Friday 22 June 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 22.06.12

The Tour de France has started on this date three times - in 1924, 1964 and 1965. In 1924, the race covered 5,425km in 15 stages - having had fifteen stages since 1910, it would grow to 18 in 1925. In 1923, a new rule had been introduced which awarded a two-minute time bonus to each stage winner; organisers decided that this had been a success so they increased it to three minutes.

Henri Pélissier
Ever since 1920, when France was trying to put itself back together after the First World War, another rule had stated that all riders were required to finish each stage with all the equipment with which they began it. Henri Pélissier, who had never seen eye-to-eye with Tour director Henri Desgrange, had won in 1923 and evidently considered that doing so awarded him a certain amount of licence; partly to highlight the impracticability of the rule and partly because he was well-known for being argumentative and generally annoying, he decided that he'd wear several extra jerseys of his own (so that the sponsor providing them couldn't complain) at the start of each stage and discard them along the route as the day warmed up. Organisers noticed, as he'd probably intended, and at the beginning of Stage 3 made him pull them up so they could count how many he had on. He refused at first, saying he'd refuse to race unless they left him alone; but Desgrange had had more than enough of him and told him to go if that's what he wanted to do, big star or not. For once in his life Pélissier backed down, but then he had an even better idea: during the stage, he persuaded his brother Francis (who said he had stomach problems and was glad to give up) and another rider from Automoto named Maurice Ville (who also didn't take much convincing as he was already finding the Tour much harder than he'd expected) to abandon the race with him - some histories say that Pélissier did in fact abandon when he first threatened to do so, but it seems unlikely that Charles and Ville would have done so at the same time had this have been the case. 

The Pélissiers and Ville met with Albert Londres
The three men later met up with journalist Albert Londres (who was one of the first to develop investigative journalism but, Pélissier felt, knew nothing about cycling) and fed him a juicy tale full of rather embellished tales of the hardships they faced and the drugs they took in order to cope with them. Many believe Pélissier's sole motive for doing so was to damage the Tour's reputation and bring Desgrange into disrepute; however, while this was undoubtedly part of it, doping was not then viewed in the way that it is now by the public and Pélissier, who had tried to set up a riders' union in the past to protect his comrades' interests, may also have been genuinely concerned about their well-being. Meanwhile, in Brest, Belgian rider Théophile Beeckman had been the first rider to complete the closing circuit and to cross the finish line. He should, therefore, have won the stage - for reasons that remain unknown, the bell announcing the last lap had not been rung and Philippe Thys (winner in 1913, 1914 and 1920) was declared winner instead. Finally, they were declared joint winners.

Ottavio Bottecchia
Ottavio Bottecchia, who had started the race in yellow, gradually built up and then increased an advantage during the first two stages of the race. During Stages 3 and 4, Beeckman equaled his time but since Bottecchia had led for longest it was decided the maillot jaune should remain his. When the race reached the Pyrenees in Stages 6 and 7, he gained more time and began Stage 8 (which covered the entire 450km between the Pyrenees and the Alps) with a 50' lead over second place Nicolas Frantz. However, he had over-exerted himself: in the Alps he was noticeably finding the going much harder and his rivals began to eat away at his advantage. Nevertheless, he kept going in the hope he could hold them off - and despite a stage win each for Thys and Giovanni Brunero and two for Frantz, he left the mountains still in the lead. As the final stage began, his advantage stood at 32', despite a crash in Stage 13 when a do knocked him off his bike. Nowadays, when riders have full mechanical support and even catastrophic damage to the bike can be solved in seconds with a replacement machine, 32' would leave any rider all but unbeatable; in 1924 it could be lost very easily, but Bottecchia rode carefully and maintained it all the way to Paris. When he was awarded his three-minute stage winner bonus, he won the Tour by 35'36".

Bottecchia was not only the first Italian to win the Tour,  he had won the maillot jaune on the first stage, then kept it for the rest of the race - no other rider had ever worn it after every stage (others had led the race from Stage 1, notably Maurice Garin in 1904 before he was disqualified for cheating, but only in the days before the jersey was introduced).

