Thursday 5 July 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 05.07.12

The Tour de France began on this day in 1909, 1938, 1956, 1997, 2003 and 2008.

The Tour, 1909
14 stages, 4,498km.
In 1908, Desgrange decided that all riders should race on identical bikes supplied by the Tour in an attempt to make the race a contest of skill and athleticism, rather than one that might be won by superior equipment. This had not been judged a success and was dropped in 1909 - firstly due to the expense of providing the bikes and secondly because trade teams became official: in the past, while riders did ride with teams, teams were not recognised by the race. Now the teams were official, though riders were still considered to be individuals and were expected to race as such rather than in support of a team leader. This meant the companies that ran them would put more money into the Tour - and in return, they obviously wanted to show off their bikes to the public. However, each rider was still required to complete the race using one bike only, which could only be replaced if a course official declared it irreparably damaged; at the start line each bike was given a stamped lead seal and officials checked them carefully at the start lines, finish lines and checkpoints (where, for the first time, toilets were installed - Desgrange was embarrassed that riders urinated in front of spectators, despite the fact that spectators appear to have always found this a source of great amusement and will still gather around locations thought likely to become "nature break" stops to this day). The winner was selected according to points, as had been the case since 1905; after Stage 8, by which time 79 riders had abandoned (mostly due to the awful weather), the points amassed by those riders were redistributed among the riders still in the race according to the position in which they'd have finished each stage had the race only included them at the start. This was repeated after the eleventh stage.

Faber runs with his broken bike to win Stage 4
A record 150 riders started the race; only 38 of them rode for the teams, the remainder being unsponsored correurs isolés ("isolated riders") who paid their own way. The Tour had been developing into an international event ever since the first edition, but with so many riders there were more foreigners than ever before: the French were still in the majority but there were many Belgians (5), Swiss (5)  and Italians (19) and two riders from elsewhere. Cyrille van Hauwaert won Stage 1 and became the first Belgian stage winner and the first foreigner to lead the race in Tour history, then François Faber (having become the first Luxembourger to win a stage the previous year and only the second foreigner, Faber was tipped to win by Lucien Petit-Breton) won the next when be beat Octave Lapize by 33'. Faber, at 1.88m and 88kg, was enormous by the standards of the day, hence his nickname The Giant of Colombes; he used the strength he'd built up in his work as a docker to ride solo for 200km the next day through deep snow and won again, this time beating Gustave Garrigou by 33'. On Stage 4 his chain broke with a kilometres to go, so he ran the rest of the way with his bike beside him and won that one by 10'. During Stage 5 he was first blown right of the road by a powerful crosswind and then kicked off his bike by a horse, in both cases he was able to continue and ended up beating Garrigou into second place again, this time by 5'.

Faber now had a thirteen point advantage over Garrigou and became the Tour's first superstar: in the past, French fans supported French riders, Belgian fans supported Belgian riders and so on, but Faber transcended that - 20,000 people, French, Belgian, Luxembourger and others, turned out to see him finish Stage 6 and when he won that one too they were ecstatic and his five consecutive stage wins remains a record more than a century later. Tour organisers became worried, however, that if Faber continued to dominate the race so completely, the other riders would give up all hope of winning and race despondently for second and third; so they asked him if he'd take things easy for a while: he'd either tired himself out, realised that the race was already as good as his or agreed, because Stage 7 was won by Ernest Paul - who just happened to be his half-brother. Jean Alavoine won Stage 9 (Faber had a rest and came tenth, his worst performance in the race), then Constant Ménager took the only Tour stage win of his career. Louis Trousselier, Garrigou and Paul Duboc won the following three, but they were all still too far behind Faber overall for a single stage win to make any difference. Finally, Alavoine won Stage 14 in notable circumstances - his bike became sufficiently damaged to be unridable 10km to go and, realising that locating an official and going through the formalities of being permitted a new one was going to lose significant time, he shouldered it like a cyclo cross rider and ran to the finish line where he won the stage by 6'30".

François Faber
Faber had moved to Alcyon from Peugeot at the end of 1908 and was now instrumental in the team's domination of the race, but his team mates had also ridden remarkably well: three places in the top ten went to isolés, including Ernest Paul in sixth, while Le Globe's Ménager was seventh. All the other places were taken by Alcyon. Being tall and well-built with his big moustache, Faber looked older than he was - few realise therefore that, at 22 years and seven months old, he's the third youngest man to have won a Tour a well as the first foreigner. He was only 28 when he climbed out of a trench and went into no man's land to rescue an injured comrade on the 9th of May in 1915, and was shot in the back and killed as he carried the man back. That very morning he'd received a message from his wife, informing him that she had given birth to a healthy baby girl.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 François Faber (LUX) Alcyon 37
2 Gustave Garrigou (FRA) Alcyon 57
3 Jean Alavoine (FRA) Alcyon 66
4 Paul Duboc (FRA) Alcyon 70
5 Cyrille van Hauwaert (BEL) Alcyon 92
6 Ernest Paul (FRA) 95
7 Constant Ménager (FRA) Le Globe 102
8 Louis Trousselier (FRA) Alcyon 114
9 Eugène Christophe (FRA) 139
10 Aldo Bettini (ITA) 142

