Wednesday 1 May 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 01.05.2013

La Flèche Wallonne, perhaps the most prestigious of the Classics after the Monuments, fell on this day in 1938 - the third edition of the race. At 280km - not, as some sources claim, 300km - it shares the honour of being the longest ever edition with the previous year. It started at Tournai, as had 1937, but followed a different route to end at Rocourt and the winner was Émile Masson Jr., who would also win a stage at the Tour de France that year. Masson was the son of Émile Masson Snr., who won two stages at the Tour in 1922. The 14th edition, held in 1950, also took place on this date. Running for the third of twelve consecutive years between Charleroi and Liège, it covered 235km and was won by Fausto Coppi - the second Italian to achieve victory. For the first time that year it was held the day before the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Monument to create Le Weekend Ardennais.

Henri Pélissier
Pelissier in 1919, the year he won his first
On this day in 1935, Henri Pélissier died. Aged 46, he had been the the second of four cycling brothers, of whom three (himself, Charles and Francis) would become professional (Jean, the oldest, died at Argonnes in the First World War). Henri would race in all but two of the peace-time Tours de France between 1912 and 1925, failing to finish all of them except for 1914 when he came second to Phillipe Thys and 1923, which we won after Ottavio Bottechia failed to change his gear in time (in those days, gear shifts were achieved by getting of the bike, removing the rear wheel, flipping it around and placing the chain over the differently-sized cog on that side before retightening the wheel and continuing; so a missed gear change could result in the loss of many minutes rather than seconds) and Jean Alvoine abandoned after a crash.

He also won the Giro di Lombardia three times, Paris-Roubaix twice, Milan-Torino, Milan-San Remo, Bordeaux-Paris, Paris-Tours and Paris-Brussels and used his exalted position to protest against the harsh conditions riders of his day were expected to endure and, as result, became embroiled in a long feud with Tour director Henri Desgrange - surprisingly, he didn't always enjoy popular support and many other riders apparently found him rather annoying. However, for all the concern he showed for their welfare he was by no means a likable man - his wife, Léonie, suffered much at his hands and entered a deep depression, leading to her suicide in 1933 when she shot herself with his revolver. Three years following her death, he took a new lover named Camille "Miette" Tharault, 20 years younger than he was. It appears that he treated her no better better - during a row one day, he attacked her with a knife and slashed her face. She, however, was made of sterner stuff than poor Léonie: she ran upstairs and grabbed the very same gun with which her unfortunate predecessor had committed suicide but, instead of turning it on herself, took it back down to kitchen and shot Henri five times. After the killing was investigated, she was given a 12-month suspended sentence which, court officials said, was the closest they could come to releasing her without charge under the laws of the time. (For more on Pélissier, click here.)

On this day in 1998, Lance Armstrong married Kristin Richard - and thus set in motion several years of confusion for sports commentators, those of whom with little knowledge of cycling could never quite tell the difference between the new Kristin Armstrong and the one who won a total of five National and two World Road Race and Time Trial Championships and is not related to Lance in any way.

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