Wednesday 4 July 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 04.07.12

The Tour de France began on this day in 1906, 1935, 1951, 1986, 1988, 1992 and 2009.

13 stages, 4,545km.
Since its inception and early indication of continuing success, Henri Desgrange had increased the length of the Tour and it was now long enough to closely follow the borders of France. There had been mountains right from the first edition, but it wasn't until 1905 that points were offered to the first riders to the top; that had also proved a success, so in 1906 the Massif Central was added. To reflect the fact that the race was now much longer and more difficult, the prize fund was increased to 25,000 francs - the winner would receive 5,000 francs which, using the ever-popular Baguette Index that takes inflation and the cost of living at that time into account, would have bought him 30,000 standard loaves.

One notable rule change was that differences in finishing times no longer had any effect on the overall outcome: now only the finishing order mattered and second place would not receive a smaller bonus no matter how long he finished after first place on any stage. The flamme rouge, a triangular red flag that indicates the final kilometre, nowadays hung from a four-legged inflatable that straddles the road, was introduced and for the first time the race ventured beyond France - that it went into Alsace-Lorraine, at that time controlled by Germany and a region that was instrumental in the build-up to the Dreyfus Affair (which, in a round-about way, had given rise to the Tour), was loaded with political symbolism. One final new feature was the transfer between stages - in the past, a stage always began where the previous stage ended; this year Stage 1 ended in Lille and Stage 2 began in Douai, around 40km to the south. 76 riders started the race, of whom one was from Luxembourg (François Faber, who won three years later), one was German, four were Belgian and 70 were French. As in 1905, they were split between two categories, the coureurs de vitesse and the coureurs sur machines poinçonnées - the first, who were expected to use the same bike and equipment throughout the race, were intended to be the elite, supermen who did not require a change to bikes fitted with lower gears in the mountains as did the mere mortal coureurs sur machines poinçonnées. The bike companies that sponsored the teams had unexpectedly chosen to favour the second category in 1905 because it was felt that the average person following the race (ie; somebody who might go away and buy a bike) was more likely to identify with them; in 1906 they realised that cycling fans were nothing if not dreamers and would be more likely to buy the bike and equipment favoured by a coureur de vitesse in the hope that, by doing so, they too would become great (and that, of course, is still very much the case today, as you'll know if you've noticed all the overweight men in full Team Sky kit riding around on £5,000+ bikes).

The first 2km of Stage 1 featured roads so bad that organisers had to neutralise the race temporarily and lead the riders on foot to a point from which they could remount and set off. Since the Tour began in 1903, spectators had frequently spread nails over the road - sometimes this was done strategically in order to give one or more riders a chance to build a lead (in which case, the favoured rider/s were almost certainly in on it) and sometimes for the sheer devilment of doing so. 1906 was no different and the first incident came in the same stage, with all the riders except Lucien Petit-Breton lost time to punctures (Petit-Breton seems to have been reasonably honest for a cyclist and by the standards of his time, but that does look rather suspicious). René Pottier was not so fortunate: having used up all his spare tyres, he had to ride 25km on bare wooden rims in search of replacements and ended up 30' behind the peloton. That he then caught up, rode with Petit-Breton to the last climb and then sprinted away to win the stage is tribute to his athletic prowess.

Pottier had been the first man to the summit of the Ballon d'Alsace when it became the first official climb in 1905, and as perhaps the world's first mountains specialist the 1906 parcours was very much to his liking. Stage 2 featured another ascent of the peak; this time he rode solo for 220km and beat second-place Georges Passerieu by 48', then made excellent use of the Alps - by the end of Stage 5, from which point it was plain stages all the way, he had a nine point lead on Passerieu and twelves points on third-pace Émile Georget. Meanwhile, during Stage 3, Gaston Tuvache, Julien Gabory, Henri Gauban and Maurice Carrere had all been disqualified when they were seen taking a train to complete part of the parcours.

Louis Trousselier
From Stage 7, 1905 winner Louis Trousellier began to impress after a disappointing first half that had left him far behind in the General Classification. He won that stage, recording an equal time to Passerieu and Petit-Breton, then beat Pottier by 27'58 (and Passerieu by 58'58") on Stage 8, when he came second behind Jean-Baptiste Dortinacq. On Stage 9, which he again won, he beat Petit-Breton by 2" and Pottier by 1h10'02" and won again on Stage 10, this time recording and equal time to Petit-Breton, beating Passerieu by 55'30" and Pottier by a second more. He won for a third consecutive time on Stage 11, but this time the outcome was closer with the four men finishing within 30" of one another. He and Pottier equaled winner Passerieu's time on Stage 12, but they were 3h55' ahead of Petit-Breton (tenth-place Eugène Christophe, who was riding his first Tour, arrived more than six hours after the winner), then on the final stage he finished 3'03" behind Pottier and Passerieu but 45'16" ahead of Petit-Breton. Yet, because the winner was selected according to points rather than accumulated time, these gains did him no favours and had it not have been for the thanks Peugeot no doubt paid him for all those headline-grabbing stage wins, he may as well have not bothered and finished each of them in the sprint.