The Tour, 1938
21 stages (Stages 6 and 17 split into parts A and B; Stages 4, 10 and 20 split into parts A, B and C), 4,694km.
Unsponsored individual riders were barred from entry for the first time - as professionalism among the sponsored riders and teams increased, they had largely ceased to be competitive some time earlier. The time bonus system was extensively overhauled in an attempt to prevent any rider who won two or three stages with a large lead from gaining an unfair advantage over one who rode consistently; now winning a stage earned 1' or a maximum of 1'15" if his lead over the second place rider was judged sufficient. Since climbers were thought to suffer less on plain stages than sprinters did in the mountains, the winner of a mountain stage was limited to one minute. Team time trials had fallen out of favour and were abandoned, not reappearing in the race until 1954, and the Col d'Iseran - a mountain that has played host to so many of the most glorious moments in the history of the Tour, was included for the first time. The Belgian and French teams (there were in fact three French teams - the national team, the Bleuets made up of riders who for various reasons couldn't be included in the national team and the Cadets, a team of young riders) were considered to be the strongest. The Italians were thought less so, but they had Gino Bartali who, having come very close to victory in 1937, was a favourite for overall victory.

The first seven stages were unremarkable, save for the unwelcome sight of Willi Oberbeck winning Stage 1 in a jersey emblazoned with the swastika of Nazi Germany. Then on Stage 8, when the race reached the Pyrenees, Bartali attacked and nobody could follow him (Georges Speicher tried to do so by hanging onto a car, but was seen by officials and disqualified) - he was the first man over the Aubisque, Tourmalet and Aspin, but then disaster struck when his rear wheel crumpled. The Belgians Félicien Vervaecke and Ward Vissers passed him and went on to take first and second place, Bartali managed to take third place 55" behind them. After the stage, Vervaecke led the General Classification with Bartali second at +2'18", but with time bonuses the next day the gap was reduced to 57".

Gino Bartali
On Stage 14, Bartali attacked again - and for a second time nobody could stop him being the first over Allos, Vars and Izoard. This time his bike didn't let him down and he finished the stage with a overall advantage of 17'45" over the Luxembourgian Matt Clemens and 21'30" over Vervaecke. he lost some time in the Stage 20b time trial, but from that point onwards his victory was never in any doubt; his final advantage was 18'27". André Leducq (winner in 1930 and 1932) and Antonin Magne (winner in 1931 and 1934) mounted a successful two-man escape in the final stage and crossed the line together, being declared joint stage winner. For Leducq, it was a record 25th stage win, since bettered by only Eddy Merckx (34) and Bernard Hinault(28) (and, since Mark Cavendish has 21 and shows no signs of slowing down at the time of writing, probably him too before long). Neither man would ever ride the Tour again.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Gino Bartali (ITA) Italy 148h 29' 12"
2 Félicien Vervaecke (BEL) Belgium +18' 27"
3 Victor Cosson (FRA) France +29' 26"
4 Ward Vissers (BEL) Belgium +35' 08"
5 Matt Clemens (LUX) Luxembourg +42' 08"
6 Mario Vicini (ITA) Italy +44' 59"
7 Jules Lowie (BEL) Belgium +48' 56"
8 Antonin Magne (FRA) France +49' 00"
9 Marcel Kint (BEL) Belgium +59' 49"
10 Dante Gianello (FRA) Bleuets +1h 06' 47

22 stages (Stage 4 split into parts A and B), 4,498km.
The French government ordered the Tour to take secondary roads as much as possible so as to avoid major road closures, but the Tour and caravan was now so large that it frequently became stuck on the narrow routes and caused far more disruption than it would have done had the organisers have been permitted to take it on roads of their own choosing. A rule change allowed punctures to be remedied by changing the wheel, previously the rider had to stop and repair it. For the second time in Tour history, no previous winner started the race - this had last happened in 1927 (1903 isn't counted on account of being the first Tour). Based on form, Charly Gaul therefore became favourite.

