Saturday, 15 June 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 15.06.2013

The Giro d'Italia set off on this day in 1946, the first edition since the Second World War and latest start date in the history of the race. It covered 3,199km in 20 stages, three of them won by Fausto Coppi - however, he was not able to hold off Gino Bartali who led the race through the final six. This would be the last of Bartali's three Giro victories and his penultimate in a Grand Tour, as he won a second Tour de France the following year; but it marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. Stage 13 had to be stopped and cancelled when the race came under attack - stones were thrown at the peloton and shots fired into the air from the crowd.

Peter Kennaugh
Kennaugh at the Tour di Romandie, 2010
Born on this day in 1989 at Douglas on the Isle of Man,  Peter Kennaugh was a childhood friend of Mark Cavendish. Like Cav, Kennaugh began racing at a young age and competed in local BMX competitions from the age of 6; but he would later come to concentrate on track cycling and became World Scratch Race Junior Champion in 2006. The next year, he held the Junior National titles for Pursuit and Points and returned to road racing, winning the Junior National Championship for that too. In 2008, he won the Under-23 National Road Race title and then took the silver medal in the Elite class for good measure before making his first mark on the European road race scene with first place at the GP Capodarco criterium.

In 2009, Kennaugh won Stage 3 at the Baby Giro, then towards the end of the year announced that he would be riding as a professional in 2010 with the all-new British-based Team Sky (it was widely believed at that time that Cavendish would also join Sky for 2010; but as he explains in his autobiography he never had any intention of dishonouring his contract with Bob Stapleton's Highroad). He finished in second place behind Sky team mate Geraint Thomas at the Nationals that year, then made his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana the next before the team left the race as a sign of respect for their soigneur Txema Gonzalez who died of sepsis during the event.

Kennaugh completed the Giro on his first attempt in 2011, then came third overall at the Route du Sud. He was also third at the National Championships behind team mates Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas, later haring victory with the latter (and Steven Burke, Ed Clancy and Andrew Tennant) after the British team won the Pursuit at the World Track Championships. In 2012, he has once again concentrated on track cycling in preparation for the London Olympics - it paid off because, riding with Thomas,Clancy and Burke in the Team Pursuit, he won a gold medal. The following year, Kennaugh returned to the road with Sky to help win the team time trial at the Giro del Trentino, then also won the Lincoln International.

Yuliya Martisova
Yuliya Martisova, born in the USSR on this day in 1976, was third at the Russian National Road Race Championships in 2000 and second at the 2001 Trophée d’Or Féminin when only Edita Pucinskaite could beat her. She won the National Road Race title in 2005, 2007 and 2010 and was fifth at the World Championships in 2011, finishing behind Giorgia Bronzini, Marianne Vos, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg and Nicole Cooke - which is nothing to be ashamed about. At the end of 2011 Martisova announced that she would ride for Be Pink in 2012 and, with them, won Stage 1 at the Tour of Adygeya before coming 8th overall. In 2013, riding with Chirio Forno d'Asolo, she was tenth in the Chongming Island round of the World Cup.

Marzio Bruseghin, born in Conegliano on this day in 1974, was Time Trial Champion of Italy in 2006 and won Stage 13 (an individual time trial) at the Giro d'Italia in 2007, also coming eighth overall. In 2008 he won Stage 10 (another ITT) and was third overall, later coming tenth overall at the Vuelta a Espana. That same year, he also completed the Tour de France - he was 27th overall, but completing all three Grand Tours in a single year is a major achievement and one that he shares with only 30 other riders. He completed both the Giro (ninth overall) and the Tour (80th overall) again in 2009, then came 22nd overall at the Vuelta in 2010 and 14th in 2011. At the 2012 Giro he finished in 17th place overall, suggesting that at the age of 37 his career was not over yet.

Chris Lillywhite, who was born in East Molesey, UK on this day in 1966, won the Milk Race (which is now known as the Tour of Britain) in 1993 and the Tom Simpson Memorial in 1994 and 1997. He competed for England at the Commonwealth Games in 1984, 1994 and 1998; in 1994 he was disqualified from the Men's Road Race after grabbing a hold of Australian Grant Rice's shorts and pulling him back in the final sprint. Lillywhite was a professional rider between 1987 and 1999, ending his career with the Linda McCartney team.

Other cyclists born on this day: Ivan Vrba (Czechoslovakia, 1977); Bailón Becerra (Bolivia, 1966); Małgorzata Wysocka (Poland, 1979); Muhammad Shafi (Pakistan, 1933); Jo Ho-Seong (South Korea, 1974); No Yeom-Ju (South Korea, 1968); Jack Disney (USA, 1930); George Nayeja (Malawi, 1946); Ernest Meighan (Belize, 1971); Shue Ming-Shu (Taipei, 1940); Maksym Polishchuk (USSR, 1984); Fang Fen-Fang (Taipei, 1981); Jean Alexandre (Belgium, 1917).

