|Mangled bikes at the 1928 Tour
It was a year of firsts: the first Australian team (headed by the legendary Hubert Opperman, who finished in 18th place) and the first time regional teams took part (there were eight trade teams, nine regional teams and the independent riders); as well as of firsts-and-lasts: a new rule was introduced that allowed teams to replace exhausted riders with fresh ones (the idea was to give weaker teams a better chance, but stronger and richer teams could introduce better riders so it in fact favoured them), a single team - Alcyon - took all three steps on the podium at the end of the race and Nicolas Frantz, who won for a second time despite near disaster (see below), became the only man to wear the maillot jaune throughout the entire race (in 1924 and 1935, the race leader had won the maillot jaune in Stage 1 and kept it to the end, but when Frantz won he wore it right from the start line. Maurice Garin would have done the same in 1904, but the maillot jaune hadn't yet been introduced into the race).
|Second place André Leducq drinks to Nicolas Frantz, who
beat him by 50'07".
L'Auto awarded an unofficial meilleur grimpeur to Victor Fontan, the beginnings of the King of the Mountains competition that became an integral part of the Tour from 1933 onwards. There was also a Trofee l'Equipe for trade and regional teams, different to the Teams classification that would be introduced in 1930, won by Alcyon and the Champagne regional riders.
|Merck in 1974
Lance Armstrong may have topped Merckx's five Tour de France victories with his own seven (he was later stripped of all of them when USADA found him guilty of doping as part of what many call the biggest fraud in the history of sport), but Armstrong concentrated almost entirely on the Tour and won little else. Merckx, in comparison, also won five Giri d'Italia and a Vuelta a Espana - eleven Grand Tours, the most ever won by an individual rider. What's more, Armstrong never achieved a victory that even compared to Merckx's greatest triumphs: at the Giro in 1968 and then again at the Tour in 1969 - when he wanted to teach his rivals a lesson after he'd been thrown out of that year's Giro for failing a drugs test in highly dubious circumstances (according to legend, the doctor who performed the test told Merckx "I know you're innocent, but the test is positive." A story appeared some time later claiming that the doctor, far from being a decent man who would have upheld Merckx's honour had he have been able to do so, had taken a sizable bribe from Felice Gimondi, who went on to win the race) - he won the General Classification, the Points competition and the King of the Mountains, something that had never been done before and has not been repeated. Cycling's ultimate prize - victory in all three Grand Tours in a single season - was beyond even him (and is therefore considered impossible by many), but he won the Triple Crown (Giro, Tour, World Championships) in 1974, the first man and still one of only two to do so. He won two Grand Tours in a single year three times with the Tour and Giro in 1970 and 1972 and the Giro and the Vuelta in 1973, a record shared with Bernard Hinault's Tour and Vuelta in 1978 and Tour and Giro in 1982 and 1985, and he holds the record for the most stage wins at the Tour (34) and highest total number of days in the maillot jaune (96). He shares the record for the most stages won in a single Tour (8) with Charles Pélissier, who did it in 1930, and Freddy Maertens who did it in 1976 - however, Merckx did it twice, in 1970 and again in 1974.
|For a few years in the early 1970s,
Merckx was literally unstoppable. No
other rider could even get close.
Merckx, like Louis Trousellier, is the complete antithesis to the "poor boy from a broken home" stereotype. His middle-class parents owned a prosperous grocery shop in one of the more upmarket towns surrounding Brussels and he says that neither he nor his brother and sister went without anything he needed during childhood. Nor does he claim that the will to become a better man than an abusive father is what drove him to success; rather, he thanks his father for instilling him with the hard work ethic that he credits as the reason for his achievements. L'Equipe made much of this in 2000 when they said "Eddy Merckx was a spoiled child of the post-war generation. Very spoiled, in fact. To see that, you have only to look at photos of his youth: Eddy dressed as a page boy, as an injured soldier (his sister played the role of nurse), as a cowboy, the Merckx family on winter sports holidays, Eddy and his father's Plymouth car. So many memories of a happy childhood far, very far, from those of a van Looy or a Coppi. He was often reproached for it, but was it his fault if God gave him so much?" Of course, the French are angry that no French rider has won a Tour since Hinault in 1985 and of course they're angry that Belgians have dominated "France's sport" for more than a century; but to make such a thinly-veiled accusation of spoiled arrogance 23 years after his final victory is perhaps taking things a little far. In fact, the similarities between Merckx and the great French hero Hinault are marked: both men saw racing in a curiously machine-like, black-and-white way, believing - perhaps correctly - that if one did not intend to win every race one entered, one may as well not enter races. Neither man was arrogant; if you really are the best in the world at what you do, saying so is a statement of fact rather than an arrogant boast.
|18th of May 1978 - Merckx announces
his immediate retirement
The rest is legend.