In 1964, there were 22 stages covering a total distance of 4,504km - almost 1,000km shorter than 1924, with much shorter average stage lengths (but far fewer rest days and much higher average speeds), though still considerably longer than the Tours of today. For the one and only time in Tour history, the Alpe d'Huez was featured not as a stage finish but mid-stage.

Anquetil and Poulidor
Various riders took turn winning the first seven stages with nobody holding onto the maillot jaune until Rudi Altig won stage 4 and kept it for the next three days. Federico Bahamontes, on the way to his sixth and final Tour King of the Mountains, won on Stage 8 with its climb up the Alpe d'Huez; but he didn't gain the time he needed to take over the leadership and the maillot jaune went instead to Georges Groussard who, having never troubled the General Classification before (his best overall result other than 1964 had been 30th three years earlier), wore it for the next nine consecutive days. While he had custody, the latest installment in the long-running conflict between Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor sparked into life and, as tended to be the way, rapidly became an inferno. Both men reached the end of Stage 9, which was due to finish with two laps of a circuit in Monaco, together; but Poulidor forgot they were to complete two laps and had slowed to a halt before he realised his mistake. He sprinted in an effort to catch up with his old enemy but had lost too much time - Anquetil won, and earned himself a bonus minute at the same time. The next stage was split, the first half - a plain stage - going to Jan Janssen, while the time trial in the second half went to Anquetil. Poulidor, who had started with a 15" advantage, was second; his lead transformed into a 36" disadvantage by a puncture. Stages 11, 12 and 13 passed without notable incident, the wins going to Edward Sels (who had won Stage 1), Jo de Roo and Julio Jiménez; then there was a rest day.

Anquetil was well-known for living well while on the Tour, once informing reporters that his recommendation for the night before a race was "a pheasant with chestnuts, a bottle of champagne and a woman." Whether he really lived it up to the extent he claimed or if it was all a psychological game intended to crush rivals who thought they'd been beaten by a man in the depths of a hangover has never been conclusively proved (there's some evidence that he only remained at the famous parties thrown in his hotel rooms for the early part of the evening before paying off his guests so they'd swear he'd been there into the early hours, then sneak off somewhere much quieter for a good night's sleep). However, on this occasion a lamb barbecue and too much wine during the rest day proved too much and Poulidor dropped him with little difficulty. According to legend, when he pulled alongside the team car to seek help manager Raphael Geminiani handed him a half-bottle of champagne and ordered him to drink the lot; this cured his chronic indigestion and he went off on a successful attempt to catch Poulidor and put him back in his place. Unfortunately, the legend seems very likely to be untrue - Anquetil's wife Janine always said it never happened, in which case it seems most likely that he was suffering stomach cramps from a mild dose of food poisoning which can clear up as quickly as it starts.

Bahamontes won two stages
Anquetil's problems were self-inflicted, but Poulidor suffered from sheer bad luck and the incompetence of others. While doing his best to hold off the recovered Anquetil, one of his spokes snapped and, after the wheel had been replaced the mechanic tried to give him a push to get going but made him crash instead and he lost even more time. In Stage 15, his luck finally changed: he attacked and this time he got away, winning the stage and finishing in third place overall - Anquetil was now only 9" ahead of him. France sat up, wondering if the Eternal Second was finally going to beat Maitre Jacques.

Stage 16, another tough mountain stage, went to Bahamontes and the Stage 17 time trial went as expected to Anquetil. Stages 18 to 22a were a mixture of various types of parcours and the wins were shared between other riders, but 22b was another time trial and since Anquetil was the best in the world against the clock - his alternative nickname was Mr. Chrono for a reason - nobody expected Poulidor to beat him. He tried, and for a short while after Anquetil recorded a time 5" slower at the intermediate check it even looked like he might do it but then Anquetil got faster, winning both the stage and the Tour, a record fifth.

Poulidor never did beat Anquetil, who entered again in 1967 but abandoned on Stage 17. However, this time he had come very close - his disadvantage of 55" was at the time the smallest gap between first and second place in the history of the Tour and he found himself with more fans than Anquetil had ever had.