Friday, 14 June 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 14.06.2013

Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the oldest of the Classics, was held on this day in 1925 - though it was the 15th edition, the race had first been held 33 years earlier. The winner was Georges Ronsse who would also win Paris-Roubaix the following year.

Ottavio Bottecchia
Ottavio Bottecchia
Born on the 1st of August 1894, in 1924 Ottavio Bottecchia became the first Italian to win the Tour de France. He was found lying unconscious on the 3rd of June next to a road near Peonis, not far from his home, by local farmers who took him to a nearby inn. His injuries convinced them that a priest should be summoned to deliver the last rites, then he was taken in a farm cart to a hospital in Gemona where doctors found that he had several broken bones and a fractured skull. His bike - discovered a short way from his body - was completely untouched; neither were there skidmarks on the road to suggest he'd been hit by a vehicle. He never regained consciousness and when he died on this day in 1927, suspicions arose that he had been murdered.

A police investigation concluded that he had fainted due to the hot sun and crashed, but his body had been found in the morning before it got hot and as an experienced cyclist and veteran of five Grand Tours, he would have been accustomed to riding in hot weather. Meanwhile, the priest hinted that Bottecchia had been murdered by Fascists: a dangerous thing to say since Mussolini was in power, but could that be why the police had closed the case with what appears to be an unlikely verdict?

Why would the Fascists want to kill him anyway? Bottecchia, the son of a poor family, had attended school for only a year before finding work as a bricklayer and was almost completely illiterate until his training partner Alfonso Piccin taught him to read using the Gazzetto dello Sport and anti-Fascist pamphlets published by Mussolini's opponents. In 1924, when he was leading the Tour de France, he had refused to wear the yellow jersey during Stage 9, which passed very close to the Italian border, yet he insisted on wearing it all the way home on the train after he'd won. Several times, his bike had been sabotaged before races begun, which was believed by many - and, apparently, by Bottecchia himself - to have been carried out by Fascists. Was he, therefore, trying to blend into the peloton that he couldn't be as easily singled out for attack as he would have been in the maillot jaune? Known to have liberal political views, could the pamphlets have given him an understanding of the dangers of Fascism and made him actively opposed to it? Were the Fascists concerned that he might use his celebrity to denounce them? Many years later, an Italian man dying of his wounds after being stabbed in New York claimed that he had carried out the "hit" and named one Berto Olinas as the man who, he said, had recruited him; but despite investigation nobody of that name was ever found.

Bottecchia with Nicolas Frantz at the 1925 Tour de France
Bottecchia, many have argued, would not have been seen as much of a foe by Mussolini - after all, his career was fading and, in those days before Europe-wide news coverage, they say he would have been relatively unknown in Italy compared to France. But was this the case? It had only been two years since his second Tour victory when the tifosi flooded over the border into France in such large numbers that extra police had to be drafted in to keep them under control: news traveled slower in those days, but it still traveled - and those same tifosi, with their legendary passion for cycling, would most certainly have known who he was and listened to what he had to say. Secondly, he was very well known indeed in France (despite his French being limited to the phrase "No bananas, lots of coffee thank you!"); Fascism was a Europe-wide movement, and its supporters would have been every bit as concerned about a man capable of stirring up anti-Fascist sentiment there as in Italy - and he had a history trying to educate others about the dangers of the movement, too, which earned him the reputation of a moraliser because at that time few people yet understood just how dangerous the philosophy could be. They also say that Mussolini would not have been especially concerned about an enemy who remained only barely semi-literate, but semi-literacy is not the same thing as stupid - the year before he died, Bottecchia had begun work designing bikes with Teodoro Carnielli (Greg Lemond won the 1989 Tour on a Bottecchia-branded Carnielli bike), which suggests he was able to understand geometry and at least basic engineering principles. He was, therefore, at least reasonably intelligent which, combined with a passionate nature (found in all Grand Tour winners, especially Italian ones) and his fame added up to made him an enemy with too much potential strength for Mussolini to simply dismiss. Therefore, it seems very likely that the Fascists would have known exactly who he was and he may very well have been on their hit list - and anyway, Fascists are known for their willingness to do away with all rivals given a chance, not merely the most powerful ones.

