|Young, doughy, unformed -
Verbeeck in 1963, his first
year as a professional
Born in Langdorp on this day in 1941, Belgian cyclist Frans Verbeeck was nicknamed The Flying Milkman because that was his job before he became a professional cyclist - and it became his job again for a short while after his career got going because, one day, he decided he was sick of the dreadful wages paid to professional cyclists in the 1960s. At the 1966 Volta a Ciclista Catalunya he decided enough was enough; so he found his manager, said "See you around - but not at a bike race" and went home with absolutely no intention of ever entering a race ever again.
Cycling, however, is not like other sports. Being good at it is not enough, because cycling takes more from those who compete than it will ever give back. It gets in the blood and takes over, very soon taking control of the mind. Verbeeck had been infected years ago. Less than a year after walking away, he began to show up as a spectator. Then he started doing a bit of work for the Goldor-Gerka team, managed by Florent Van Vaerenbergh. In 1968, he started entering races again.
During the winter of 1968/1969, he realised that whilst he'd thought he was finished with cycling, cycling hadn't finished with him. Therefore, he was just going to have to continue being a cyclist - and if he didn't want to have to live on the pittance that second-best cyclists were paid, he'd have to become the best. The way to do that, he reasoned, was to devise a new training programme that would transform him into a Flandrien. In those days, most riders packed up their bikes and hibernated during the winter before entering as many races as possible come the new season in order to burn off the flab. Verbeeck borrowed a heavy bike from a postman he knew and rode it as far as possible every single day, no matter what the weather. That way, he already had a head start. In time, bad weather ceased to bother him - sometimes, he would be the only rider left riding trough the wind and rain when everyone else had given up.
It paid off: in 1969, he won six races - compared to the seven he'd won between 1961 and the end of the 1968 season. He stuck to the same training program over the next winter, too, and in 1970 he won 22 races. Still, though, one factor stood in his way; and it was called Eddy Merckx. Beating Merckx became Verbeeck's mission in life, so he responded by making his training even tougher. Yet still, Merckx beat him time and time again.
|Through superhuman effort, Verbeecke
transformed himself into a Flandrien and
became one of the few man to ever scare
Then, with 6km to go, the inevitable happened. On one of the less challenging hills Verbeeck cracked, changing down a gear. Merckx heard his derailleur click and changed his own up one gear, then rode away to victory. Verbeeck had lost once again, and he never would get the better of his old enemy. However, he had earned himself a place in one of cycling's most exclusive clubs, one that has fewer members than the Tour winners' club - he had been one of the very few men to ever scare The Cannibal.
|Eros Capecchi at the Critérium du Dauphiné, 2010
Eros Capecchi, who was born in Castiglione del Lago on this day in 1986, became Italian Junior Road Race Champion in 2004 and, by doing so, got himself a trainee contract with Liquigas-Bianchi for 2005. In 2008 he signed to Saunier Duval-Scott and entered the Giro d'Italia for the first time, grabbing a brace of top 30 stage finishes and completing the event in 99th place overall, then won what appears destined to be the last ever Euskal Bizikleta (unless anyone organises a future edition).
He didn't finish the Giro in 2009 but performed well in the Tour de Suisse; then went to the Vuelta a Espana but abandoned that too. In 2010, he abandoned the Giro but did very well in the Critérium du Dauphiné, finishing Stage 5 in second place behind Daniel Navarro, which persuaded Footon-Servetto managers to send him to the Tour de France, where he finished Stage 7 in the Jura Mountains in tenth place and Stage 16 - a high mountain stage - in twelfth.
At the 2011 Giro, after he had returned to Liquigas (now supplied with bikes by Cannondale rather than Bianchi), Capecchi finished the first stage in third place and won Stage 18, though he was only 99th in the General Classification. At the Vuelta, he finished in the top ten four times, including twice in second place - consistency being the key to the General Classification, he finished 21st overall. In the 2012 Giro, his best stage finish was 13th but he was 37th overall; results that suggest a rider who is maturing both physically and mentally and one of whom we are likely to hear much more in the coming years.
Baldato enjoyed an unusually long career, gaining his first professional contract with Del Tongo-MG Boys in 1991 and finishing with Lampre in 2008 when he was the oldest rider on any of the UCI ProTeams, retiring that year after a crash at the Eneco Tour left him with a broken collarbone and an injured pelvis.
Karen Brems Kurreck, who was born in Urbana, Illinois on this day in 1962, won the Individual Time Trial at the 1994 UCI World Championships - the first time that the race was included as part of the event.
Yumari González, born in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba on this day in 1979, won the Scratch race at the World Championships in 2007 and 2009.
Shane Sutton was born in New South Wales on this day in 1957 and rode with the gold medal-winning Australian Team Pursuit squad at the Commonwealth Games in 1978, then won the bronze at the Australian Road Race Championships in 1983 and 1984. In 1990 he won the Tour of Britain and in 1993, having taken British citizenship, won the bronze in the British National Road Race too. It's in Britain that Sutton has found greater fame than he ever had as a rider: his coaching for Wales and British Cycling has earned his the respect and thanks of many riders and a number of awards, including an OBE in 2010. He also works as chief coach with the New South Wales Institute of Sport.
On this day in 2012, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was formally charged with doping by USADA. Blood samples obtained in 2009 and 2010 were said to have been found to be "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions." Five other men, including RadioShac manager Johan Bruyneel and three associates, were accused of being "engaged in a massive doping conspiracy from 1998-2011." Armstrong, who won his Tours between 1999 and 2005, has never failed an anti-doping test.
Other births: Jhon Arias (Colombia, 1969); Scott Steward (Australia, 1965); Séamus Downey (Ireland, 1960); Wolfgang Schmelzer (East Germany, 1940).