In 1965, 130 riders set out from Cologne; the first time that the Tour had started in Germany and only the third time it had started outside France. Ahead of them were 22 stages, two of them split into parts A and B and including one team time trial and three individual time trials, and 4,177km.

Gimondi on Stage 22, 1965
Poulidor began the Tour in good spirits. He was one excellent form; but he had more reason to be happy than that: after so many years of his best efforts being trumped time and time again by Anquetil that he'd been given the nickname The Eternal Second, his old enemy had decided to stay away from the race that year. He had been so close in 1964 - surely this was the year he would win? Unfortunately, somebody else had other ideas. Rik van Looy won on the first day and had the yellow jersey for Stages 1a and 1b (1b was a team time trial), then his fellow Belgian Bernard van de Kerckhove won Stage 2 and took it for a day. However, while the Belgians were fighting amongst themselves Felice Gimondi - in his first year as a professional - was riding aggressively and already putting together a good overall time, leaving it plainly obvious that he was going to be Poulidor's rival this time around - and when he won Stage 3, the maillot jaune was his for the following five, including the time trial Stage 5b which Poulidor won (and, incidentally, was the first time that a start ramp was ever used in a TT at the Tour).

Edward Sels won Stage 7 and van de Kerckhove slipped ahead on overall time again, wearing yellow for two days. When the race reached the mountains two days later his advantage rapidly vanished; he was a big man and hadn't a chance of hauling his bulk upwards in the searing heat as quickly as the skinny Spaniard Julio Jiménez, who won the stage but without gaining enough time to prevent Gimondi from once again taking the overall lead.

Tour doctor Pierre Dumas in his "surgery", 1965
Poulidor knew, just as is always the case whenever it appears in a Tour, Mont Ventoux would be pivotal and that if he was going to remain in contention he needed to be the fastest man to its inhospitable summit in Stage 14. Mercier team manager Antonin Magne came up with an audacious plan, telling Poulidor to attack right from the foot of the mountain and keep on attacking to the top - Ventoux would not become known as "the mountain that could kill" for another two years, when it took Tom Simpson, but it was known as place where cyclists could be hurt very, very badly: it had taken a terrible toll from Jean Malléjac in 1955, then left hardman Ferdy Kübler temporarily half-mad (though to be fair, in his younger days Kübler always was a little odd). However, for once Ventoux was in a good mood, the attack worked and nobody except little Jiménez could follow him; when he reached the finish line he was just 32" behind Gimondi.

When the riders came to the Col d'Izoard in Stage 16, they found the going considerably easier than their predecessors in early races had - for the first time that year the rough, loose gravel road leading through the weird Casse Déserte to the top had been replaced with asphalt. It made the section faster and safer, but many fans felt that a little more of the Tour's romance had been lost and rued the fact that some of the race's greatest and most thrilling moments would never be repeated.

Gimondi, Poulidor, Motta, 1965
Poulidor lost time in the next stages, but not significantly and was 34" down at the start of the Stage 18 mountain time trial - which he fully expected to win. He did well, but once again what he thought would happen was not what actually happened and Gimondi did better, winning the stage and a 1'12" advantage. Rik van Looy won the last mountain stage; then the race returned to flat terrain in Stage 20 where Michael Wright, the English rider who spoke only a few words of English due to having been raised in Belgium, became the second British stage winner in the history of the Tour. When the Gerben Karstens won Stage 21, Poulidor's chances were reduced to the time trial in Stage 22 - but Gimondi won it by 1'08", and finished the Tour with an overall General Classification lead of 2'40".

Jiménez deservedly won the King of the Mountains, but the 1965 Tour was a sad occasions for grimpeurs because when 36-year-old Federico Bahamontes - the first man to win the King of the Mountains at the Tour and the Vuelta in a single year, the first man to win it in all three Grand Tours, one Tour de France General Classification and nine Grand Tour King of the Mountains competitions in total; as well as having once delighted spectators by stopping for an ice-cream at the top of a mountain mid-stage and waiting for the peloton to catch up because, like most climbers, he hated descending and was too scared to do it on his own - was forced to abandon with crippling stomach pains in Stage 10 and would never be seen at the Tour again. Almost six decades after he first won the competition in 1954, Bahamontes remains one of the greatest grimpeurs to have ever lived.