There is alternative explanation. Years later, a farmer from Pordenone made a deathbed confession that he had killed Bottecchia after finding him stealing grapes from his vineyard. "He'd pushed through the vines and damaged them," he explained. "I threw a rock to scare him, but it hit him. I ran to him and realised who it was. I panicked and dragged him to the roadside and left him. God forgive me!" Where the story falls apart in that Bottecchia was found in Peonis, nearly 60km from Pordenone. Secondly, anyone who has ever picked and tried to eat a grape in mid-June will know that at that time of the year they're small, hard and so bitter as to be almost entirely inedible. Strangely, his brother was murdered in almost the same place two years later.

Mattia Gavazzi
Mattia Gavazzi at Milan-San Remo, 2010
Born on this day in 1983, Mattia Gavazzi is the son of Pierino Gavazzi who rode professionally between 1973-1993 (older brother Nicola, born in 1978, was also professional between 2001-2004). Mattia's first successes came in 2004 when he won the Trofeo Papa' Cervi, the Circuito del Porto-Trofeo Arvedi and Stage 10 at the Baby Giro. He won nothing in 2005 or 2006, though a few podium finishes proved his career hadn't come to an early end, then won two stages at the Croatian Jadranska Magistrala and three at the Tour de Normandie in 2007.

More stage wins came in 2008, along with victory at the Giro di Toscana, followed by an excellent 2009 in which he won one stage at the Tour de San Luis, four at the Tour de Langkawi, one at the Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda, three at the Vuelta a Venezuela and two at the Brixia Tour. That looks rather like the palmares of a rider who is on the cusp of breaking through into the upper ranks of cycling, and he won another stage at the Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda in 2010. However, a short while afterwards news broke that a sample taken following the prologue at the same event had tested positive for cocaine - not the first time he'd faced a similar charge, because he'd been banned for fourteen months after a positive for the same drug during his amateur career. He was originally banned for six years, which would in all likelihood have spelled the end of his career, but this was later reduced to two-ad-a-half years in view of his full co-operation with the Italian National Olympic Committee investigation. He will be free to return to competition on the 30th of September 2012.

Eric Heiden is one of the many cyclists to have also enjoyed a successful career as a speed skater (as has his sister Beth Heiden), and is the only speed skater to have won all five speed skating events in a single Olympics. A founding member of the 7-Eleven cycling team in 1981, he worked with Jim Oshowicz (himself a speed skater and Heiden's coach in the sport) to organise the team along European lines, the first time that such a project had been carried out in the USA and remained with the outfit until he retired in 1990. The majority of his cycling victories were in the North American races but he may have won more in Europe had he not have devoted much of his time to studying, first for his BSc from Stanford, then for an MD, also from Stanford. He completed his residency training in orthopaedics in 1996 and now practices as an orthopaedic surgeon in California. Heiden was born on this day in 1958.

Other births: Jēkabs Bukse (Russia, 1879, died 1942); Hjalmar Levin (Sweden, 1884, died 1983); György Szuromi (Hungary, 1951); Ian Alsop (Great Britain, 1943); Tetsuo Osawa (Japan, 1936); Valeriy Movchan (USSR, 1959); Thomas Lance (Great Britain, 1891, died 1976); Jamsrangiin Ölzii-Orshikh (Mongolia, 1967); Peter Bazálik (Slovakia, 1975); Hartmut Bölts (West Germany, 1961); Juan Molina (El Salvador, 1948); Timothy O'Shannessey (Australia, 1972).

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 13.06.2013

The Vuelta a Espana began on this day in 1948. The eighth edition of the race, it covered 4,090km and was won by Bernardo Ruiz who also won the King of the Mountains. He had won three stages and led the race for twelve days in total - but shared one stage and one day with Julian Berrendero after both men recorded an identical time in the Stage 1 individual time trial.

Young, doughy, unformed -
Verbeeck in 1963, his first
year as a professional
Frans Verbeeck
Born in Langdorp on this day in 1941, Belgian cyclist Frans Verbeeck was nicknamed The Flying Milkman because that was his job before he became a professional cyclist - and it became his job again for a short while after his career got going because, one day, he decided he was sick of the dreadful wages paid to professional cyclists in the 1960s. At the 1966 Volta a Ciclista Catalunya he decided enough was enough; so he found his manager, said "See you around - but not at a bike race" and went home with absolutely no intention of ever entering a race ever again.

Cycling, however, is not like other sports. Being good at it is not enough, because cycling takes more from those who compete than it will ever give back. It gets in the blood and takes over, very soon taking control of the mind. Verbeeck had been infected years ago. Less than a year after walking away, he began to show up as a spectator. Then he started doing a bit of work for the Goldor-Gerka team, managed by Florent Van Vaerenbergh. In 1968, he started entering races again.