As it was, Pottier won with an eight-point advantage over Passerieu. Later that year he won the Bol d'Or 24 Hour race at the Velodrome Buffalo with a distance of 925.290km, but he would not be back in 1907 to try for another Tour victory - early that year, he learned that his wife had had an affair whilst he was away at the Tour and, on the 25th of January when he was 27 years old, he hanged himself from the hook upon which he usually hung his bike.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 René Pottier (FRA) Peugeot 31
2 Georges Passerieu (FRA) Peugeot 39
3 Louis Trousselier (FRA) Peugeot 61
4 Lucien Petit-Breton (FRA) Peugeot 65
5 Emile Georget (FRA) Alcyon–Dunlop 80
6 Aloïs Catteau (BEL) Alcyon–Dunlop 129
7 Édouard Wattelier (FRA) Labor 137
8 Léon Georget (FRA) Alcyon–Dunlop 152
9 Eugène Christophe (FRA) Labor 156
10 Anthony Wattelier (FRA) Alcyon–Dunlop 168

21 stages (Stages 5, 13, 14, 18, 19 and 20 split into parts A and B), 4,338km.
In 1906 the prize money was increased to 25,000 francs - 29 years later, it had grown to 1,092,050f, far beyond inflation (unfortunately, the first prize that year was not made public and so we can't use the Baguette Index - however, if we assume it was 100,000f, as it was when the prize fund was 1,000,000f four years later, it would have bought around 130,000 loaves: 100,000 more than the 1906 winner received).

Romain Maes deals with a puncture
The French team was favourite; they had three previous winners and the climbers Maurice Archambaud and René Vietto, as well as individuals Charles Pélissier and Roger Lapébie who would likely assist them and, should any team member abandon, be able to provide a replacement. However, right from the start it became apparent that fortune was not on their side this year - in the first stage, the Belgian Romain Maes made it to a railway crossing seconds before the barriers closed and got through ahead of the pack, which had to wait. The 1' advantage he thus achieved allowed him to win the stage by 53" despite a co-ordinated attempt to catch him. He lost a lot of time to Pélissier after a series of punctures in Stage 2 but retained his overall lead. Stage 4 was a disaster for the French with their best-placed rider, Lapébie, coming tenth - Maes finished the stage with an overall advantage of 5'29". Stage 5a was a plain road race stage which went to Archambaud, who was already too far down in the General Classification for the 1'31" he won by to make much difference to Maes. However, team leader Antonin Magne was expected to take back significant - perhaps even decisive - time in the 5b time trial. He did do well, finishing only 2" behind stage winner Rafaele di Paco, but Maes did much better than expected and lost only 58" from his lead. He remained in the maillot jaune and, with sixteen stages to go, he'd have plenty of chances to take it back should he lose in the next week.

Cepeda, first man to die on the Tour
Stage 7 was a dark day in Tour history. First, Magne was hit by a car on the Col du Telegraphe and had to be carried in agony to an ambulance - the race was over for him, and France had lost its main contender. Later in the stage, Francesco Cepeda's front tyre came away from the wheel rim and burst during a high-speed descent on Galibier; he crashed hard and died from his injuries en route to hospital. French rider Adolphe Helière drowned in 1910, but that had happened on a rest day - 32 years after it began, the Tour had claimed its first victim.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Romain Maes (BEL) Belgium 141h 32' 00"
2 Ambrogio Morelli (ITA) Italian individuals +17' 52"
3 Félicien Vervaecke (BEL) Belgium +24' 06"
4 Sylvère Maes (BEL) Belgian individuals +35' 24"
5 Jules Lowie (BEL) Belgian individuals +51' 26"
6 Georges Speicher (FRA) France +54' 29"
7 Maurice Archambaud (FRA) France +1h 09' 28"
8 René Vietto (FRA) France +1h 21' 03"
9 Gabriel Ruozzi (FRA) Touriste-routier +1h 34' 02"
10 Oskar Thierbach (GER) Germany +2h 00' 04"