Andreas Klöden
Andreas Klöden
Andreas Klöden was born in Mittweida, East Germany on this day in 1975. In 1996 he got himself noticed by winning a bronze medal at the Under-23 World Championship Road Race, then the following year he won the prologue and a stage at the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt; which got him a contract to ride with Deutsche Telekon in 1998.

He would stay with Telekom for nine seasons, and he went from being a stagiaire who could pick up a a stage here and there in the smaller races to a general classification contender who won the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco and Paris-Nice in 2000; after winning the National Road Race Championship in 2004 he became the team's greatest hope in the Tour de France, coming second overall that year (behind Lance Armstrong) and again in 2006 after Floyd Landis, originally declared winner, was disqualified for doping. In 2007 he moved to Astana, which surprised the cycling world because he'd already proved himself a team leader but had chosen to go to a team where he would ride in support of Alexandre Vinokourov. He did his new job very well, but the team was withdrawn from the race after Vinokourov was found to have an extremely suspiciously high red blood cell count, evidence that he'd had an illegal blood transfusion. Later in the year a car swerved into his path during a training ride and sent him flying into a ditch - he didn't break any bones, but had to miss some important races. Nevertheless, he stayed with Astana for three years.

In 2010, RadioShack announced that Klöden would be joining them, then he finished 14th overall at the Tour. In 2011 he won stages at Paris-Nice and the Criterium International, then the General Classification and the Points competition at the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco, but was unable to finish the Vuelta a Espana or the Tour. When RadioShack and Leopard Trek merged for 2012, he was judged to be worth keeping on and finished 18th at Paris-Nice and 22nd at the Tour de Romandie.

Considering the era into which his best years began and his association with Astana, it's no surprise that Klöden has faced accusations of doping: in 2009, ex-team mate Patrik Sinkewitz - previously banned from competition after a test revealed suspicious testosterone levels and he confessed to undergoing blood tranfusions and using EPO - claimed that Klöden and Matthias Kessler had accompanied him to a clinic in Freiberg in 2006, when all three men rode for Telekom. Sinkewitz served his ban, returned and was banned again in 2011 for use of human growth hormones; Klöden agreed in November 2009 to pay a 25,000 euro fine with the promise that the investigation would be halted. However, he continues to insist the alleged transfusion never took place and that he is not a doper.

On the 14th of June 2012, it was announced that Lance Armstrong had been charged by the United States Anti-Doping Agency over suspected violations dating back to 2010 and 2011. This led The Guardian's William Fotheringham (one of the world's most respected cycling journalists) to speculate that he might be stripped of his seven Tour de France wins. If that were to happen, Klöden's two second-place finishes could be upgraded to firsts.

Thomas Voeckler
Voeckler in yellow, 2011
Thomas Voeckler was born on this day in 1979 in Schiltigheim which, as his and the town's name suggest, are in Alsace; but he spent much of his early life in Martinique. Having started his career as a trainee with Bonjour (now known as Europcar, for whom he still rides) and in 2000, he came second at the Under-23 Paris-Roubaix. The next year he rode his first Giro d'Italia but made little impact, then in 2002 his only good result was third place on Stage 4 at the Circuit Franco-Belge and he dropped off the radar.

In 2003 he was back and in a big way, winning the Classic Loire Atlantique and the Tour of Luxembourg and finishing Stage 17 at the Tour de France in eighth place before winning a stage at the Tour de l'Avenir. In 2004, against all odds, he became French National Champion - and then something truly remarkable happened: after escaping in a breakaway during Stage 5, he took the maillot jaune from Lance Armstrong and, somehow, kept it for ten days. France (and much of the rest of Europe) fell in love. The year after that he came sixth on Stage 18 and only won two races, but nobody cared.