During the winter of 1968/1969, he realised that whilst he'd thought he was finished with cycling, cycling hadn't finished with him. Therefore, he was just going to have to continue being a cyclist - and if he didn't want to have to live on the pittance that second-best cyclists were paid, he'd have to become the best. The way to do that, he reasoned, was to devise a new training programme that would transform him into a Flandrien. In those days, most riders packed up their bikes and hibernated during the winter before entering as many races as possible come the new season in order to burn off the flab. Verbeeck borrowed a heavy bike from a postman he knew and rode it as far as possible every single day, no matter what the weather. That way, he already had a head start. In time, bad weather ceased to bother him - sometimes, he would be the only rider left riding trough the wind and rain when everyone else had given up.

It paid off:  in 1969, he won six races - compared to the seven he'd won between 1961 and the end of the 1968 season. He stuck to the same training program over the next winter, too, and in 1970 he won 22 races. Still, though, one factor stood in his way; and it was called Eddy Merckx. Beating Merckx became Verbeeck's mission in life, so he responded by making his training even tougher. Yet still, Merckx beat him time and time again.

Through superhuman effort, Verbeecke
transformed himself into a Flandrien and
became one of the few man to ever scare
The Cannibal
At the 1975 Ronde van Vlaanderen, Verbeeck felt that he was ready. Merckx swaggered about the start line in a manner that or anyone other than a man with his supreme talents would have been obscenely arrogant, but which for him was mere statement of fact - after all, it's acceptable to proclaim yourself the strongest cyclist to have ever lived when your palmares show that you are, and by a long chalk. Verbeeck, meanwhile, was quiet, focused; an assassin. When the race got underway, Merckx pulled away from the pack and began riding into the distance, something the rest of the field were very used to seeing, but this time there was a very notable difference - he was not alone. Merckx pulled harder, then harder still; but the Milkman stayed with him. Eventually, they called a truce and worked with one another, which must also have been a novelty for Eddy because in the past nobody was good enough to ride at his level.

Then, with 6km to go, the inevitable happened. On one of the less challenging hills Verbeeck cracked, changing down a gear. Merckx heard his derailleur click and changed his own up one gear, then rode away to victory. Verbeeck had lost once again, and he never would get the better of his old enemy. However, he had earned himself a place in one of cycling's most exclusive clubs, one that has fewer members than the Tour winners' club - he had been one of the very few men to ever scare The Cannibal.

Eros Capecchi at the Critérium du Dauphiné, 2010
Eros Capecchi
Eros Capecchi, who was born in Castiglione del Lago on this day in 1986, became Italian Junior Road Race Champion in 2004 and, by doing so, got himself a trainee contract with Liquigas-Bianchi for 2005. In 2008 he signed to Saunier Duval-Scott and entered the Giro d'Italia for the first time, grabbing a brace of top 30 stage finishes and completing the event in 99th place overall, then won what appears destined to be the last ever Euskal Bizikleta (unless anyone organises a future edition).

He didn't finish the Giro in 2009 but performed well in the Tour de Suisse; then went to the Vuelta a Espana but abandoned that too. In 2010, he abandoned the Giro but did very well in the Critérium du Dauphiné, finishing Stage 5 in second place behind Daniel Navarro, which persuaded Footon-Servetto managers to send him to the Tour de France, where he finished Stage 7 in the Jura Mountains in tenth place and Stage 16 - a high mountain stage - in twelfth.

At the 2011 Giro, after he had returned to Liquigas (now supplied with bikes by Cannondale rather than Bianchi), Capecchi finished the first stage in third place and won Stage 18, though he was only 99th in the General Classification. At the Vuelta, he finished in the top ten four times, including twice in second place - consistency being the key to the General Classification, he finished 21st overall. In the 2012 Giro, his best stage finish was 13th but he was 37th overall; results that suggest a rider who is maturing both physically and mentally and one of whom we are likely to hear much more in the coming years.

Fabio Baldato
Fabio Baldato
Fabio Baldato, born in Lonigo, Italy on this day in 1968, won numerous stages in prestigious races between the late 1980s and his eventual retirement, including Stages 4, 16 and 21 at the Giro d'Italia in 1993, Stage 1 at the 1995 Tour de France, Stage 21 at the 1996 Tour, Stages 6 and 7 at the 1996 Vuelta a Espana and Stage 2 at the Giro in 2003. He also performed well in the Classics, taking second place at Paris-Roubaix in 1994, the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 1995 and 1996 and at Milan-San Remo in 2000.

Baldato enjoyed an unusually long career, gaining his first professional contract with Del Tongo-MG Boys in 1991 and finishing with Lampre in 2008 when he was the oldest rider on any of the UCI ProTeams, retiring that year after a crash at the Eneco Tour left him with a broken collarbone and an injured pelvis.