Adri van de Poel
|Adri van der Poel
In 1983, van der Poel was caught out by an anti-doping test that revealed strychnine in his system. Though extremely toxic, strychnine in small doses acts as a stimulant and was commonly used as such in the early days of cycling - notably by riders associated with the notorious manager/soigneur Choppy Warburton; due to its toxicity it's also used in pest control so, when he claimed that he must have unwittingly consumed the offending substance in the pigeon pie served by his father-in-law the previous Sunday and the Dutch Federation could find no reason to dispute the claim, he escaped sanction. Thirty years later, his explanation still holds water, so it's probably safe to assume he was telling the truth. He also finished another Tour de France that year and this time came in the top ten on nine stages, taking 37th place overall.
|Left to right Adrie van der Poel, Joop Zoetemelk, Phil Anderson, Jan Raas
Van der Poel was a very talented road cyclist by anyone's standards, but he was much better at cyclo cross and won the National Championship in 1987, 1989-1992, 1995 and 1999 and the World Championship in 1996, along with many victories in smaller events. That these are concentrated in the second half of his career suggests a likely reason that he never lived up to that early road promise - he just decided that he preferred 'cross. He is married to Raymond Poulidor's daughter.
|Steve Peat, the most successful downhill mountain biker
in the history of the sport
In 2003 Peaty (as he was now universally known, original nickname "Sheffield Steel" having been found not to the liking of fans) became National Champion for the fourth time, taking back the title from Rob Warner, and received an invite to return to a British team in the form of Orange, sponored by the Yorkshire bike manufacturer of the same name. This offered two advantages - a team organised specifically with the the intention of pushing him towards victory at the World Championships and secondly the Orange Patriot, at that time perhaps the most effective downhill bike in the world. Aboard one during his two years with the team, Peat won two rounds of the World Cup and the series overall, the European Championships and then in 2005 a fifth British title and another two World Cup rounds (including the British round at Fort William, to enormous joy from home fans).
|And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why downhill MTBs look
as beefy as they do. Peaty at Fort William
Nys began competing in BMX when he was eight years old and won eight National titles. In most countries, riders in their teens tend to switch from BMX to mountain biking or road racing, but in Belgium it's just as likely to be cyclo cross - as was the case with Nys, and he was immediately successful in that discipline too with a win at the Brabant Provincial Junior Championship and second place at the National Junior Champs in 1994. The next year, he won the Junior Nationals, then moved into the Amateurs category for 1996 and won again at Brabant. 1997 was his breakthrough year with another victory at Brabant and numerous other races, which earned him a place with Rabobank for 1998.
|At Middelkerke in 2007
Henri Lemoine, who was born in Massy, France on this day in 1909, turned professional in 1930 and retired in 1957 after 28 seasons - one of the longest careers in cycling. For a while, he worked with Charles Mochet, one of the first manuacturers of recumbent bikes, and helped Mochet in his efforts to popularise them
Other cyclists born on this day: Jan Maas (Netherlands, 1900, died 1977); Henry Ohayon (born Morocco 1934, competed for Israel); Olga Sacasa (Nicaragua, 1961); Donny Robinson (USA, 1983); Jim Fisher (Canada, 1975); Tracey Watson-Gaudry (Australia, 1969); Jan Veselý (Czechoslovakia, 1923, died 2003); Wendell Rollins (USA, 1917, died 1990); Uwe Preißler (East Germany, 1967); Lyudmila Gorozhanskaya (Belarus, 1970); Jean-Louis Baugnies (Belgium, 1957); Peter Hric (Slovakia, 1965); Urho Sirén (Finland, 1932).