1955 (which he won again in 1959).

Täve Schur
(it was the Sixties, alright?)
Like Jens Voigt, also an East German, Schur was more popular for his personality than his palmares and earned the adoration of the fans in 1960 when he threw away an almost guaranteed victory at the World Championships to allow his team mate Bernhard Eckstein to win. 25 years after retiring, he was voted the best-loved East German athlete of all time - having won the East German Sports Personality of the Year Award every year from 1953 to 1961. He was a member of the East German Parliament for 31 years between 1959 and 1990, somehow finding time between 1955 and 1963 alongside his racing and his political duties to qualify as a rugby coach.

He retained his socialist politics in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and joined the PDS party, which has campaigned against racism, in support of the legalisation of same-sex marriage and for greater rights and welfare for immigrants; all causes that increasingly came under attack as the old Eastern Bloc swung sharply to the right as a reaction to the dark days of Soviet-style Communism. With that agenda, he sat as a member of the Bundestag parliament for four years from 1998. In recognition of a lifetime of achievement, an asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter was named (38976) Täve in his honour. The bike shop he opened in 1992 in Madgeburg is still in business, though now being run by his son, and is sufficiently successful to sponsor the locally-based Team Täves Radladen.

Henry John Lawson, known as Harry, was born on this day in 1852 in London. At the age of 15 he was accepted for a two-year apprenticeship at an iron foundry, then moved with his family to Brighton in 1873 and found work in a bicycle shop. With his employer, a man named James Likeman, he produced a design for a bike driven by a system of levers and they were awarded a patent on it. Lawson then went on to design many other bicycles in the same decade including one described as the "first authentic design of safety bicycle employing chain-drive to the rear wheel which was actually made," thus earning him the honour - shared with John Kemp Starley (and, according to some histories, various others) - of being named as the inventor of the the modern bike.

Arthur Charles Jeston Richardson
Born in Brazil in this day in 1872, Arthur Charles Jeston Richardson moved with his family to Australia during childhood and became a mining engineer, also making a name for himself as a bushman. He became famous with a number of Australian cycling firsts, including becoming the first man to "cycle" (in fact, a large part of the journey was completed on foot as he was forced to carry his bike over sand dunes) from Coolgardie in the west to Adelaide in the south-east via the Nullabor Desert, which he described as having been "about 1000 degrees in the shade." The journey, some 2,000km long, took him 31 days.

Three years later, he set out from Perth on the 5th of June in an attempt to complete a circuit of the country in a shorter time than a two-man team who had set out from Brisbane. The journey was extremely had-going with heavy rains preventing him from riding in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, where he also encountered what he termed "hostile blacks." He finished before the rival team and another solo rider, ending the 18,507km trek on the 4th of February 1900.

Two months later, he joined the Army and was posted to the South African War where his bike skills saw him put into use as a dispatch rider. He arrived in Mozambique on the 18th of April 1900 but had been discharged by June with a broken arm. He then traveled to West Africa before finding his way back to outh America where he again worked as a mining engineer in Chile and married a woman named Gwendolin Bedwell who gave birth to a son. Little is known of what happened to him after his days in the Army, but he fought again in the First World War and was injured so badly he spent two years in a hospital in Rouen, France.

Once recovered he joined his wife who was waiting in England and found more work as an engineer . However, it didn't last and the couple divorced, possibly as a result of the serious mental health issues he suffered after the War. He later married again, this time to a Rita Betsy Elliott-Druiff. On the 3rd of April 1939, police discovered his corpse lying next to that of his wife at their home in Scarborough. He had shot her, then himself.

Other births: Eddy Vanhaerens (Belgium, 1954); András Baranyecz (Hungary, 1946, died 2010); Corrado Ardizzoni (Italy, 1916, died 1980); Dimitrios Georgalis (Greece, 1974); Jörg Müller (Switzerland, 1961); Nikolay Gorelov (USSR, 1948); Fernando Sierra (Colombia, 1966); Kim Yong-Mi (South Korea, 1976); Didier Pasgrimaud (France, 1966); David George (South Africa, 1976); Nicolas Morn (Luxembourg, 1932, died 1997); Karl Neumer (Germany, 1887, died 1984); Gavin Stevens (New Zealand, 1960); José Carlos de Lima (Brazil, 1955).

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