Karen Brems Kurreck, who was born in Urbana, Illinois on this day in 1962, won the Individual Time Trial at the 1994 UCI World Championships - the first time that the race was included as part of the event.

Yumari González, born in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba on this day in 1979, won the Scratch race at the World Championships in 2007 and 2009.

Shane Sutton was born in New South Wales on this day in 1957 and rode with the gold medal-winning Australian Team Pursuit squad at the Commonwealth Games in 1978, then won the bronze at the Australian Road Race Championships in 1983 and 1984. In 1990 he won the Tour of Britain and in 1993, having taken British citizenship, won the bronze in the British National Road Race too. It's in Britain that Sutton has found greater fame than he ever had as a rider: his coaching for Wales and British Cycling has earned his the respect and thanks of many riders and a number of awards, including an OBE in 2010. He also works as chief coach with the New South Wales Institute of Sport.

On this day in 2012, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was formally charged with doping by USADA. Blood samples obtained in 2009 and 2010 were said to have been found to be "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions." Five other men, including RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel and three associates, were accused of being "engaged in a massive doping conspiracy from 1998-2011." Armstrong, who won his Tours between 1999 and 2005, had never failed an anti-doping test; nevertheless, he chose not to contest a decision to strip him of his seven consecutive victories.

Other cyclists born on this day: Jhon Arias (Colombia, 1969); Scott Steward (Australia, 1965); Séamus Downey (Ireland, 1960); Wolfgang Schmelzer (East Germany, 1940).

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 12.06.2013

The famous Liège-Bastogne-Liège Classic, the oldest of the Monuments that make up the five most important cycle races after the Grand Tours, fell on this day in 1911 - the sixth edition, as the race skipped 1894-1908 and 1910. The winner was Joseph Vandaele (right), also spelled Van Daele, who would have been the second Frenchman to win the race as he was born in Wattrelos but had taken Belgian nationality prior to 1911.

The Vuelta a Espana began on this day in 1941. At 4,442km it was the longest edition ever (the exact distance is unclear, and some sources say 4,409km - either makes it the longest; though it fell far short of the longest ever Grand Tour, the 1926 Tour de France which was an incredible 5,745km). It also had the lowest ever number of starters, 32, partially as a result of the distance but primarily because this was the first edition since the Spanish Civil War and the country was still piecing itself back together. Julián Berrendero won overall (and again the next year) with a time of 168h45'26", while Delio Rodríguez (+29'17") won twelve stages but was fourth overall. His total of 39 stage wins in the five editions he entered remains the record today.

Félicia Ballanger
Félicia Ballanger
Born in La Roche-sur-Yon, Félicia Ballanger was born on this day in 1971 and named after her mother's favourite cyclist Felice Gimondi (her brother, Frédéric, was named after Federico Bahamontes). It seems likely, then, that her mother may have hoped to raise two successful cyclists of her own; and thanks to Félicia she got her wish.

Whilst still a child, Félicia joined the Vendée la Roche Cycliste and was immediately recognised as a serious track talent; the specialised training she received enabling her to win the Junior World Sprint Champion title in 1988. A year later she won the Sprint silver medal racing in the Elite category at the National Championships, then did so again in 1990; coming second on both occasions to Isabelle Gautheron who, seven years her senior, was by far the more experienced rider. She won the title in 1991 and 1992, then came second again in 1993 and might have won gold at the World Chmpionships had she not have been left with a broken collarbone and  a shard of broken wood embedded in her thigh following a crash. The next year, she won back the National Sprint title; then in 1994 she won it again and added the National 500m Championship and two gold medals for the same events at the Worlds. She won all four events again in 1996, then won another gold in the Sprint at the Olympics.

Ballanger retained her two National and two World titles all the way to 2000, then relinquished the World titles (she won the National ones for another year) so she could concentrate on the Olympics again - and this time, she won gold for the 500m and the Sprint. One of the most successful track cyclists of all time, she finally ended her reign when she retired in 2001 and took up the post of vice-president of the Fédération Française de Cyclisme. Today, she lives on the island of Nouméa in the French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia. She is married, had two children and works for the Ministry of Youth and Sport where she is responsible for anti-doping programs.

Bauer in the maillot jaune
Steve Bauer
Steve Bauer, who was born St. Catherines, Ontario on this day in 1959, joined the National Team in 1977 and originally specialised in team pursuit events. It wasn't long before he turned out to also be a very talented road racer, winning the National Championship in 1981, 1982 and 1983 and, after winning the United Texas Tour and coming third in the World Road Race Championships in 1984, he began to specialise in the discipline.

