Thursday 5 December 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 05.12.2013

On this day in 1967 Eddy Merckx - World Champion but yet to win a Grand Tour - married Claudine Acou, the daughter of the national team coach Lucien Acou who had himself been a professional cyclist during the 1940s and 1950s. During the service - which was conducted in French at the request of Merckx's mother, causing controversy in Belgium as Merckx is a Fleming - the priest told the couple, "You are now started on a tandem race; believe me, it will not be easy." It turned out to be yet another racing success for Merckx - they're still married now, nearly half a century later.

Jo Rowsell
Joanna Rowsell
Happy birthday to Joanna Rowsell, born in Carlshalton, London on this day in 1988. Rowsell was discovered by talent scouts from British Cycling while she was still at Nonsuch school in 2004 (the school places especial emphasis on science and sport; professional tennis player Melanie South is another ex-pupil) and, within a year, was winning National Championships as a junior rider. In 2008, Rowsell signed a contract with Halfords Bikehut, the team created around Nicole Cooke, and enjoyed a spectacular year in which she won the Team Pursuits at the World Championships (with Wendy Houvenaghel and Rebecca Romero), the European Under-23 Championships (with Lizzie Armitstead and Katie Colclough) and at the Manchester and Melbourne rounds of the World Cup (again with Armitstead and Colclough). In addition, she won the Individual Pursuit at Manchester and three road races in Belgium. She joined up with Armitstead and Colclough again to win the Team Pursuit at Copenhagen in 2009, then with Armitstead and Houvenaghel to win the same event at the Worlds and at Manchester.

2011 was an excellent year for Rowsell with victory in the Individual and Team Pursuit (with Houvenaghel and Sarah Storey) at Manchester followed by the Team Pursuit at the European Track Championships. 2012 was even better - at the London round of the World Cup, she won the Team Pursuit (with Dani King and Laura Trott, the Individual Pursuit and the 3km;  then went to the Olympics and, with King and Trott, won the Team Pursuit there too, setting three new world records in the process.

In 2013, riding for the British Wiggle-Honda team owned and managed by Rochelle Gilmore, Rowsell made a return to road racing and won the National Individual Time Trial Championship, an indication that at 25 years of age she may have a whole new career still ahead of her. She is not yet finished on the track, however - that same year, she rode with King, Trott and Elinor Barker to win the Team Pursuits at the Nationals and at Manchester, also winning the Individual Pursuit at the latter.

Sylvère Maes
Maes, with tyre around shoulders
On this day in 1966, Belgian cyclist Sylvère Maes died; the winner of the 1936 (with four stage wins) and 1939 (two stage wins) Tours de France (the latter being the last one until 1947, despite Nazi attempts to resurrect the race during their occupation of the country). He won the King of the Mountains alongside the second victory and, in 1933, Paris-Roubaix. He was 57, having been born on the 27th of August 1909 in Zevekote. People commonly make the mistake of assuming Romain Maes, who won the Tour in 1935, was Sylvère's brother; but they were not related - nevertheless, 1935/6 are the only consecutive years in Tour history won by riders with the same surname.

1937 became known as one of the most miserable, unpleasant-to-ride Tours in history. The old rivalries between French and Belgian spectators turn ugly and threaten to flare up into real violence - Maes and his fellow Belgian, the independent Gustaaf Deloor looked to be in real danger of a beating when aggressive fans surrounded them at the end of Stage 16 in Bordeaux, angered that the two men had ducked under a level crossing barrier and ran across the tracks before continuing, while Belgian fans (and some riders) claimed that the barrier had been deliberately lowered to hold them up and prevent another Belgian win. The Belgians also complained that French fans had stoned them and thrown pepper in their eyes. In disgust, Maes pulled the team out and they returned home. Anti-foreign sentiments among the French and Belgians were unpleasant, but something much, much darker and uglier had appeared in the race - the swastika of Nazi Germany, worn on the jerseys of the German team.