24 stages, 4,690km.
Mont Ventoux first featured in the 1951 Tour
For the second time in its history, the Tour started outside Paris - this time it was in Metz (the last time, in 1926, it had been Evian). Over the years, as more mountains and region were added, the race had gradually drifted away from tradition of following the borders of the country. This year, the break was made - the parcours ventured far towards the centre of France on several occasions. 1951 was all about two rivalries - the Italians Coppi and Bartali and the Swiss riders Hugo Koblet and Ferdinand Kübler, but it was the Swiss who were the more interesting and the parallels between them and the later rivalry between Hinault and Fignon are striking: Kübler, like Hinault, was wild, a semi-savage who snorted and frothed at the mouth; Koblet, like Fignon, was urbane, suave, well-mannered and would often pull out a comb to smarten his appearance mid-race (and, one one notable occasion, as he crossed the finish line in first place). It would be a race that provided several new footnotes in the history of cycling, but none of them was as notable as Stage 17 during which the Tour visited Mont Ventoux - where some of its most heroic and tragic events would later take place - for the first time. It would be a sad race for Coppi: his brother, Serse, had been killed in an accident and he was in a terrible state, collapsing from grief (some say it was food poisoning) on Stage 16 and finishing tenth overall despite concerted efforts by Bartali and Fiorenzo Magni to get him back into contention.

Hugo Koblet
Right from the Stage 1 start line, Koblet was on the attack and it took the peloton 40km to catch him, leaving no doubt that he was here with every intention of doing well, but then he settled into the rhythm of the first week and waited for the first time trial where he knew he could win time. He won it, but not without an argument - Louison Bobet was originally declared winner by one second, but Koblet protested to organisers. When intermediate time checks were re-examined, it was found that Bobet could not possibly have won and that a minute had somehow been subtracted from his time. After that, Koblet used a stopwatch to keep his own records. On Stage 11, he attacked from 37km but the peloton declined to respond, believing that the hot weather would foil his plans, until being informed that he'd built a lead of three minutes and was still gaining. They gave chase, but even with 100km in which to catch him he stayed away and won by 2'35" - the maillot jaune was not yet his, but he was close.

Wim van Est (who had started his cycling career as a tobacco smuggler rather than a racer) became the first Dutchman to wear the maillot jaune when he won Stage 12, but then began to lose a lot of time the next day on the Aubisque, not helped at all by a puncture. He tried to make up for it on the descent but made what could very easily have been a fatal mistake - he tried to follow Fiorenzo Magni down the mountain, and Magni was a much better descender. The inevitable happened and he crashed, but was unhurt and carried on. Then he lost control again, an this time he plunged over the edge of the road and into a ravine.

Time stands still whenever something like this happens; team mates, support crew and spectators are reluctant to look over the edge for fear of seeing a smashed corpse lying far below them. However, when they did they were greeted by the site of van Est looking back up at them - he had fallen between 30 and 70m (reports vary widely), yet was somehow unharmed. He later described the experience: "I was lucky because I undid the pedalstraps just before I started to descend. When I fell I kicked my bike away and held my hands over my head. In a few seconds I saw my whole life. My fall was broken by some young trees and I caught one of these trees."

He tried to climb back up to the road but couldn't, so his manager called for a rope - but nobody nearby had one, so they had to improvise one by tying together the team's entire supply of spare tyres. With that, they managed to pull him out and got him into the ambulance that had by now arrived, but he climbed back out and went looking for a bike so he could finish the the stage. Before he could find one, he was persuaded that it might not be such a bad idea to go to hospital just to be checked over and, regretfully, he abandoned the race. The tyres had been stretched and ruined so when they were unable to secure any more, the rest of the team also had to abandon..

That death-defying plunge turned out to be highly profitable for van Est. The Dutch team had been supplied with watches by Pontiac, better known as a car manufacturer, who knew a good advertising opportunity when they saw one. Thus, the rider earned a decent income appearing in adverts with the slogan "Seventy meters deep I dropped, my heart stood still but my Pontiac never stopped!"

Koblet took the yellow jersey the next day when he won Stage 14 and, gradually increasing his advantage with a few more minutes every day, he never let it go again. It was in the Stage 22 time trial that he secured overall victory, winning the stage by 4'50" and increasing his overall lead to 22" over second-place Raphaël Géminiani. Afterwards, Géminiani said, "If there were two Koblets in the sport, I would retire tomorrow."