In 1985, he joined Bernard Hinault's La Vie Claire team and was entered for his first Tour de France. He took an impressive sixth place in the Prologue, then eighth in Stage 8, seventh in Stage 21 and fifth in Stage 22, which earned his third place in the overall Youth category and tenth in the General Classification - a very good finish indeed for a Tour debutante. This was the first of eleven Tours; his best overall result would be in 1988 when he was fourth in the General Classification behind Pedro Delgado, Steven Rooks and Fabio Parra. That edition also brought his only solo win ( La Vie Claire won the Stage 3 team time trial in 1985) - Stage 1, and after it he led the race for five days and was only the second Canadian to have ever worn the maillot jaune.

Bauer aboard the frankly plug-ugly "Stealth Bike" he rode to
second place at Paris-Roubaix in 1990
Bauer is remembered as one of the unluckiest riders in the history of professional cycling and his palmares would almost certainly shine far brighter had he not have been condemned so many times to runner-up places by punctures, mechanicals and crashes. In 1988, he was at the centre of a controversy involving Claude Criquielion. The two riders had collided during the final sprint at the World Championships; Bauer was able to remain upright but disqualified, while Maurizio Fondriest took advantage of the situation and won. Criquielion, who had been hoping to win back his 1984 title, refused to believe that it had been just another example of the sort of accident that happens in a sprint - indeed, it's far from certain from video footage if it was in fact an accident - and attempted to sue to sue the Canadian for assault, asking for an amount equal to £1.5 million. The case dragged on for three years before a court eventually found in favour of Bauer. In 1990, the finishing order at Paris-Roubaix was so close that judges examined photographs for more than ten minutes before deciding that Bauer had lost to Eddy Planckaert by 1cm, the closest finish in the history of the race.

In 1994, Bauer was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in recognition of his work in paving the way for future Canadian cyclists to compete at the top level of the sport, and there's a very good case to be made in support of Ryder Hesjedal dedicating the Tour de France victory that he'll probably win sooner or later to him. Having retired after the 1996 Olympics, Bauer formed Team R.A.C.E Pro, which would become Spidertech-C10. He remains the owner and a directeur sportif.

Andrea Guardini
Italian cyclist Andrea Guardini, who born in Tregnago on this day in 1989, holds the record for most stages won at the Tour de Langkawi with twelve from three editions, 2011 (five), 2012 (six) and 2013 (1). In 2011 he also won Stage 5 at the Tour of Qatar, Stages 1 and 7 at the Tour of Turkey and Stage 5 at the Volta a Portugal. Many consider him destined for great things, perhaps even a Grand Tour victory, pointing to his Stage 18 victory at the Giro d'Italia in 2012 and fourth place at Scheldeprijs is 2013 as evidence.

Philippe Bouvatier, who was born in Rouen on this day in 1964, became French Junior Road Race Champion in 1982 and joined Renault-Elf in 1984, then took thrid place at the Tour de l'Avenir. In 1986, by which time he was with Zor-B.H. Sport, he rode in the Tour de France - like the majority of Tour debutantes, he didn't finish; but 31st place on Stage 6 over 200km from Villers-sur-Mer to Cherbourg was respectable enough. In 1987 he did better, finishing the race and coming twelfth on Stage 24, a 38km individual time trial. He finished again in 1988 and improved his overall placing to 32nd; then rode his final Tour in 1990 for RMO, abandoning the race after Stage 6 when he came 190th, one place above Lanterne Rouge Thierry Claveyrolat. After three more years riding criteriums and smaller stage races, he retired in 1995 after failing to win anything that year.

Davide Viganò was born in Carate Brianza, Italy on this day in 1984. He has enjoyed some notable successes in the Grand Tours, including tenth place for Stage 21 at the 2006 Vuelta a Espana, fourth for Stage 12 and fifth for Stage 21 at the 2007 Vuelta, eighth for Stage 4 and third for Stage 21 at the 2008 Vuelta, eighth for Stage 2 and 9 and sixth for Stage 11 at the Giro d'Italia and fourth for Stage 6 at thee Vuelta in 2009.

Colby Pearce, born in Boulder, Colorado on this day in 1972, won the US Madison Championship in 2000 and held it until 2003 when he came second. In the intervening time, he also rode for the gold-winning Pursuit team. In 2003 he was National Scratch Champion, the once again rode with the victorious Team Pursuit squad in 2004 and a year later won back the Madison title. He retired from competition in 2005 to take up a position as coach to the National Track Team, but resigned and returned to racing in 2007. He won the Madison title for the last time in 2007 and 2008 (with another Team Pursuit gold in both years).

Charles King, an English cyclist born on this day in 1911, won a bronze medal in front of Hitler when he and the British team finished the Team Pursuit in third place at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He died on the 19th of July, 2001.

