Saturday 7 July 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 07.07.12

The Tour de France started on this day four times - 1936, 1955, 2001 and 2007.

21 stages (Stages 13, 14, 18 and 20 split into parts A and B, Stage 19 split into parts A, B and C), 4,418km.
Desgrange didn't invent the Tour, but he made it what it is.
1936 was his final year as director.
For the very first time, teams from the Netherlands, Romania and Yugoslavia took part - there had also been a team made up of Italians resident in France but, very shortly before the race was due to begin, it was decided that they would not be permitted to take part. It was very noticeable that many more spectators turned out than in previous years, largely due to fine weather and the introduction of a summer public holiday.

Now aged 71, Tour director Henri Desgrange underwent surgery on his prostate a few weeks before the Tour and was due to have another one afterwards, but convinced his reluctant surgeon to agree to him attending in a car padded out with cushions and with a doctor in attendance. At that time, many roads outside of the centre of Paris were primitive, at best cobbled and at worst, unsurfaced tracks full of potholes and gulleys (in rural areas, they would remain as such until the Tour became televised, at which point local mayors began to find the money to modernise them so that the world wouldn't think their communities backward) and even in the first stage it became apparent that he wouldn't be able to continue. He attempted to continue through Stage 2, with a fever and in great pain, but was forced to give up. He retired that day, handing over L'Auto's editorship and the role of Tour director to Jacques Goddet, then traveled to his chateau. He died four years later at his villa on the Mediterranean.

Theo Middelkamp, 1936
Paul Egli won Stage 1 in torrential rain and thus became the first Swiss rider to have ever led the Tour; after that the first week was uneventful until Stage 7 when Theo Middelkamp became the first ever Dutch rider to win a stage - prior to this Tour, he had never left the Netherlands and Ballon d'Alsace in Stage 4 was the first mountain he'd ever seen. During Stage 7, 1935 winner Romain Maes abandoned with bronchitis; 1930 winner Georges Speicher also left a short while later. Maurice Archambaud took the maillot jaune in Stage 4 but, with the race still at an early point, could not defend it for long and it passed to Sylvère Maes (who wasn't related to Romain) in Stage 8. French team leader Antonin Magne expected Maes to beat him in the Stage 13b and 14b individual time trials but he lost a lot more time that he'd hoped - after 13a he was 3'49" behind overall, after 14b the gap had risen to 8'90". Then he tried to attack in the mountains, but Maes was better than expected there as well: Magne moved into second place overall from third in Stage 16 but by the end of Stage 17 he was 26'13" behind. Belgium would also win the two remaining team time trials so, by the end of the race, Maes' lead was 26'55".

Sylvere Mais
The Dutch team finished the race with three riders, the minimum number that permitted them to remain in the teams competition. The Swiss ended up with one remaining rider, Leo Amberg in eighth place; the entire Austrian, Yugoslavian, German and Romanian teams abandoned.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Sylvère Maes (BEL) Belgium 142h 47' 32"
2 Antonin Magne (FRA) France +26' 55"
3 Félicien Vervaecke (BEL) Belgium +27' 53"
4 Pierre Clemens (LUX) Spain/Luxembourg +42' 42"
5 Arsène Mersch (LUX) Spain/Luxembourg +52' 52"
6 Mariano Cañardo (ESP) Spain/Luxembourg +1h 03' 04"
7 Mathias Clemens (LUX) Spain/Luxembourg +1h 10' 44"
8 Leo Amberg (SUI) Switzerland +1h 19' 13"
9 Marcel Kint (BEL) Belgium +1h 22' 25"
10 Léon Level (FRA) Touriste-routier +1h 27' 57"