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Hugo Koblet (SUI) Switzerland 142h 20' 14"
2 Raphaël Géminiani (FRA) France +22' 00"
3 Lucien Lazaridès (FRA) France +24' 16"
4 Gino Bartali (ITA) Italy +29' 09"
5 Stan Ockers (BEL) Belgium +32' 53"
6 Pierre Barbotin (FRA) France +36' 40"
7 Fiorenzo Magni (ITA) Italy +39' 14"
8 Gilbert Bauvin (FRA) East–South East +45' 53"
9 Bernardo Ruiz (ESP) Spain +45' 55"
10 Fausto Coppi (ITA) Italy +46' 51"

Hinault (combination) and Lemond (yellow)
23 stages + prologue, 4,094km.
In 1985, Bernard Hinault had taken his record-equaling fifth victory, but had only been able to do so with the help of his La Vie Claire team mate Greg Lemond. In return, he had promised that he would ride for Lemond the following year. The team was back (now renamed La Vie Claire-Wonder-Radar, which is surely the best team name since Genial Lucifer in the first half of the century): whether or not Hinault meant to keep his promise is still open for debate - there are those who say that, as Hinault claims, his savage attacks throughout the race were designed to crush the opponents of the man he always knew would win; there are as many who claim that he intended to wear down Lemond, and take a sixth victory. Whatever the truth may be, it worked - one by one the main contenders were swept aside by Hinault's onslaught. For a while, the two men made up: Hinault launched a suicidal attack on the Alpe d'Huez, dropping everyone but Lemond, and they crossed the finish line hand-in-hand. Finally, Lemond won by 3'10" - the first ever American to win the Tour and the beginning of a new era in cycling. Shortly afterwards, another era came to an end - Hinault, the last Frenchman to have won a Tour, retired.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Greg LeMond (USA) La Vie Claire-Wonder-Radar 110h 35' 19"
2 Bernard Hinault (FRA) La Vie Claire-Wonder-Radar +3' 10"
3 Urs Zimmermann (SUI) Carrera +10' 54"
4 Andrew Hampsten (USA) La Vie Claire-Wonder-Radar +18' 44"
5 Claude Criquielion (BEL) Hitachi-Marc-Splendor +24' 36"
6 Ronan Pensec (FRA) Peugeot-Shell +25' 59"
7 Niki Rüttimann (SUI) La Vie Claire-Wonder-Radar +30' 52"
8 Álvaro Pino (ESP) Zor-B.H +33' 00"
9 Steven Rooks (NED) PDM +33' 22"
10 Yvon Madiot (FRA) Système U +33' 27"

22 stages + prelude, 3,281km.
Unusually, this edition started on a Monday - the reason being that the UCI had brought in a new rule stipulating that no Grand Tour was permitted to encompass three weekends. To get around the problem, organisers abandoned the prologue and replaced it with an unofficial prelude time trial. To prevent the UCI saying that the prelude was in fact a prologue under a different name and that the race therefore covered three weekends, each team rode for 3.8km before a nominated rider completed the last 1km as a solo time trial. The results would not be counted towards the overall standings, but the fastest rider would start the Tour wearing the maillot jaune. So, what it really was was a 1km time trial prologue in disguise.

Gert-Jan Theunisse of PDM-Concorde looked like challenging team leader Pedro Delgado for a while, but then an anti-doping test revealed suspiciously high testosterone levels and he received a 10' penalty and dropped for fifth to eleventh place overall. Delgado also failed a control that revealed traces of probenecid - a drug with no recognised performance-enhancing effects but which can be used as a masking agent for other drugs that do. However, at that time probenecid had not yet been added to the UCI's list of banned substances and so the rider could not be punished; Tour director Xavier Louy, who had replaced previous director Jean-François Naquet-Radiguet weeks before the race began, asked him to leave voluntarily, but Delgado declined to do so. The Amaury Sports Organisation, owners of the Tour (and numerous other events around the world), felt that Louy's handling of the case was unsatisfactory and, a few months afterwards, replaced him with Jean-Marie Leblanc who occupied the position until retirement when it passed over to current director Christian Prudhomme.

Puy de Dôme
Stage 19 finished on the Puy de Dôme, a 1,464m dormant volcano in the Massif Central that had played host to some of the most remarkable duels in Tour history. As the race grew, the corkscrew road up to the summit had become too narrow for the sheer number of riders taking part - this was the last time it was featured and it'll probably never feature again.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Pedro Delgado (ESP) Reynolds 84h 27' 53"
2 Steven Rooks (NED) P.D.M. +7' 13"
3 Fabio Parra (COL) Kelme +9' 58"
4 Steve Bauer (CAN) Weinmann-La Suisse-SMM Uster +12' 15"
5 Eric Boyer (FRA) System U +14' 04"
6 Luis Herrera (COL) Café de Colombia +14' 36"
7 Ronan Pensec (FRA) Z-Peugeot +16' 52"
8 Álvaro Pino (ESP) BH +18' 36"
9 Peter Winnen (NED) Panasonic +19' 12"
10 Denis Roux (FRA) Z-Peugeot +20' 08"

21 stages + prologue, 3,975km.
Lemond, who discovered soon after the race began that his career would soon end, formed an alliance with Claudio Chiappucci that had one aim - to do as much damage to Miguel Indurain and his attempt for a second victory as possible.

