Friday 27 September 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 27.09.2013

Clara Hughes
Hughes at the Thüringen Rundfahrt, 2012
Born in Winnipeg, Canada on this day in 1972, Clara Hughes - in common with so many other riders - began her career as an athlete in speed skating, which she took up at the age of 16 after seeing Gaétan Boucher win gold at the 1988 Olympic Games. A year later she started cycling; only three years later, in 1992, she became National Road Race Champion. In 1994 she won the Women's Challenge, one of the hardest and most prestigious events in the sport, then in 1995 she was fourth overall at the Tour de France Féminin and won the National Individual Time Trial Championship and in 1996 she won bronze medals in the Road Race and the Individual Time Trial at the Olympics.

Hughes took a hiatus from cycling and returned to speed skating as the 1998 Winter Olympics approached, concentrating on it for several years and winning more Olympic medals - she thus became the second woman and one of only four athletes to have won medals in both the Summer and Winter Games, and in 2006 became the only athlete to have won more than one medal at both Games. In 2005, she set a new 10,000m World Record at 14'19.73" - it has since been beaten, but remains a Canadian record at the time of writing. Following the 2006 Winter Games, she took inspiration from fellow speed skater Joey Cheek who had donated his gold medal to Right To Play and gave $10,000 of her own money to the humanitarian organisation.

Hughes at the 2012 Olympics
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Hughes worked as a cycling commentator for CBC. This inspired her to make a return to cycling, which she did in 2010; less than a year later at the PanAmerican Games she won the Road Race with an advantage of 1'18" and the Individual Time Trial with 28", then the National Individual Time Trial Championship by 28". She also won the Tour of the Gila and La Visite Chrono du Gatineau, then came fifth at the World Individual Time Trial Championship, but for many fans her most impressive achievement was her long solo breakaway at the World Road Race Championship, enlivening a race that many found otherwise boring. Having won La Flèche Wallonne and another National ITT Championship in 2012, Hughes qualified for the Olympics and was fifth in the Individual Time Trial.

Alongside Cindy Klassen, another speed skater from Winnipeg, Hughes is the joint most successful Canadian Olympian of all time. In recognition of her athletic achievements and humanitarian activities she has been awarded the Order of Manitoba, is an Officer of the Order of Canada and has two honourary degrees from the Universities of Manitoba and New Brunswick.

Wouter Weylandt
Wouter Weylandt, 27.09.1984 - 09.05.2011
Born in Ghent, Belgium on this day in 1984, Wouter Weylandt scored some good results prior to 2004, then that year came third at the Under-23 Paris-Roubaix and earned himself a trainee contract with QuickStep-Davitamon. In 2005, riding with a full professional contract from the same team, he won the GP Briek Schotte after starting the season with mononucleosis; then in 2006 the Points competition at the Tour of Poland. In 2007 he won seven races and in 2008, having been third at Gent-Wevelgem, he rode the Vuelta a Espana - his first Grand Tour, where he won Stage 17. The following year started with a tragedy when his close friend Frederiek Nilf, aged just 21, died of a heart attack while he slept between stages at the Tour of Qatar; later in the season Weylandt nearly repeated his earlier Vuelta success when he was second on Stage 4 but he left the race after Stage 16, then in 2010 he won Stage 3 at the Giro d'Italia.

He was, in the opinion of his fellow riders and fans, a rider destined for greatness; if not a Grand Tour victory, at least a Grand Tour Points competition. When he signed for 2011 to LeopardTrek - a new team consisting of some of the most promising young riders in the world, including Andy Schleck who was hotly tipped to win the Tour de France that year, some of the established greats including Fabian Cancellara, and some highly experienced older riders such as the legendary Jens Voigt - it seemed that there really couldn't be a better place for a rider such as him to develop his talents and learn the fine art of winning bicycle races.

On the 9th of May, at the Giro d'Italia which just one year previously had been disrupted when riders protested against poor safety conditions, he was killed as he descended the Passo del Bocco at 80kph. According to Manuel Antonio Cardoso, who was behind him at the time, Weylandt had looked over his shoulder to see if other riders were catching him and lost control, hitting a guardrail before being catapulted 10m across the road and landing heavily on his face. The race's chief medical officer was nearby in a car and saw the accident take place: "he was already and clearly dead upon impact. I had never seen such a thing before, such a sudden death," he later told reporters. The impact when he hit the wall would have been sufficient to end his career even had he have fallen there - an autopsy found that his left leg had been so badly damaged it would have required amputation. His death was attributed to skull and facial injuries and massive damage to his internal organs - it was noted that the impact when he hit the road had stopped his heart instantaneously and there would not have been time for him to suffer. His girlfriend, An-Sophie, was five months pregnant when he died.

Pedro Horrillo
It's often said - with some truth - that academic qualifications are few and far between in the men's professional peloton (the same is very much not true among the women: since few female cyclists will ever make a living from their sport, few ever considered it as a future occupation and only took it up while at university). Pedro Horillo, born in Eibar on this day in 1974, is a retired Basque cyclist and an exception: he had already earned a degree in philosophy from Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea, the Basque national university, when he became a professional rider with Vitalicio Seguros-Grupo Generali in 1998 and after his retirement he became well-respected for his intelligently-written articles on cycling and doping.