Miguel Poblet
22 stages (Stage 1 split into parts A and B), 4,495km.
Unusually, the prologue was replaced with a two-parter first stage featuring a 102km mass start road race and a 12.5km team time trial. For the first time, photo finish technology was used, finally replacing the mirador tower from which judges watched the riders crossing the finish line, the opportunity for human error - and good old-fashioned corruption - having caused many an argument in the past. It was also the first time since the Second World War that German riders took part, not so much due to any hatred the organisers felt for German riders after the war but because riders and organisers alike knew that their safety could not be guaranteed should any members of the public wish to attack them. Now that it had been a decade since the war, the majority realised that any German rider would have been either a child or of very junior rank in the military and, thankfully, no such attack took place. They rode as part of a mixed team that was also home to riders from Australia, Austria and Luxembourg. In addition to them and the French national team there were five French regional teams and one team each from Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and - for the first time in Tour history - Great Britain (the 1937 team made up of Britons Charles Holland and Bill Burl, along with Canadian Pierre Gachon, represented the British Empire rather than just Great Britain).

Miguel Poblet won Stage 1a and became the first Spaniard to have ever worn the maillot jaune, which is quite remarkable considering Spain had sent a team as long ago as 1930 and the enormous popularity of the sport over the Pyrenees, but then he lost it that very afternoon when the Netherlands won the Stage 1b team time trial and the leader's jersey passed to Wout Wagtmans. He kept it after Stage 3, which French team leader and popular favourite for overall victory Louison Bobet won, but lost it the next day to France's Antonin Rolland who got away with a group that finished five minutes ahead of the first favourites (and nine-and-a-half minutes ahead of Bobet) and earned an overall advantage of 9'21". He lost it the next day when Wim van Est joined a break that managed to finish 17'33" ahead of the bunch, but with only 25" to make up he had little difficulty winning it back on Stage 8 - not least of all because van Est was hopelessly outclassed in the mountains which made their first appearance that day.

The mountains were what Charly Gaul had been waiting for - because when the weather was cold enough for him, nobody in the world could climb like he did. He attacked early and was the first man over Les Aravis and the Cols du Telegraphe and Galibier, finishing the stage with 13'47" over second place Ferdinand Kübler; though he was now third overall he'd started the stage 25' behind Rolland and so remained 10'17" down in the General Classification. If he'd been able to do the same on Stage 9 he might well have won the Tour: he came close, attacking early again and being the first over Vars, Cayolle and Vasson but, because of a crash, he lost time and dropped to fourth overall with a disadvantage of 11'53". Meanwhile, Bobet moved into third, 11'33" behind Rolland.

Bobet was favourite - he'd won in 1953 and 1954, was World Champion and had trained aggressively, using the Classics as preparation; his campaign unexpectedly began on Stage 11 when the race climbed Mont Ventoux for the second time in its history. Three years later, when Gaul came to the Tour with the best form he would ever realise, he was so good that Ventoux seemed to welome his presence and he won the Tour; this time it did not and he came 13th, dropping to fifth overall. The old volcano wasn't in the mood to go easy on anyone that day - as Jean Malléjac and  Kübler discovered: Malléjac hadn't even realised he'd collapsed when the doctors got to him, lying flat on the stony ground with one leg still trying to turn the pedals; and he didn't regain consciousness for a quarter of an hour (he was one of six men to collapse that day). Kübler had believed himself able to tame the mountain. Raphaël Géminiani tried to warn him: "Watch out, Ferdy - the Ventoux is not like any other col." Kübler, with his curious habit of referring to himself in the third person, replied: "Ferdy is not like any other rider." Then he tried to sprint to the summit, and hadn't got very far before he was reduced to begging for a push from spectators to get over. On the way down, ashen-faced and in a cold sweat, he found a bar and started drinking heavily. "Ferdy has killed himelf on the Ventoux," he told a press conference that night, then abandoned and never returned to the Tour. Bobet, though, was able to deal with the heat, and he was cleverer than Malléjac and  Kübler - when he saw that Gaul was suffering he realised that an unmissable opportunity had come his way and that if he rode calmly and carefully he could win the stage. He finished in second place overall, now 4'53" behind Rolland, and then waited as his batteries recharged.