Miguel Indurain, 1993
The greatest ride of Chiappucci's career happened in Stage 13. Previously considered a respectable if inconsistent climber, he attacked on the first climb with a small group going with him while Indurain and Gianni Bugno, both certain that such an early break was doomed to failure, let them go. When there was 100km to go it seemed that the break would soon be caught, but Chiappucci had others ideas and attacked again on the Col d'Iseran. He was the first man to the summit, then set about increasing his lead on the descent - and became virtual race leader, climbing Le Mont-Cenis alone. Bugno was now worried and faced a dilemma: did he let Chiappucci continue unchallenged, thus risking any chance he still had at winning overall, or did he chase - in which case, Indurain would surely follow and leave him no better off? Damned no matter what he did, he chose the second option - and the moment he did, Indurain was onto him. Andy Hampsten and Franco Vona joined them and, surely but slowly, they began grinding away at Chiappucci's advantage.  On Sestriere, when the time the finish line drew near, Chiappucci's lead was looking fragile - especially when Indurain attacked on his own and began gaining time just as the Italian became bogged down in the ecstatic tifosi.

And Indurain cracked. Chiappucci's lead began to grow again and, while he had no chance of beating the Spaniard overall, he'd found a place among the ranks of the greatest riders.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Miguel Indurain (ESP) Banesto 100h 49' 30"
2 Claudio Chiappucci (ITA) Carrera Jeans-Vagabond +4' 35"
3 Gianni Bugno (ITA) Gatorade +10' 49"
4 Andrew Hampsten (USA) Motorola +13' 40"
5 Pascal Lino (FRA) RMO +14' 37"
6 Pedro Delgado (ESP) Banesto +15' 16"
7 Erik Breukink (NED) PDM +18' 51"
8 Giancarlo Perini (ITA) Carrera Jeans-Vagabond +19' 16"
9 Stephen Roche (IRE) Carrera Jeans-Vagabond +20' 23"
10 Jens Heppner (GER) Telekom +25' 30"

Alberto Contador
21 stages, 3,459.5km.
The UCI decided to ban radio communication between riders and the team cars in Stage 10, but riders rode non-competitively in protest and radios were back the next day. Following the first half of the race, in which Mark Cavendish came to the fore with four stage wins (he won two more in the later stages) and became the first British rider to have led the Points competition for two consecutive days. When he won Stage 19, he became the most successful British rider at the Tour in history.

Stage 4 was the first team time trial featured in the Tour since 2005. During Stage 13, Oscar Freire and Julian Dean were hit by airgun pellets fired. Freire, who had to have a pellet surgically removed from his leg, said he'd heard three shots; Dean was hit on his finger. Both men continued the race as police hunted two teenagers wanted in connection with the incident.

As soon as the race reached the Alps in Stage 15, Alberto Contador took control - only Andy Schleck could stay near him, revealing himself to be a likely challenger within another year or two. Stage 20 featured a summit finish atop Ventoux, won by Juan Manuel Gárate; Contador and Schleck both finished 38" after him while Lance Armstrong (making a brief return from retirement) was fifth at +41".

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Alberto Contador (ESP) Astana 85h 48' 35"
2 Andy Schleck (LUX) Team Saxo Bank +4' 11"
3 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana +5' 24"
4 Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Garmin +6' 01"
5 Fränk Schleck (LUX) Team Saxo Bank +6' 04"
6 Andreas Klöden (GER) Astana +6' 42"
7 Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas +7' 35"
8 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin +12' 04"
9 Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas +14' 16"
10 Christophe Le Mével (FRA) Française des Jeux +14' 25"

Danny Van Haute, born in Chicago on this day in 1957, rode with the victorious Pursuit team at the US National Championships in 1978, 1984 and 1985. He is now team director of Jelly Belly Cycling.

Cyclists born on this day: Will Wright (Great Britain, 1973); Kevin Nichols (Australia, 1955); Connie Paraskevin-Young (USA, 1961); Burkhard Ebert (Germany, 1942); Paul Carbutt (Great Britain, 1950, died 2004); Annabella Stropparo (Italy, 1968); Matthew Walsh (Great Britain, 1887); Petra Grimbergen (Netherlands, 1970); Karin Thürig (Switzerland, 1972); Paul Frantz (Luxembourg, 1915, died 1995).

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