Sunday 11 November 2012

Daily Cycling Facts 11.11.2012

Ruthie Matthes
(Image credit: James F. Perry
CC BY-SA 3.0)
Happy birthday to Ruthie Matthes, World XC Mountain Bike Champion in 1991, National Criterium champion in 1989, National Road Race champ in 1990 and twice 2nd place runner-up in the now defunct Women's Challenge road race among many other notable results. Matthes was born in the USA in 1965.

William Spencer, American professional cyclist, was born on this day in 1895. Having emigrated to the USA from England, he became a professional in 1916 before being drafted into the Army. He continued cycling after completing his mandatory six months of service, setting a new quarter mile (0.4km) record in 1920 with a time of 25 seconds. He died on the 2nd of October 1963.

Christian Prudhomme
General Director of the Tour de France Christian Prudhomme was born on this day in 1960 and continues the long tradition of the position being filled by a journalist. Having graduated from the Lille ESJ journalism school in 1985, Prudhomme was encouraged to seek employment with the Luxembourgian broadcaster RTL by his tutor who was himself an RTL correspondent. He was accepted on a trial basis and provided reports on sports in which he had an interest, namely rugby, athletics, skiing and - his favourite - cycling.

It's not difficult to spot Prudhomme at the Tour - he's the
man who waves the flag to signal the start of competition
as the riders leave the neutral zone each day
(image credit: LeTour)
A few years later, Prudhomme had become head of sports reporting at the La Cinq television channel which would vanish in 1992 due to financial difficulty. After freelancing for a while, he received an invitation to work for LCI, a news channel, but almost at the same moment he accepted the position he was offered a far more prestigious position with Europe1. In 1998, he became involved in the creation of L'Equipe TV. L'Equipe is, of course, the newspaper that grew from L'Velo, the newspaper that organised the first Tour de France - it and the new channel are both owned by the Amaury Sports Organisation, owners of the Tour. He rapidly rose through the ranks, becoming editor-in-chief before departing to national broadcaster France Télévisions, the French equivalent to the BBC, where he was charged with modernising the network's Stage 2 sports programme. He commentated on the 2000 Tour for the channel, which films and broadcasts the official Tour coverage that is then syndicated to other channels and shown around the world, including in the United Kingdom.

Christian Prudhomme, the man who saved
the Tour de France
(image credit: Dianne Krauss CC BY-SA 3.0)
Prudhomme once said, "Cycling has always made me dream, even if today, alas, it is in a mess. It is an extraordinary sport, a legend of a sport, a sport of legends. It's almost as hard as boxing and combat sports. It takes place in exceptional conditions, obviously the mountains, the cobbles. It's a sport where anything can happen. The weather plays a significant part and the riders have to confront it. It has always made me dream." It is no surprise, then, that when he became assistant director of the Tour de France in 2003 he immediately revealed himself a a fierce opponent of doping, lobbying for more stringent anti-doping controls and harsher penalties for those that failed them. When he became director following Jean-Marie Leblanc's retirement in 2005, he set to work bringing in the stringency he had suggested and three years later was instrumental in the ASO's decision to withdraw the race from UCI control, thus enabling the organisation to introduce tougher checks and punishments than those supported by cycling's governing body.

His willingness to point the finger, name names and rock the boat as part of his efforts to clean up the sport he loves has not always made him popular, as was the case when he directly accused Saunier Duval-Scott manager Joxean Fernández Matxin of organising a doping program that would contribute to the downfall of Riccardo Riccò. However, it is largely due to Prudhomme and his fight against doping that the greatest event in cycling - and arguably in sport as a whole - was able to retain its dignity and continue after the great scandals of 1998 and 2006 came close to killing it. In 2012, with Lance Armstrong stripped of his seven Tour victories and the investigation into doping at the US Postal team threatening to become ever larger and more scandalous, Prudhomme still has much work to do.

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