Louison Bobet
As a result, Bobet was the only man able to stay anywhere near Gaul when he attacked hard on Aspin and Peyresourde in Stage 17, finishing 1'24" after him while the rest came in with +3'18" or more and becoming race leader with an advantage of 3'08" on Rolland. Gaul attacked again the next day, but this time Bobet recruited a small chase group rather than trying to work alone and after following him over the Aubisque was able to catch and then pass him; his lead now grew to 6'04" - and with only four stages to go, the Tour was his even when he lost time in the time trial.

Bobet thus became the second man to have won three Tours (the first had been Philippe Thys, in 1913, 1914 and 1920) and the first to have won three consecutively, but he suffered for it: a saddle sore that had plagued him throughout the race led to necrosis, and after the race a large quantity of rotting flesh had to be cut away from his groin, in some cases stopping just short of "important organs." He knew that he had destroyed his chances of winning again and while he entered again in 1958 he was visibly unwell throughout the race, yet drove himself on and somehow finished in 7th place overall. He never finished another Tour after that.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Louison Bobet (FRA) France 130h 29' 26"
2 Jean Brankart (BEL) Belgium +4' 53"
3 Charly Gaul (LUX) Luxembourg/Mixed +11' 30"
4 Pasquale Fornara (ITA) Italy +12' 44"
5 Antonin Rolland (FRA) France +13' 18"
6 Raphaël Géminiani (FRA) France +15' 01"
7 Giancarlo Astrua (ITA) Italy +18' 13"
8 Stan Ockers (BEL) Belgium +27' 13"
9 Alex Close (BEL) Belgium +31' 10"
10 François Mahé (FRA) France +36' 27

Jan Ullrich
20 stages + prologue, 3,455.2km.
French fans had complained that there were too few French teams in the 2000 Tour, so the selection procedure was altered slightly so as to admit more whilst also continuing to admit teams that had earned their places. It was one of the hardest Tours for some time - though it had only one Alpine stage, this was followed by an individual mountain time trial, then a rest day transfer straight to the Pyrenees; this meant that were five consecutive summit finishes. Two of the time trials were also longer than usual - Stage 5, contested by the teams, was 67km; Stage 18, contested by individuals, was 61km (the prologue would nowadays have to be classed as Stage 1 - at 8.2km it was longer than the maximum length currently permitted for a prologue, 8km).

Lance Armstrong was widely expected to win for the third time and, since Marco Pantani's Mercatone-Uno team hadn't be invited after a police raid turned up a syringe containing traces of insulin in his room (the eight-month ban he received as a result was later overturned when it was shown that the syringe couldn't be proven to be his), Jan Ullrich was considered the only man capable of challenging him and it was noted that the German was looking fitter than he had done since he'd won in 1997.

Armstrong sat back and took it easy for the first nine stages - a plan that could very easily have become a disaster because a 14-man break got away during Stage 8, driven on by a desire to get out of the appalling weather as much as a desire for victory: as a result, he ended Stage 9 35'19" down in the General Classification, which was far greater than he'd have liked. What was more important, however, was that he was ahead of Ullrich who was 35'46" down - after all, many a Tour has been won in the mountains, and the mountains didn't start until the next day. On Stage 10, he began playing mind games, hovering around the back of the peloton and looking as though he was sick; knowing full well that the other team's managers would be watching with great interest on the televisions fitted inside their team cars. He did nothing as Laurent Roux led over La Madeleine and the Col du Glandon. For a while, he allowed the bunch to get a short way ahead of him; then when the race began climbing the Alpe d'Huez, he caught up and looked Ullrich in the eyes before dropping the entire Tour and winning the stage by 1'59". His time on the Alpe that day - 38'01" - was the third fastest ever recorded, eleven years later it remains fourth fastest ever (and the man who beat it since then was... Lance Armstrong, in 2004).

