Tuesday 18 September 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 18.09.12

Lance Armstrong
Armstrong in 2002
There are a wealth of "rise and fall" stories in cycling and a good few (less depressing) "rise and fall and rise" stories. The story of Lance Armstrong goes further still - he rose, fell, rose higher than any other Tour de France champion in history, then fell once more. Born in Plano, Texas on this day in 1971, Lance was the son of a teenage single mother; they were a poor family and, while his mother provided everything she could, he soon learned that anything he wanted or needed could be had only after a fight. Unfortunately, he also learned that it's a lot easier to win a fight if you're the biggest, scariest bully in the playground.

Armstrong's first taste of competition was in swimming and he came fourth in the Texas Junior Championships when he was 12 before moving into triathlon a year later. Aged 16, he became a professional triathlete; three years later he had two National Championship titles under his belt. In addition to training for the cycling sections of his races, Armstrong frequently traveled to events on his bike, sometimes riding many miles and then racing before riding home again - it was not long before he began to excel on the bike and he entered and won the 1991 National Amateur Championship, then a year later placed 14th in the Olympic Road Race. He was snapped up by Motorola soon after the Games came to an end and won the first race he entered with them, then won the Elite National Championships, Stage 8 at the Tour de France and the World Championships. In 1994 he was second at the Clásica San Sebastián and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, in 1995 he won Stage 18 at the Tour and a second Clásica San Sebastián, in 1996 he won the Waalse Pijl - it was obvious that a serious new talent had emerged, though not yet obvious how far he would go.

In 1997, Armstrong joined Cofidis; however, his performances nose-dived and he was unable to win any races. Some wondered if he was an early burn-out, once of those riders who shines during the meteoric early years of his career, then fades away before what should have been his best years even began; however, in October that year he was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer. It spread to his lungs and brain and doctors gave him a "less than 40%" chance of survival. Rather than undergoing the standard chemotherapy treatment, Armstrong gave doctors permission to subject him to a then experimental form avoiding the drug bleomycin which, while attacking tumours, has a lifelong detrimental effect on the lungs and might easily have ended his career as a cyclist. It worked; he made a recovery that, no matter what one thinks of Armstrong, his personality and later revelations concerning his career, was truly remarkable and inspiring. To their eternal shame, Cofidis lost faith and sacked him during treatment.

By the beginning of the 1998 season, Armstrong had recovered sufficiently to be offered a contract with US Postal and he won six victories that year. In 1999, having started the year with some very good results, he won the first of his record seven consecutive Tours de France. Initially, Armstrong was disliked by European fans due to his brash personality and, it should be said, a good dose of anti-American sentiment among the fans; in time he would earn a grudging respect. However, while his Tour results spoke for themselves, few European fans ever considered him to be one of the true greats - he had concentrated on the Tour alone, they said, and therefore could not be considered to be as great as the likes of Anquetil and Hinault, both of whom won two fewer Tours but many more races in total than Armstrong - and he wasn't even in the same league as Eddy Merckx with his 525 victories (thought that one probably didn't probably didn't bother him much; anyone who knows the history of cycling knows that nobody - until Marianne Vos came along -  was in Merckx's league). He was great, but he was not a Great.

Armstrong became a personal friend of President George
W. Bush
Back home, Armstrong was viewed very differently. American was no longer what other peoples aspired to be; Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Levi's and so on had become seen not as the badges of a successful, prosperous (American-style) lifestyle but as emblems of American cultural imperialism. . Armstrong's career came at a time when his nation was coming under attack for many of its policies, especially its foreign policies - the second Iraq War, deeply unpopular with the non-American public around the world began a few months before his record-equaling fifth Tour victory - they were not the only nation to declare conflict, but it was widely believed that while allied governments supported the war, those nation's populations did not; the American people, with their reputation for flag-waving, were believed to be fully in support even though millions of them were not. In the past, with US culture, music and fashion shaping the way young people looked and thought around the world, Americans had known that they were generally liked and respected - and were too far away from the rest of the world for those who thought otherwise to appear on the radar. Now, with the growth of the Internet, they became aware that this was no longer the case - their political establishment was being attacked, but so too was their culture: everywhere, the same sort of people that would once have paid many months' salary for a pair of American jeans were rejecting American fashions and music. The USA had produced some great cycling heroes prior to Armstrong, but the majority of them - such as Marshall Taylor, who was adored by the French at a time when he was sometimes not allowed to enter velodromes at home because he was black - had ridden at a time beyond living memory at the turn of the 20th Century. Towards the end of the century Americans started to do well in races again: first there was George Mount, then others including Greg Lemond (who also found a place in cycling's European heart and ended up being awarded unofficial honourary Frenchman status), yet cycling remained very much a niche sport in the USA. In Armstrong, who kept going abroad and winning just like many Americans had believed their country always would, they had what may prove to be the last All American Action Hero. He was, therefore, elevated to a status far beyond that of mere cyclist; he became a symbol that, for millions of people, represented what it is to be an American, or at the very least what they felt an American - and America - should be. Armstrong retired following his seventh Tour win in 2005; yet when he returned to the Tour four years later some Americans believed he would conquer all the champions that had emerged in the intervening years. The war in Iraq had not gone well for them, even though they won, nor did the war in Afghanistan and their international reputation was in tatters; now, after just long enough away from sport and a huge amount of mythologising, Armstrong became to America what King Arthur is in British folklore - the Protector that had arisen to defend the nation in its time of need. His third place overall was better than European fans (and Americans who understood the sport) expected.