Voeckler in 2011
2006 saw him take the Route du Sud and a silver medal at the Nationals; 2007 the King of the Mountains at Paris-Nice and the General Classification at the Tour du Poitou-Charentes et de la Vienne, though the real highlight of the year was a stunning victory at the GP Ouest France after he escaped with a break in the final section and beat a strong field that included Thor Hushovd, Danilo Di Luca and Filippo Pozzato. 2008 was another quieter year, but in 2009 at the Tour he escaped in a break on Stage 5, then attacked with 5km to go - and got to finish line 7" ahead of roaring bunch sprint led by Mikhail Ignatiev, Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar. The next year he won another National Championship and Stage 15 at the Tour after beating Alessandro Ballan by 1'20" in the mountains (on that very same stage, Alberto Contador didn't wait for Andy Schleck when he dropped his chain; an incident that became known as Chaingate and which earned the Spaniard an advantage exactly equal to his eventual overall General Classification lead).

2011 was Voeckler's best year by far with stages wins at the Tour Méditerranéen, Paris-Nice and the Giro Trentino, overall victory at the Tour du Haut-Var, the GP Cholet-Pays de Loire and the Four Days of Dunkirk. After that, he was third in the National Championships and finished in the top ten on four stages at the Tour before coming fourth overall, then he finished the year with three victories in the post-Tour criteriums. So far in 2012 he's won the Brabantse Pijl and a stage at the La Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon, which he dedicated to the African riders - whatever happens at the Tour, he'll be the favourite rider of many spectators.

Alfons de Wolf
Born in Willebroek, Belgium on this day in 1956, Alfons de Wolf won the National Amateur Championships in 1978, then five stages and the Points competition at the Giro d'Italia the next year and the Giro Lombardia the year after that; superb early career results that would lead to Belgian fans hailing him as one of the men who might rise to become the next Eddy Merckx, which he later said he hated because it made people expect more than he could ever deliver.

In 1981 he won Milan-San Remo and finished in the top ten eleven times at the Tour de France; in 1982 he won the Omloop het Volk and finished in the top ten five times at the Tour; in 1983 he stayed away from the Tour but won the Coppa Ugo Agostoni, Giro della Romagna, Giro di Toscana and another Omloop het Volk. In 1984, he won Stage 14 at the Tour, a 228km hilly parcours between Rodez and Domaine du Rouret on the way to the Alps - but it would be the peak of his career for, within days, he began visibly to decline. He won a stage at the Vuelta the next year and assisted Eddy Planckaert in his successful bid for the Points competition at the Tour in 1988, but his own best days ended where most riders' begin. It happens that way sometimes.

Ian Browne, more commonly known as Joey Browne, was born in Melbourne on this day in 1931. He learned to ride a bike when he was four and began racing at the age of sixteen, developing a simple yet evidently effective training programme - he rode his bike the large distances to races with a pair of lightweight racing wheels strapped to his back, swapped them over before the race, then swapped back and rode back home again. It must have worked, because he won the Australian 10-Mile Time Trial Championship. Real success came when he teamed up with a man named Tony Marchant. They were a mismatched pair - Marchant stood 1.7m tall and weighed 65kg, Browne was 1.83m and more than 20kg heavier; yet after seeing them win the 2km tandem race at the 1956 National Track Championships, former winner Billy Guyatt approached them to ask if they needed a coach. They had, he said, potential, which came as a surprise to both riders as neither had expected to ever be anything other than a moderately successful amateur clubman. At the 1952 Olympics, they soon realised that the opposing teams had equipment much better and lighter than their own and began asking if anyone might be willing to sell them spare parts. According to legend, the German team sold them a pair of wheels and told them that they would now win the gold medal - and they did.

Dariusz Baranowski, born in Wałbrzych on this day in 1972, won the Tour of Poland in 1991, 1992 and 1993. In 2002 he won the King of the Mountains at the Dauphiné Libéré and the following year he was 12th overal at the Giro d'Italia.

Other births: Dean Woods (Australia, 1966); Kristine Bayley (Australia, 1983); Jean-Claude Wuillemin (France, 1943, died 1993); Harald Morscher (Austria, 1972); Luis Saldarriago (Colombia, 1944); Thomas Dürst (West Germany, 1967); John Nicholson (Australia, 1949); Clodomiro Cortoni (Argentina, 1923, died 2000).

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