Armstrong on hairpin #5, Alpe d'Huez, 2001
He was, though, still 20'07" behind overall, and that meant that there was work to do. Fortunately, the next day was the mountain time trial and while he wasn't the last man down the ramp (as riders prefer, since they then know the times they need to beat and how much they can hold back, saving energy), he won with a 1' lead on Ullrich and shaved seven minutes off his overall time. He beat Ullrich by a minute again on Stage 13 and this time the maillot jaune was his - Andrei Kivilev was second overall, 3'54" behind him. Ullrich trailed in fourth with +5'13" and knew that despite his form he was beaten, yet the next day when they crossed the finish line atop Luz-Ardiden he held out his hand and the two men finished with arms linked. During that stage Jonathan Vaughters - who is now the manager of the Garmin-Sharp team but was then a rider for Crédit Agricole - was stung on the face by a wasp and suffered a reaction that caused his right eye to swell so much he couldn't open it. He was prescribed a medicated cream but team manager Roger Legeay was told by the UCI that it couldn't be used as it contained cortisone - a steroid that has no recognised performance-enhancing of its own but, since it can be used to mask the presence of other steroids that do, is on the list of banned drugs. In most cases, medical exemption will be given provided a genuine prescription can be shown; this time, for reasons not entirely clear (more than one argument suggests that it was prejudice on the part of Tour organisers towards an American rider because they were angry at Armstrong's domonation of the race), it was refused. Vaughters had no option but to abandon the race.

From this point, Armstrong's lead was unassailable, especially once he increased it to 6'44" in the Stage 18 time trial. The rest of the race, therefore, passed without incident; his final advantage was 6'44".

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service 86h 17' 28"
2 Jan Ullrich (GER) Telekom +6' 44"
3 Joseba Beloki (ESP) ONCE +9' 05"
4 Andrei Kivilev (KAZ) Cofidis +9' 53"
5 Igor González (ESP) ONCE +13' 28"
6 François Simon (FRA) Bonjour +17' 22"
7 Óscar Sevilla (ESP) Kelme +18' 30"
8 Santiago Botero (COL) Kelme +20' 55"
9 Marcos Antonio Serrano (ESP) ONCE +21' 45"
10 Michael Boogerd (NED) Rabobank +22' 38"

Cancellara, 2007
20 stages + prologue, 3,569.9km.
For the third time in its history, the Tour visited Britain - this time, the prologue took place in London (and was held in memory of the victims of the 7th of July bombings one year earlier) and was followed by a road race from London to Canterbury the following day. Unfortunately, this edition was hit hard by doping scandals with three riders and two teams being withdrawn. Michael Rasmussen, who had been leading the race, was removed by Rabobank in line with the team's strict zero-tolerance doping policy after evidence was found to suggest that he'd lied about his whereabouts during tests prior to the Tour.

Fabian Cancellara won the prologue by 13", then survived a large crash in Stage 2 before increasing his overall advantage to 33" by winning Stage 3. He managed to maintain it at about that level with consistent good results through the first week, only letting go of the maillot jaune when the race reached the mountains in Stage 7 and he came 148th, dropping to 108th overall with a disadvantage of 22'15". Linus Gerdemann, who would later become Cancellara's team mate at Leopard Trek, became race leader with an advantage of 1'24". He didn't have it for long - Rasmussen won the next day and took the jersey from him.

Stage 13 was won by Alexander Vinokourov, who had started the race as favourite but then injured both his knees in a crash and lost a lot of time in the Alps: this placed him 5'10" behind Rasmussen and fans began to wonder if he might just win after all. However, the sample he provided to doping control after his victory turned out to have a suspiciously high level of red blood cells, evidence that he might have had a homologous transfusion (ie, one using his own preserved blood). He was, therefore, removed from the Tour and disqualified from his Stage 13 and 15 wins(later, he was banned from competition for one year; there are those, however, who still argue that he might also have been innocent - he knew that he was already under suspicion due to his links with the infamous Dr. Michele Ferrari and would be tested regularly, they point out, so why would be cheat?)