Winning Stage 10 on the Alpe d'Huez, Tour de France 2001
For the entirety of his career, Armstrong faced accusations of doping. He rode at a time when the world was finally realising how big a problem doping had become and when professional cycling was finally realising that there would be no brushing under the rug and something had to be done, a time when all riders were under suspicion. His reaction - especially towards riders such as Christophe Bassons, a lowly domestique but one of the few people with the bravery to stand up against the Armstrong Public Relations Machine and had his career destroyed as a result - won him few friends, displaying as it did a dark, deeply dislikable, bullying side to him and the multi-million dollar business that had grown up around him. There had also been a number of controversies: as long ago as 1999 corticosteroid had been discovered in a urine sample he provided, though the amount discovered was not high enough for further action - yet Emma O'Reilly, a team masseuse who, like all the other individuals to cast aspersions against the rider, rapidly found herself distanced from Lance Armstrong Inc., says that team officials panicked after the result and persuaded a doctor to sign a back-dated prescription for saddle sore cream to cover it (she also says that, as his masseuse, she'd have known if he'd had saddle sores). Greg Lemond, one of doping's most vocal opponents, joined in and was especially critical of Armstrong's connections to the notorious Dr. Michele Ferrari. Armstrong ended his professional relationship with the doctor, but evidence emerged in 2010 that they had continued to meet. Perhaps his most dangerous enemy, however, was a middle-aged journalist from Cambridge, David Walsh, whose book L.A. Confidential tied together rumours, examined them and used them to tear Armstrong to shreds. He too was pushed away from the rider's inner circle but he kept on and on, seemingly intent on destroying the rider once and for all. SCA Promotions, a Texas company, tried to back out of paying Armstrong a $5million bonus, but ultimately paid $7.5 million - the bonus plus legal fees - in an out-of-court deal. There were many other accusations, from former US Postal team mate Frankie Andreu and his wife Betsy, from L'Equipe and CBS, from Tyler Hamilton and from Floyd Landis. The latter claimed that Armstrong had made a "donation" (or bribe) to the UCI in order to hush up a failed anti-doping test in 2002, but said that there was no documentation to support his claim. In 2010, UCI president Pat McQuaid admitted that two donations had been made, one of $25,000 in 2002 and another of $100,000 in 2005; he was able to produce documents proving the donations took place and that they had been used to fund anti-doping measures including the purchase of a blood-testing machine, and he was able to produce documentation, but he admitted that the way in which his predecessor Hein Verbruggen had accepted the payments was irregular.

Tour de France 2009
In May 2012, as RadioShack-Nissan manager Johan Bruyneel stepped from his plane onto US soil shortly before the Tour of California, he was met by officials from the United States Anti-Doping Agency and served with a subpoena. Rumours soon began to circulate that he was being investigated as part of a massive inquiry into doping at US Postal, the team that had become RadioShack. The rumours were rapidly confirmed; but the scope of the investigation was far bigger than anyone had expected - USADA, it seemed, were going after some of the most powerful men in cycling, and this time they meant to win. In addition to Bruyneel, targets included US Postal doctor  Pedro Celaya, Dr. Ferarri - and Armstrong, who was given a period of time in which to prepare for a legal battle and confirm he meant to contest the allegations against him. In July Armstrong filed a suit in Texas attempting to prevent USADA continuing; the judge threw it out that same day, saying that the court was "not inclined to indulge Armstrong's desire for publicity [and] self-aggrandizement." The following day - the 10th, when USADA banned Ferrari, another doctor named Luis Garcia del Moral and a team coach from any future involvement with professional sports - Armstrong filed a new suit with the same aim. In it, he questioned whether USADA held jurisdiction over him; although the judge quetioned USADA's timing, the court was not in favour.

