Sunday 16 September 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 16.09.12

Alexandre Vinokourov
Alexandre Vinokourov
Few - if any - riders have ever split fan opinion quite so much as Alexandre Vinokourov, who was born in Petropavl, Kazakhstan on this day in 1973. He is hated as a non-repentant convicted doper, yet he is loved for his repeated come-back after injuries that would have ended many riders' careers.

He began cycling at the age of 11, joining a local "Children and Youth Sports School" where he trained daily, in all weathers, and begin to enter cyclo cross races. Later, he was given a place at a Soviet sports academy and remained there for five years until his compulsory national military service, during which time he was given a place on the Soviet national team. Kazakhstan declared itself independent from the disintegrating USSR in 1991 and he moved on to the Kazakh national team.

In 1996, the Kazakh manager wrote to Gilles Mas, a directeur sportif of the French Agrigel-La Creuse team outlinin his plans to field a professional trade team in European races. Mas supported the plan and agreed to train the best two Kazakh riders at the Espoir Cycliste Saint-Etienne Loire; the two best riders - Vinokourov and Andrey Mizurov - being chosen by him and Saint-Etienne manager Pierre Rivory. Mizurov found adjusting to his new life difficult and returned home in May 1997 after less than three months in France, his place being given to Andrei Kivilev who later died following a crash at Paris-Nice; Vinokourov found things more to his liking and, only a few weeks after his arrival, won the King of the Mountains at the Coupe de France. Later in the year he was given an opportunity to try to impress the managers of the Casino-C'est Votre Equipe team, being told that if he rode well at the Circuit de Saône et Loire they would consider taking him on. He won three of the total four stages.

In 2004
The team became Casino-AG2R for 1998 and Vino got a full professional contract, repaying them with the General Classifications at the Tours de Lorraine and Picardie, the Four Days of Dunkirk and stage win at the Tour of Poland; then in 1999 (when the team became known as Casino-C'est Votre Equipe again) he won the Vuelta Ciclista a la Communidad Valenciana and the Critérium du Dauphiné - and finished two stages at the Tour de France in second place. He joined Telekom in 2000, finished another Tour stage in second place and, won Stage 18 at the Vuelta a Espana and came second in the road race at the Olympics. He remained with Telekom until the end of 2005, by which time it had become T-Mobile, and won the Deutschland Tour (2001), Paris-Nice (2002, 2003), the Amstel Gold Race, the Tour de Suisse and Stage 9 at the Tour de France (all 2003) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (after a thrilling two-man break with Jens Voigt), the Kazakh National Championships and Stages 11 and 21 at the Tour (all 2005).

In 2006 he joined Liberty Seguros-Würth, but in May team manager Manolo Saiz was arrested due to suspected links to a blood-doping program; Liberty Seguros pulled their sponsorship. A conglomerate of Kazakh teams went into partnership with Würth, after which the team became Astana-Würth, but the Tour de France squad (including Vinokourov) had to withdraw from the race when five of its riders were implicated in Operacion Puerto. Vinokourov was never linked to Puerto, but the team was down to only four riders - two less than the required minimum. Würth then backed out too, at which point the team became known simply as Astana and entered the Vuelta a Espana - Vinolourov won Stages 8, 9, 20 and the General Classification, also coming second in the Points competition. After the team relocated its base from Spain to Switzerland in 2007 he won the Points competition at the Critérium du Dauphiné and another brace of stages at the Tour. However, the day after he'd won Stage 15, he failed a doping test that revealed his blood contained double the normal number of red cells, suggesting he'd received a blood transfusion. Many people felt that the result must be false, among them Phil Ligget who insisted that it was "incomprehensible that Vinokourov could do such a thing when he must have known he was under suspicion because of his dealing with disgraced doctor Michele Ferrari in Italy;" nevertheless, the Kazakh Federation banned him for a year (and were immediately criticised by the UCI, which correctly pointed out that other riders who had doped in similar circumstances had received longer bans). He was stripped of his Stage 13 and 15 wins; meanwhile, Astana began moves to sue him for damage to the team's reputation, as did Predictor-Lotto and Cadel Evans who wanted to sue for publicity lost when Evans was denied Stage 13 victory by Vinokourov's cheating. In December that year, Vinokourov announced that he had retired.

Winning the Vuelta a Castilla y León, 2006
He stayed away for the entirety of 2008, then revealed on Belgian TV that he believed he still had the ability to win big races and was planning a return for 2009. The UCI approached the Court of Arbitration in Sport, asking it to reconsider giving the rider a two year ban which would have expired in July, by which time it would be too late for him to enter the Tour. The Court had been hearing the UCI's case when Vinokourov retired, at which point it was dropped; it found in favour and he was unable to return until the 24th of July. One month later, he was welcomed back into Astana; he won three races in what was left of the season.