Alberto Contador
Rasmussen remained in yellow all the way through the Alps and into the Pyrenees despite an attempt Alberto Contador to take it from him in Stage 14. At the end of Stage 15, Contador was 2'23" behind overall; this rode to 3'10" when Rasmussen won Stage 16, meaning that it's possible he'd have won the Tour had he not then have been removed. However, several riders were judged likely to beat him in the Stage 19 time trial - the biggest threats being Contador and, especially, Cadel Evans and Levi Leipheimer - it's also very possible that he would not, even if he was cheating (Evans has never been connected to any doping case. Contador was later banned for doping in a highly controversial case, Leipheimer had "unintentionally doped" in 1996 - and, if rumours surrounding the investigation into Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel at the time of writing are to be believed, may be about to reveal more; but there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that either man was cheating in the 2007 Tour. For the majority of fans, then, there is no question of whether Rasmussen might have won or not - he doped, therefore he could never have been a true winner).

Leipheimer and Evans both beat Contador in the time trial, Leipheimer by 2'18" (which won him the stage) and Evans by 1'27", which left the Spaniard in first place overall but with an advantage of just 23" over Evans and 31" over Leipheimer. There was still one stage to go but, by gentleman's agreement, the Tour is decided at the end of the penultimate stage, the final run into Paris is largely ceremonial for everyone except the domestiques and also-rans who try to grab any last opportunity to please their sponsors while the main contenders mug it up for the press. It could have been contested and the eventual outcome could have changed completely, but neither Evans nor Leipheimer were about to break with tradition and they accepted Contador as winner.

Top Ten Final General Classification
1 Alberto Contador (ESP) Discovery Channel 91h 00' 26"
2 Cadel Evans (AUS) Predictor-Lotto + 23"
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel + 31"
4 Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC + 7' 08"
5 Haimar Zubeldia (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi + 8' 17"
6 Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne + 11' 37"
7 Kim Kirchen (LUX) T-Mobile Team + 12' 18"
8 Yaroslav Popovych (UKR) Discovery Channel + 12' 25"
9 Mikel Astarloza (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi + 14' 14"
10 Óscar Pereiro (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne + 14' 25"

Percy Stallard
Britain's first modern-era mass start cycling road race took place on this day in 1942, organised by Percy Stallard and without the approval of the National Cycling Union which had strictly banned all racing (other than time trials) on British roads since 1890 due to a belief that racing would lead to a ban on all bicycles on public roads. Stallard was inspired by a race on the Isle of Man (which, having its own parliament and passports, was not subject to NCU rules) and approached the police to gauge their reaction: contrary to the NCU's fears, the police were supportive and offered to help.

The NCU were livid, especially when the race passed without incident and was even quite successful - Stallard and fifteen others involved in organising the race were handed a sine die ban: one without a specific date upon which it would end but which could be lifted at any time if the subject either successfully appealed or, as the organisation presumably hoped would be the case in this instance, apologised and did as he or she was told. Yet still Stallard would not back down, especially now that he had proved mass-start races could be held on British roads, so in November he helped launch the British League of Racing Cyclists - an organisation of like-minded riders that act as an umbrella body co-ordinating a number of pre-existing groups and would go head-to-head with the cycling establishment. In 1945 they organised the Victory Race to celebrate the end of the war - after growing, vanishing, reappearing and growing once again, it eventually became the modern Tour of Britain.

Cyclists born on this day: Sharon Laws (born Kenya, British nationality, 1974); Werner Riebenbauer (Austria, 1974); Nigel Donnelly (New Zealand, 1968); Elizabeth Hepple (Australia, 1959); Brian Smith (Great Britain, 1967); Fabrizio Trezzi (Italy, 1967); Mirco Gualdi (Italy, 1968); Sergey Klimov (USSR, 1980); Sataporn Kantasa-Ard (Thailand, 1950); Fernand Decanali (France, 1925); Erik Zabel (East Germany, 1970); Robert Vidal (France, 1933); Hans-Jürgen Geschke (East Germany, 1943); Angelo Ciccone (Italy, 1980); Guido Fulst (West Germany, 1970); Børge Gissel (Denmark, 1915); Héctor Pérez (Mexico, 1959).

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