Days later and still maintaining that he was innocent and had never doped, Armstrong announced that he had no further plans to contest the charges against him. As a result, he was stripped of all results gained since the 1st of August 1998, including his seven Tour de France victories. Afterwards, USADA revealed that had he have fought on, they would likely have stripped him of three. Whatever one thinks of Armstrong, his tactics and personality, there can he no doubt that one of the most remarkable eras in the history of cycling has come to an end.

Didier Rous
Didier Rous, born in Montauban, France on this day in 1970, turned professional with GAN in 1993 after spending the latter third of 1992 as a trainee with R.M.O. He stayed with GAN for four seasons, winning the GP Ouverture in his first year, a stage at the Tour de l'Avenir in his second, third place overall at the Tour du Limousin in 1995 and one stage at the Critérium International and second place at the Waalse Pijl in 1996. In 1997 he joined Festina; the following year the team was hit by scandal when soigneur Willy Voet was caught with a car filled with doping products, leading to the discovery of the team's institutionalised doping program and sparking off the notorious Festina Affair that rocked cycling to its very core. Rous confessed that he had used EPO and was banned for six months; then returned with the same team the following year.

In 2000, Rous switched to Bonjour, won the GP du Midi-Libre and managed two top ten stage finishes at the Tour de France, then in 2001 he became National Road Race Champion and won 11 other victories including the General Classification at the Four Days of Dunkirk; in 2002 he won the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe. He rode for Brioches La Boulangère for the next two years and won another National Championship as well as the GP Ouest France; then went to Bouygues Telecom, where he would spend the rest of his career, in 2005. In 2006, he won the Trophée des Grimpeurs for the third time before victory at Paris - Corrèze rounded off his season - and, as it turned out, his racing career: he won nothing in 2007, then announced his retirement due to health problems in June before joining the team management committee.

Yukihiro Doi, born in Yamagata Prefecture on this day in 1983, became Japanese Road Race Champion in 2012.

Steffen competing at the 2012 Austrian Ironman
Born in Spiez, Switzerland on this day in 1978, Caroline Steffen began her athletic career as a professional swimmer and won several National Championship titles prior to 2002 when surgery on her shoulder ended her competitive days. After recovering, she became a triathlete and came third in her age group for amateurs at the 2006 Ironman; but her shoulder limited how well she could perform in the swimming sections. Still eager to compete, she began instead to concentrate on cycling and was given a contract with the Raleigh LifeForce team where, having proved too big to do well in the mountains and lacking the top end speed to be a sprinter, she became lead-out woman for Nicole Cooke and Karin Thürig. However, she felt that she would still be able to win triathlons and left the team, becoming a professional triathlete after achieving promising results. In 2010, she won a silver medal at the World Ironman Championships.

Gary Anderson, who was born in London but raced with a New Zealand licence (having moved there when he was nine), won a total of eight medals (including three gold) at the Commonwealth Games between 1986 and 1990 and also won a bronze at the 1992 Olympics. Anderson had a heart defect that often caused his pulse to race during competition.

Azzedine Lagab, born on this day in 1986, was Algerian National Time Trial Champion in 2007, 2011 and 2012 and Nation Road Race Champion in 2010 and 2012.

Other cyclists born on this day: Piotr Chmielewski (Poland, 1970); Mathieu Perget (France, 1984); Gerard Lettoli (San Marino, 1946); Rolf Nitzsche (Germany, 1930); Felice Puttini (Switzerland, 1967); Kelly-Ann Way (Canada, 1964); Tom Morris (Canada, 1944); Eugen Kamber (Switzerland, 1924, died 1991); Gennady Komnatov (USSR, 1949, died 1979); Phil Bayton (Great Britain, 1950); Sergey Shelpakov (USSR, 1956); Mario Masanés (Chile, 1927); András Parti (Hungary, 1982); Leif Flengsrud (Norway, 1922, died 2009); Piet Kloppenburg (Netherlands, 1896, died 1972); Sławomir Kohut (Poland, 1977); Christian Poulsen (Denmark, 1979); Carlos García (Uruguay, 1964).

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