In 1939, Sylvère had the honour of winning the first mountain time trial ever featured in the Tour (Stage 16b). Earlier in the race, he'd had some problems with his domestique Edward Vissers when he decided to attack during Stage 9 rather than ride support and went on to win the stage. Maes, however, was still able to climb to 2nd place in the General Classification, but was two minutes behind race leader René Vietto at the start of Stage 15 when they entered the Alps. Vietto was known as a superb climber, but Maes felt that he was the stronger man and turned up the heat on the way into Briançon, breaking away and finishing the stage an astonishing 17 minutes before his rival. When he completed the time trial, which ran over 64km from Bonneval to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, 10 minutes faster his victory was as good as set in stone provided he kept up a decent pace over the final stages and avoided accidents. In the end, he added more time and rode into Paris with an advantage of 30'38". He'd also won the Mountains Classification.

Bernard Sulzberger
Bernard Sulzberger
Born on this day in 1983 in Beaconsfield, Tasmania, Bernard Sulzberger earned his first victory when he won Stage 2 at the Tour of Sunraysia in Australia in 2002. Three years later, he won another stage at the Tour of Tasmania, then another at the Tour of Murray River, where he was second overall, which brought him to the attention of the British Driving Force Logistics-Cycling News-Litespeed team with whom he signed a contract for 2006 and with whom he remained for two seasons, picking up podium stage finishes at the Tour of Chongming Island, the Tour of Tasmania (where he was third overall) and the Herald Sun Tour.

In 2008, Sulzberger moved to the Letua team based in Malaysia and, having managed two podium stage finishes at the Tour of East Java and four at the International Cycling Classic, won Stage 1 and the first General Classification of his career at the Tour of Gippsland. Later in the season, he came top three on three stages at the Tour of Murray River and was third overall, then won the Cronulla GP. For the first time in 2009, he rode for an Australian team, Fly V Australia, and would stay for three years. In the first he won stages at the Bay Classic, the Tour of Atlanta and the Tour de Beuce, then two and the General Classification at the International Cycling Classic, another at the Tour of Utah and two one-day races before finishing the season with one third place, four second places, one stage win and the General Classification at the Tour of Tasmania. In the second, a stage apiece at the Joe Martin Stage Race and the International Cycling Classic; in the third one stage at the Bay Classic.

For 2012, Sulzberger signed to another British team, Raleigh-GAC, and had a successful season racing in Britain including one victory at Stoke-on-Trent. He returned to Australian teams in 2013 with Drapac and won the Tour of Taiwan, then a stage at the Tour of Tasmania.

Sulzberger's younger brother Wesley is also a professional cyclist, riding in 2013 with Orica-GreenEDGE.

Gianni Meersman
Born at Tielt on this day in 1985, sprinter Gianni Meersman is a member of one of Belgium's cycling dynasties - his brother Luigi was Novice 500m National Champion in 2003, his father Luc won bronze at the Junior National Championships of 1978 and enjoyed a reasonably successful professional career in the mid-1980s, and his grandfather Maurice raced professionally for a number of teams in the 1940s and 1950s, winning the GP Briek Schotte in 1947, Stage 1 at the Tour of the Netherlands in 1949 and second place at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 1950. Gianni first showed real promise when he became National Novice Omnium Champion in 2001, a success that he followed up by winning the National Junior Pursuit Championship a year later - he was also second in the Points race, and at the National Junior Individual Time Trial Championship and the Junior Trofee van Vlaanderen, and in 2004 he won the Circuit de Hainaut.