On this day in 1979, amateur cyclist Bryan Allen both powered and piloted the Gossamer Albatross - a human-powered aeroplane - over the English Channel. Designed and built by Dr. Paul B. MacCready, the Albatross consisted of a mylar skin stretched over a carbon fibre and polystyrene skeleton, unladen it weight 32kg. Inside was a modified bike frame, by pedaling the pilot drove a two-bladed propellor. MacCready died on the 28th of August 2007; Allen is now a software engineer at the Pasadena Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Other cyclists born on this day: Rafael Nuritdinov (USSR, 1977); Csaba Steig (Hungary, 1971); Bob Boucher (Canada, 1943); Ken Muhindi (Kenya, 1978); Buddy Ford (Bermuda, 1957); Jacek Bodyk (Poland, 1966); Bruno Monti (Italy, 1930, died 2011); Alla Vasilenko (USSR, 1972); Dawid Krupa (Poland, 1980); Emilio Falla (Ecuador, 1986).

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 11.06.2013

Erika Salumäe signs a copy of
"Staying Alive," a biography of her
life and athletic career 
Erika Salumäe was born in Pärnu on this day in 1964 and trained with Talinn's trade union-run Voluntary Sports Society, the civilian variety of the Soviet and Eastern Bloc sports schools that provided so many of cycling's brightest stars (and most nefarious villains) in the 1990s following Perestroika. At the 1988 Olympics, she won the gold medals for the Points and Sprint, and in 1988 she won another in the Sprint - the second was the very first Olympic gold won for Estonia since the nation gained independence in 1991, but just one of many the rider won during her career: she also won ten gold, three silver and three bronze in the Track World Championships between 1981 and 1989, a period in which she set fifteen new world records, in addition to being voted Best Estonian Athlete in 1983, 1984, 1987-1990, 1992, 1995 and 1996.

Fabio Duarte, who was born in Facatativá on this day in 1986, was Junior Champion of Colombia in Pursuit and Madison in 2003, then Under-23 National Time Trial Champion in 2006 (he won the bronze in the road race) and Under-23 World Road Race Champion in 2008. In 2007, he earned his first professional contract with Diquigiovanni-Selle Italia but he moved to Colombia es Pasion the following year and stayed with them until the end of 2010, when he was invited to join Spain's Geox-TMC - with whom he rode the Giro d'Italia, finishing Stage 5 in second place behind Peter Weening (then of Rabobank). At the end of the year, when sponsors unexpectedly pulled out and the team fell apart, Duarte was relatively lucky in finding a new team quickly; so for 2012 - which, thus far, has brought his a respectable fifth place overall at the Tour of California, he's riding for Colombia-Coldeportes.

Frans Slaats is little-remembered today, but his success in track racing - especially in the six-day meets - made him a household name in his native Netherlands and beyond in the late 1920s and through the 1930s. Born in Waalwijk on this day in 1912, his first professional contract was in 1935 with Magneet, prior to which he had ridden as an individual, but after setting a new 45.485km Hour Record at Milan's Vigorelli track on the 29th of September 1937 (beaten by Maurice Archambaud on the same track just 35 days later with 45.767km), he was invited to join the top Dilecta-Wolber team where he rode with Frans Bonduel, Sylvain Grysolle, Karel Kaers, Achiel Buysse, Gerrit Schulte and Charles Pélissier (whose record of eight stages won at the 1930 Tour has never been beaten). He was fortunate to be at the Six Days of Buenos Aires in 1939 when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and remained safe in Argentina for the duration. When he went home in 1945, when the War had ended, he discovered that four of six brothers - Jules (aged 16), George (21), Gerrard (22) and Herman (34) - had been accused of taking part in an uprising, transported to concentration camps and murdered. His sister Anneke had died in a convent, the cause unknown.

Louise Sutherland
Sutherland on her £2 10s bike
Louise Sutherland, who was born in Dunedin, New Zealand on this day in 1926, grew up in a family that used their bicycles daily and, when she was 19 and was accepted for nursing training at Oamaru Hospital, continued to use her bike to complete the seven-hour journey whenever she wanted to go home to visit her parents. It seems that the idea of traveling any other way never occurred to her, and she was surprised that others thought it in any way remarkable.