Enough climbing talent to make a thousand mortal grimpeurs:
Gaul and Bahamontes
Gaul, who was almost as good against the clock as he was in the mountains, won the Stage 4a but remained 15'04" behind overall; however, he was expected to make up time in the mountains provided the weather was on his side - he hated hot conditions, but when it was cool nobody in the world could follow him. Unforunately, the Pyrenees tended to be too hot for him and he lost time; when the race arrived at the Alps it was looking as though he was going to run out of time - even Stage 17, the second day in the Alps when he was the first man over Sestrieres, didn't win back enough time to make much of a difference. Stage 18 was a different matter entirely: Federico Bahamontes (the only climber to ever rival Gaul) was fastest up Mont Cenis and his less-famous countryman René Marigil fastest on Croix de Fer, then Gaul launched one of the blistering attacks that in the future would win him a Tour. Having simply ridden away from the peloton, he won the stage with 3'22" on Stan Ockers and 7'29" on Gastone Nencini and Bahamontes - who was so angry at his inability to respond that he picked up his bike and threw it into a gulley (his team mates managed to get it back out and persuaded him to continue). It had been a superb stage win, but it was still too late for Gaul to take the General Classification. The King of the Mountains, meanwhile, was his.

Every once in a while, the Tour turns up a completely unexpected winner. Roger Walkowiak, who had only been given opportunity to ride at the very last moment after Gilbert Bauvin was transferred from Nord-Est-Centre to the national team, found himself in the maillot jaune after Stage 7 when he got away in an escape group (for the second time in the race) that won the stage by 18'46", but at such an early point he neither expected nor intended to keep it - team manager Sauveur Ducazeaux told him he'd be far better off losing it and seeing what happened later, because defending it would likely prove too much effort. He lost time over the coming stages, giving up the jersey in Stage 10 and few people thought he'd get it back again. However, in Stage 15 the entire Belgian became ill - an incident they blamed on food poisoning from bad fish served in a hotel the night before but which is commonly supposed (and very possibly was) caused by an unknown drug administered to them; a serious setback for the French team's strongest rivals. In Stage 17 he got away in another successful break, though this time the maillot jaune went to Wouter Wagtmans; but when Walkowiak managed to keep up with Bahamontes as Gaul was winning Stage 18 it passed back to him. Bahamontes was now probably the only rider capable of challenging him, but with only one mountain stage left his chance never came - an almost unknown rider, dismissed as an also-ran before the race even got under way, had won. He was the second rider to win a Tour without a stage win on the way to victory, the last man to do so being Firmin Lambot in 1922, and the only Tour winner to have won a single Tour stage at any point during his career.

Roger Walkowiak
Neither the press nor public were impressed; they'd wanted the young Jacques Anquetil (who had decided not to take part anyway) to win - Jacques Goddet said that the applause as he crossed the last finish line sounded more like a lamentation than a celebration. It wasn't long before the first accusations that he was an undeserving winner, a victor through luck rather than skill and effort (the term "à la Walko," to succeed in that way, became popular for a while), began to appear and he was badly hurt by them.  He rode again the next year but his spirit was broken and he rapidly dropped the bottom of the General Classification, despite a stage win at that year's Vuelta a Espana proving that he was fully capable of winning a stage in his own right; gradually, depressed, he faded away. In retirement he opened a bar in his hometown, but even local cycling fans told him he shouldn't have won and before long he gave that up too, preferring the anonymity of a job at a car factory, where he had worked before becoming a professional cyclist.

Goddet had a totally different opinion. Walowiak, he said, was his all-time favourite winner and the very archetype of what an all-rounder should be and had won the maillot jaune with his legs before keeping it with his head. Later, Bernard Hinault would also defend him - "There are people who say that Walkowiak should not have won the Tour. They should have been on that Tour! He took the jersey, he lost it and he regained it. He was not a thief. The Tour is not a gift," he insisted. Walkowiak is 85 at the time of writing. In time, the cycling world finally came to understand that Goddet and Hinault were correct and, after so many years of shameful treatment that left him preferring to pretend his great achievement had never happened he's now happy to talk about it.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Roger Walkowiak (FRA) North East-Center 124h 01'16"
2 Gilbert Bauvin (FRA) France +1'25"
3 Jan Adriaensens (BEL) Belgium +3'44"
4 Federico Bahamontes (ESP) Spain +10'14"
5 Nino Defilippis (ITA) Italy +10'25"
6 Wout Wagtmans (NED) Netherlands +10'59"
7 Nello Lauredi (FRA) South East France +14'01"
8 Stan Ockers (BEL) Belgium +16'52"
9 René Privat (FRA) France +22'59"
10 Antonio Barbosa (POR) Luxembourg/Mixed +26'03"