Horrillo at the 2009 Tour of California
Horrillo spent his first three years with Vitalico Seguros and, in his second, rode in the Tour de France for the first time and scored a handful of decent stage finishes for a debutant, including 18th on Stage 1, then came 135th overall. In 2001 he went to Mapei-QuickStep and finished four stages at the Vuelta a Espana in the top ten; then in 2002, with the same team, he won Stage 2 at Paris-Nice and was third on Stage 13 at the Vuelta. The following year he went to Rabobank, with which he would spend the remainder of his career; he won Stage 3 at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya that year and Stage 1 at the Sachsen Tour the next. While he had many more good results (and rode the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta in 2007), they would be the final victories of his career.

He retired in 2009 following a horrific crash at the Giro in which he hit a railing and plunged over it into a ravine, falling 60m and suffering a broken neck, knee and thigh as well as a punctured lung. He was unconscious when the medics got to him, then awoke while in the ambulance and was placed in an induced coma. The following day - when riders mounted a protest at safety conditions in the race, just as they would the following year and again following the death of Wouter Weylandt in 2009 - he was brought back to consciousness for scans which, thankfully, revealed no brain injuries. He spent the next five weeks in hospital, then made a full recovery but never took part in another race, finding that he was no longer able to perform at his previous level. However, he still follows cycling and is especially keen on the Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix: ""If I could only have ridden one race as a pro, that would have been it - and if possible, in the rain because that's the real Roubaix when it rains," he says.

Beth Heiden
Elizabeth Lee Heiden Reid, known as Beth Heiden, was born in Madison, Wisconsin on this day in 1959 and is probably the only World Road Race Champion who wasn't really a cyclist. She played tennis and soccer while at school, then also took up running in 1975 and set a national record for her age group that same year. She was also a speed skater and, the following year, qualified for the Olympics where she was 11th in the 3,000m. In 1979, she became World Speed Skating Champion after winning all four of the constituent races.

Left to right: Sara Doctor, Connie Carpenter, Beth Heiden
Many cyclists have competed in speed skating in the past, with Marianne Vos and Clara Hughes being perhaps the two most famous examples; but invariably they concentrated on cycling after discovering their proficiency at it. Heiden did not: she took up cycling as part of her cross-training preparation for the speed skating events at the 1980 Winter Olympics and never fell in love with the bike, nor became a true cycling, like Vos and Hughes did - in fact, when she became the first ever American to win the UCI World Road Race Championships in 1980, beating Greg Lemond by three years, she did so almost as an afterthought. Having done so, she returned to speed skating, then took up cross-country skiing and never went back to cycling again. Who knows what she might have achieved if she had done?

Born in Australia on this day in 1974, Nigel Barley fell three metres from a roof and landed on a hammer; aged 26, he was a paraplegic. After spending a year learning what he could do - and techniques to do what he couldn't - he decided to take up handcycling, then two years later set a new handcycle World 24-hour record when he covered 462km; three years after that he rode the 4,437km between Perth and Sydney. In 2009 he won the Road Race and the Individual Time Trial at the National Championships. Silver and bronze at the 2011 World Cup and several good results during the first half of 2012, as part of the World Cup and the Paracycling Tour, qualified him for the Paralympic Games in London, where he won silver in the Individual Time Trial.

Alfred Haemerlinck, the most successful
rider you've never heard of
Alfred Haemerlinck, born in Assenede, Belgium on this day in 1905, won Stages 1 and 6 at the Tour de France in 1931, which earned him the maillot jaune for a single day. Those two stages were the most prestigious victories of his decade-long professional career, but he is chiefly remembered for the enormous number of smaller, less-well-known races that he entered and won: according to some apparently reliable estimates, as many as 493 - higher than some estimates for Eddy Merckx.

Benoni Beheyt, born in Zwijnaarde, Belgium on this day in 1940, won Gent-Wevelgem and the World Road Race Championship in 1963 and Stage 22a at the Tour de France, the General Classification at the Ronde van België and the National Road Race Championship in 1964.

Ángel Casero, born in Albalat dels Tarongers on this day in 1972, was Spanish Road Race Champion in 1998 and 1999. In 2000 he was second overall at the Vuelta a Espana, then in 2001 he won it.

Giovanni Fidanza, born in Bergamo, Italy on this day in 1965, won the overall Points competition at the Giro d'Italia and Stage 20 at the Tour de France in 1989, then Stage 2 at the Giro in 1990.

Heinz Wengler, born in Germany on this day in 1912, shared victory for Stage 17b (a 37km road race) at the 1937 Tour de France with the Adolph Braeckeveldt. His nickname was Herr Schmal on account of his diminutive stature and five years later, when he was 30, he was killed in action on the Eastern Front.

Enrico Zaina, born in Brescia on this day in 1967, won Stage 17 at the Vuelta a Espana in 1992, Stage 11 at the Giro d'Italia in 1995 and Stages 9, 20 and second place overall at the 1996 Giro.

Other cyclists born on this day: Raúl Saavedra (Colombia, 1969); Cosme Saavedra (Argentina, 1901, died 1967); Chartchai Juntrat (Thailand, 1951); Alexey Kolessov (Kazakhstan, 1984); Mauno Uusivirta (Finland, 1948); Rebecca Henderson (Australia, 1991); Mitsuteru Tanaka (Japan, 1971); Michael Andrew (Malaysia, 1943); Kris Gerits (Belgium, 1971).

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