2010 got off to a good start with victory at the Giro del Trentino and, thanks to a little help from team mate Alberto Contador, a second Liège-Bastogne-Liège; then he went to the Giro d'Italia and came sixth overall as well as second in the Points competition. Since the Festina Affair and Operacion Puerto, the organisers of the Tour de France have been more careful about who is allowed to ride in the race, well aware that as the world's biggest sporting event and the pre-eminent cycling race all the world's press will be paying attention. It was, therefore, not clear if Astana wound in fact be able to enter Vinokourov for it; however, he was. They needn't have worried - he had no intention of winning and, apart from his Stage 13 win, spent the entire race working as a domestique and paying off his debt to Contador, the eventual winner (until 2012, when he was stripped of the victory following a controversial investigation and long-winded court hearing that found him guilty of using bronchodilator Clenbuterol).

Vinolourov leading the road race, 2012 Olympics
Vinokourov was 37 years old when he wheeled up to the start line of the 2011 Tour de France, but he was visibly on good form and fans, while not considering him a likely winner, expected him to do well. Disaster struck in Stage 9 when he and other riders lost control on a descent, coming off the road and falling down a steep slope - he hit a tree and had to be lifted out in very obvious pain. It was initially feared that he had suffered a broken pelvis and possible spinal injury, fortunately he had escaped with a relatively minor broken femur. Soon afterwards, rumours began doing the rounds on Twitter and Facebook that he would be retiring as a result of the crash - a week later, he confirmed them. Once again and only two months later, he had second thoughts and announced that he would be riding for Astana in 2012. The first part of the season passed without success, but he finished Stage 16 at the Tour de France in fourth place; then in July, aged 38 and in his 14th year as a professional rider, he won the most glorious victory of his career - the road race at the Olympic Games.

"It is nice to finish off my career with a gold medal," he told reporters after the race. He is widely expected to retire for good in 2013 - and almost equally as widely to return by the end of the year.

Léon Hourlier
Léon Hourlier, born in Reims on this day in 1885, won the French Road Race Championships in 1909, 1911 and 1914. When the First World War broke out, he enlisted along with his close friend and brother-in-law Léon Comès; they died in an aeroplane crash on the 17th of October 1915. Hourlier was 30, Comès was 26.

Heinz Müller, born in Germany on this day in 1924, won the World Road Race Championship in 1952 and the National Championship a year later. In 1957 he won Stage 8 at the Tour de Suisse and in 1958 he came second at the Six Days of Cleveland in the USA. The vast majority of his 19 professional victories, however, were won in Germany; he might well have won more races abroad and become far better known has he have raced in a different era - after the Second World War and right into the 1960s, German riders were limited in the races they could enter due to a risk that fans might attempt to get "revenge" for what "they" had done during the war.

Aleksandra Burchenkova, born in Velikiye Luki, Russia on this day in 1988, won the European Junior Road Race Championship in 2005 and Stage 5 at the Gracia Orlova three years later. In 2010 she became European Under-23 Road Race Champion and in 2011 she won the Gracia Orlova, the Tour de Bretagne and the Elite National Time Trial Championship. In 2012, riding for S.C. Michela Fanini-Rox, she won the Tour of Adygeya.

Olga Panarina, born in Belarus on this day in 1985, became World 500m Time Trial Champion in 2011 at Apeldoorn. At the same event, she won the silver medal for the Keirin.

Gal Fridman, born in Karkur on this day in 1975, won the Israeli National Road Race Championship in 2005. Fridman is also a windsurfer, winning the gold medal - the first ever awarded to an Israeli athlete - for the event at the 2004 Games.

Laurent Desbians, who was born in Mons et Berceul, France, on this day in 1969, won Stage 11 at the 1997 Tour de France. In 1998 he wore the maillot jaune for two stages after finishing Stage 8 in  fifth place and taking it from Jan Ullrich. Ullrich won it back in Stage 10, then in Stage 15 it passed on to eventual overall winner Marco Pantani.

Other cyclists born on this day: Burry Stander (South Africa, 1987); Billy Griggs (USA, 1968); Oscar Guldager (Denmark, 1904, died 1986); Heino Dissing (Denmark, 1912, died 1990); Hans Pfenninger (Switzerland, 1929, died 2009); Billy Griggs (USA, 1968); Colin Forde (Barbados, 1949); Sergey Polinsky (USSR/Russia, 1981); Primož Štrancar (Slovenia, 1972); Sigvard Kukk (Estonia, 1972); John den Braber (Netherlands, 1970).

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