Ullrich and Udo Bolts, 1997
21 stages + prologue, 3,943.8km.
Jan Ullrich's final advantage of 9'09" becomes the biggest gap between first and second place since Laurent Fignon beat Bernard Hinault by 10'32" in 1984. Ullrich also wins the Youth category, becoming the first rider to have won it and the General Classification in a single edition.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Jan Ullrich (GER) Telekom 100h 30' 35"
2 Richard Virenque (FRA) Festina +9' 09"
3 Marco Pantani (ITA) Mercatone Uno +14' 03"
4 Abraham Olano (ESP) Banesto +15' 55"
5 Fernando Escartín (ESP) Kelme +20' 32"
6 Francesco Casagrande (ITA) Saeco +22' 47"
7 Bjarne Riis (DEN) Telekom +26' 34"
8 José Maria Jimenez (ESP) Banesto +31' 17"
9 Laurent Dufaux (SUI) Festina +31' 55"
10 Roberto Conti (ITA) Mercatone Uno +32' 26"

Armstrong in the maillot jaune after Stage 8, 2003
20 stages + prologue, 3,427.5km.
Unusually for a modern Tour, the 2003 edition started and ended in Paris - to mark the race's first century, celebrations also inspiring the organisers to keep the race entirely in France, as had been the case with early editions. The race was expected to be - and was - one of the most hotly-contested in many years and numerous favourites attempted to prevent Lance Armstrong from matching the five-victory record shared by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain; yet statistics show - and he confesses - that his preformance in this edition was the worst of his seven wins. The Tour was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award, a prize given to events and organisations that "contribute to encouraging and promoting scientific, cultural and humanistic values that form part of mankind's universal heritage."

In 2003, there was an incident that is likely to remain unique - as fans watched the tail end of the peloton go by on Galibier, they were asked to move a little further along the road. Then, without warning, a man on a mountain bike hurtled down towards the road from higher up the slope, launched into the air from a small rocky ledge and jumped clear across the riders, landing (and crashing) on the rock-strewn terrain on the other side. His name was Dave Watson, a professional freerider with the Kona Clump team; after being given a check-over by paramedics, police decided that his assistants (from a French mountain bike magazine) hadn't endangered any member of the public other than Dave himself, he was allowed to go on his way.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service 83h 41' 12"
2 Jan Ullrich (GER) Bianchi +1' 01"
3 Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) Telekom +4' 14"
4 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC +6' 17"
5 Haimar Zubeldia (ESP) Euskaltel +6' 51"
6 Iban Mayo (ESP) Euskaltel +7' 06"
7 Ivan Basso (ITA) Fassa Bortolo +10' 12"
8 Christophe Moreau (FRA) Crédit Agricole +12' 28"
9 Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC +18' 49"
10 Francisco Mancebo (ESP) +19' 15"

Sastre in yellow, 2008
21 stages, 3,559km.
The bonification system - which awarded time bonuses to the winners of intermediate sprints and stages - was abandoned. A feud between the ASO and the UCI finally boiled over when the ASO announced that it wasn't inviting Astana to the race due to the team's involvement in Operacion Puerto, despite a UCI rule stating that all ProTour teams were to be invited to the Grand Tours; the ASO got its way. The race remained almost entirely in France, dipping briefly into Italy at the end of Stage 15 and the start of Stage 16. Mark Cavendish won his first four Tour stages but didn't place in the top ten on points, Bernard Kohl won the King of the Mountains and was third overall but was later shown to have doped with CERA, an EPO variant, and was disqualified. To date, second place Carlos Sastre - who also won overall - has not been upgraded in the Mountains, nor has Denis Menchov in the General Classification.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC 87h 52' 52"
2 Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto +0' 58"
3  ---
4 Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank +2' 10"
5 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin +3' 05"
6 Fränk Schleck (LUX) Team CSC +4' 28"
7 Samuel Sánchez (ESP) Euskaltel +6' 25"
8 Kim Kirchen (LUX) Team Columbia +6' 55"
9 Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne +7' 12"
10 Tadej Valjavec (SLO) Ag2r +9' 05"

Cyclists born on this day: Philippe Gilbert (Belgium, 1982); Günter Kaslowski (Germany, 1934, died 2001); Ali Çetiner (Turkey, 1925); Raimondas Vilčinskas (Lithuania, 1977); Jan Kudra (Poland, 1937); Hernán López (Argentina, 1973); Amadu Yusufu (Malawi, 1958); Pramote Sangskulrote (Thailand, 1952); Glenn Magnusson (Sweden, 1969); Jo Jae-Hyeon (South Korea, 1938); Alex Zülle (Switzerland, 1968); Gustav Hentschel (USA, 1896, died 1980); Frank Elliott (Canada, 1911, died 1964); Alexander Kristoff (Norway, 1987); Ernest Bens (Belgium, 1949); Ralf Elshof (Netherlands, 1962); ...and Paul Smith, the fashion designed who wanted to be a professional cyclist (Great Britain, 1946).

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