Sunday 22 December 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 22.12.2013

On this day in 1894, Alfred Dreyfus was falsely convicted of treason in France - thus beginning the Dreyfus Affair that inspired Jules Albert De Dion to join forces with other wealthy anti-Drefusards and establish the L'Auto newspaper as opposition to the pro-Dreyfus Le Velo newspaper. L'Auto did not sell well during its first few years and its owners demanded that the editor, an ex-professional cyclist named Henri Desgrange, came up with a scheme to improve circulation; on the 20th of November in 1902, he and his staff came up with the idea of holding a bicycle race. None of them could have guessed that, more than a century later, it would still be held annually; nor could they have known that it would grow to become the biggest and, as far as millions of people worldwide are concerned, the greatest and most important sporting event in history - the Tour de France.

Marcel Molinès
Marcel Molinès is frequently listed as the only black winner of a Tour de France stage. That there had been one would be wonderful, since professional pelotons in Europe and the USA are even to this day strangely white.

Marcel Molinès
Unfortunately, there's a slight issue in that he wasn't black, as can be seen very clearly in photographs. He was, however, the first African-born stage winner (the probable reason behind the error), having been born in Chibli in French Algeria on this day in 1928. The stage he won was Stage 13 in 1950, a 215km flat route between Perpignan and Nimes on a day that was searingly hot with temperatures reaching as high as 40C. Molinès and his team mate Abdel-Kader Zaaf (who was black, but neither won a stage nor finished this one), being accustomed to the heat of Algeria, were not so badly affected as the European riders and, for a while, Zaaf even led the race when the pair managed to build up a 20 minute lead.

Later on, they began to suffer and stopped for a drink; Zaaf was handed a bottle of wine and drank it. As he'd never consumed alcohol before due to his Muslim faith, he was entirely unprepared for its effects and began to wobble dangerously, so he lay down in the shade under a tree to sleep it off (some say a race official ordered him to stop and have a break; when he woke up, he set off in the wrong direction and became a celebrity) while Molinès continued and was able to win the stage by four minutes. However, back down the road was a peloton powered by the fearsome Ferdy Kübler (often spelled Ferdi, but here spelled how Ferdy himself spells it - the big Swiss rider is now a charming elderly gent who bears little resemblance to the rider he once was), Louison Bobet, Antonin Magne and Gino Bartali: a peloton like that isn't going to allow a virtual unknown to take all the prizes and, though Molinès won the stage, Kübler retained the race lead and kept it for the rest of the race.

Happy birthday Siobhan Dervan!
(image credit: Fanny Schertzer CC BY-SA 3.0)
Molinès finished the Autun criterium two years later and retired in 1954; many books claim that he then vanished and some even say that it's not known whether or not he has died. In fact, he returned to his previous job as a taxi driver but continued to race as an amateur. In 1980 he won a veteran's race against 60 other competitors - and, at the time of writing, he is still very much alive.

Italian cyclist Bruno Pellizzari, winner of a bronze medal at the 1932 Olympics, died on this day in 1991. He was born on the 5th of November in 1907.

Five-time Irish National Road Champion Siobhan Dervan was born on this day in 1978. In 2012, she was third in the Individual Time Trial and second in the Road Race at the Nationals.

Louise Moriarty, born in Dublin on this day in 1978, first came to prominence with fifth place in the Irish National Individual Time Trial Championship of 2001, then a year later improved to second place and took third in the Road Race Championship too. She then had a couple of quieter years before coming third again in the National Road Race; then in 2006 and 2007 she became National Individual Time Trial Champion. 2008 would be a remarkable year - first she set a new national record in Individual Pursuit at the Newport Velodrome, shaving three seconds from the previous best time, then became Irish champion in the 500m Time Trial, Individual Pursuit, Scratch and Points race champion before going on to win two stages and the overall General Classification at the Ras na mBan road race in addition to coming second and third at the National Road Race and Individual Time Trial Championships respectively.

Jacques Bossis, winner of the Intermediate Sprints classification at the 1978 Tour de France, was born in Jonzac, France on this day in 1952.

On this day in 1900, Oscar Aaronson died a few days after he was injured in a crash at New York's Madison Square Garden Six Day Race. Before his death, other riders expressed concern that the crash "might prove fatal to six-day racing itself."

Other cyclists born on this day: Albert Kägi (Switzerland, 1912); José Jaime Galeano (Colombia, 1945); Scott McGrory (Australia, 1969); Leif Lampater (Germany, 1982); Aleksandar Milenković (Yugoslavia, 1967); Marcus Hurley (USA, 1883, died 1941); John Dean (New Zealand, 1947); Barbara Blatter (Switzerland, 1970).

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