Gianni Meersman
Early in 2005, Meersman won Stage 1 at the Under-23 Ronde de l'Isard d'Ariège and then three stages plus the General Classification at the Tour de la Province de Namur, which brought a trainee contract with Lotto-Davitamon. More good results, including victory at Pittem-Sint Godelieve and a stage win at the Tour de la Province de Namur came in 2006, and in 2007 he moved to the Discovery Channel team that was then home to some of the most successful riders in the world including Ivan Basso, Alberto Contador, George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer; with them, he won stages at the Tour of Georgia and the Österreich-Rundfahrt, but at the end of the season Discovery withdrew from cycling and the team closed. He moved on to La Française des Jeux, with which he would remain through the team's various incarnations through to the end of 2011, and in 2008 won a stage at the Tour de la Region Wallonne before going to his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a Espana: he did not finish the race, but managed an impressive 13th place on Stage 4. 2009 was a quieter year without victory, but in 2010 he returned to the Vuelta and further impressed with 16th place on Stage 6 and 14th place on Stage 19. 2011 was even better: second place at Paris-Troyes, Stage 2 and the General Classification at the Circuit des Ardennes, eighth at the Brabantse Pijl and a silver medal at the National Road Race Championship where he led a three-strong group that finished just 2" behind Philippe Gilbert, then rode his first Tour de France and came 14th on Stage 3, 17th on Stage 10, 15th on Stage 11 and 18th on Stage 13.

Française des Jeux became FDJ in 2012 and was demoted to Pro Continental status; Meersman, however, had by now amassed sufficient good results to negotiate a new Pro Tour contract and switched to Lotto-Belisol. Early in the season he won stages at the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice, then put in a good showing at the Tours of the Basque Country and de Romandie prior to his first attempt at the Giro d'Italia, which he did not finish. Second place overall at the Tour de la Region Wallonne and third at the Clasica San Sebastian proved he had the fitness to go to the Vuelta and he once again impressed, finishing Stage 2 in eighth place, Stage 5 in third place (his best in a Grand Tour to date), Stage 7 in sixth place, Stage 9 in ninth place, Stage 10 in fourth place and Stage 19 in fifth place. His results on the mountain stages, unfortunately, were not so good, and he was 57th overall.

Meersman began 2013 with Lotto-Belisol, but then announced in February that he would complete the season with Omega Pharma-QuickStep. He won two stages apiece at the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour de Romandie, then after taking two second places and one third won the Points competition at the Critérium du Dauphiné, his most prestigious victory to date. Returning to the Vuelta later that year, he continued to finish high up on the sprint stages but once again victory eluded him - third on Stages 1 and 5, fourth on Stages 4 and 21, fifth on Stage 12 and eighth on Stage 6. coming 58th overall. Now 28, Meersman is at about the right age to achieve the greatest moments of his career and 2014 may prove to be a glorious year for him.

Retired Australian track rider Martin Vinnicombe was born  today in Melbourne, 1964. In 1991, Vinnicombe received a two-year ban after testing positive for steroids - however, the ban was subsequently overturned as he had been given the medicine by his doctor to treat tendon damage.

On this day in 1935, Hubert Opperman set a new 24-hour road record in Melbourne, Australia when he covered 813.93km. Opperman rode his bike every day from the age of 8 until he was 90 when his wife Mavys made him give it up because she was worried for his safety.

Bruno Cenghialta, born on this day in Montecchio Maggiore in 1962, was an Italian professional who won Stage 14 of the 1991 Tour de France, the Coppa Bernocchi in 1994 and Stage 3 at the Tour in 1995. In retirement, he became a directeur sportif for Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo.

Bicycle Victoria, the largest membership cycling organisation in Australia and one of the largest in the world, was officially incorporated and renamed on this day in 2005 - having started 30 years previously as the Bicycle Institute of Victoria.

Other cyclists born on this day: Lionel Cox (Australia, 1930, died 2010); Craig Percival (Great Britain, 1972); Leen Buis (Netherlands, 1906, died 1986); Rosman Alwi (Malaysia, 1961); Pinit Koeykorpkeo (Thailand, 1951); Nicolas Reidtler (Venezuela, 1947); Heath Blackgrove (New Zealand, 1980); Valery Likhachov (USSR, 1947); Cor Heeren (Netherlands, 1900, died 1976); Antal Megyerdi (Hungary, 1939); Robert Fowler (South Africa, 1931, died 2001); Valentin Mikhaylov (USSR, 1929); Brad Huff (USA, 1979).

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