In 1945, Sutherland cycled 700km to Invercargill to visit her uncle, then back again. This time, the feat was considered so remarkable (and it was, of course, for any cyclist; not just for a woman, which is what many people seemed to find the most remarkable aspect) that it was reported in New Zealand newspapers. After the War she went to work in London and found new fame cycling to Land's End, but then announced that the ride was merely preparation for her next great adventure.  "Having gone so far, I was determined to be the first girl to cycle round the world alone. And to strengthen my resolve, I made myself a tough new cycling skirt of denim," she said; then went back to London to pick up her passport and £50 savings and set off on a trip through Europe and all the way to India, which she completed on a bike she bought in a jumble sale for the princely sum of £2 and ten shillings fitted with a trailer made for her by a patient. It took her seven years to get there and back, and she told her story in a self-bound-and-published book called "I Follow The Wind." Her fame spread, and by the 1950s Raleigh provided her with a new machine whenever she set off on a new expedition.

At the age of 52, when most women of her generation would have settled down and in the majority of cases be devoting themselves to grandmotherhood, Sutherland announced that she would be making a 4,400km trip through the rainforests of South America on the Trans-Amazon Highway. The road had only very recently been completed and a Brazilian government official she approached when planning the trip told her it would be impossible to do it on a bicycle. Because she was the sort of person that she was, his opinion made her even more determined - she became the first person to cycle the route, later writing a book ("The Impossible Journey," out of print but very much worthwhile if you find a copy) about the adventure. She used the trip to raise funds to build medical clinics in Peru and Brazil, for which she was awarded the Queen's Service Medal in New Zealand and became the first foreigner to receive Brazil's Golden Fish Award. Since then, only three people (all men) have successfully repeated her journey.

Sutherland interviewed on British TV, 1978

Incredibly, Sutherland never picked up any knowledge of bicycle mechanics beyond the very barest minimum - it's said that until her South American ride, she'd never even repaired a puncture. Instead, she would rely on the kindness of strangers, her tendency to assume that most people are fundamentally good and concerned about their fellow human beings (despite an attempted attack by two men in India, and experiences with hostile Native people in the Amazon), an assumption that bears a very strong resemblance to the attitudes of her spiritual descendant Josie Dew (and the fact that both women found in the vast majority of cases the people they met lived up to their expectations is inspiring).

Sutherland died on the 24th of December, 1994, of a brain aneurysm when she was 68 years old.

Francesco Verri, born in Mantua on this day in 1885, represented Italy at the 1906 Olympics and won the gold medals for the Sprint, the 5,000m and the Time Trial. In all cases he beat British riders - Herbert Bouffler in the Sprint and Herbert Crowther in the other two events. Did you notice that 1906 was not an Olympic year? That's because these were the 1906 Intercalated Games, an event organised by the IOC to take place every four years in Athens as a way of paying homage to the Olympics' origins. At the time, the Intercalated Games were considered to be equal to the Olympics and known as such; today, the results are not officially recognised by the IOC and the medals are not on display at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

Other cyclists born on this day: Kurt Garschal (Austria, 1941); Michele Smith (Cayman, 1970); Matt Sinton (New Zealand, 1976); Gabriel Glorieux (Belgium, 1930, died 2007); Morten Hegreberg (Norway, 1977); Ryszard Dawidowicz (Poland, 1960); Séamus Herron (Ireland, 1934); Dante Ghindani (Italy, 1899); Dave Rollinson (Great Britain, 1947); Jan Brzeźny (Poland, 1951); Scott Guyton (New Zealand, 1976).

Monday, 10 June 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 10.06.2013

The Ronde van Vlaanderen was held on this day in 1945 - the latest in the year the race has ever been run and less than one year after Belgium was liberated from Nazi control. It had been the only Classic to continue on occupied home soil for the full duration of the War and a small number of German officers - cycling fans, presumably - had actually become involved in the organisation of the race.

This led to big problems once peace was declared as organisers faced accusations of collaboration. This was a serious issue for Karel Van Wijnendaele, who had set up the first edition right back in 1913 because he was also the editor of Sportwereld, the newspaper that ran the race, and journalists found guilty of collaboration were banned for life from their profession. Fortunately, he was able to have his ban overturned when he supplied a letter from none other than General Bernard Montgomery, thanking him for risking his life by providing a safe house to British pilots as they attempted to return to safety after being shot down.

Sportwereld's rival Het Volk saw the accusations as a prime opportunity to increase its own readership that year and announced that it would organise its own race, to be called the Omloop van Vlaanderen. In Flemmish, omloop has an identical meaning to ronde; which the Ronde's oganisers felt made the names too similar. Their concerns were supported by the Belgian Cycling Federation and Het Volk were ordered to change the name of their event to the Omloop Het Volk - and later, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, by which  name by which it's still known today. The Ronde finished that year at Wetteren, as it would do until 1961, and the winner was Sylvain Grysolle. Three years later, he won the Omloop Het Volk too.

Jean Robic
Jean Robic
Reading any book on cycling will soon reveal that, over its 150 years, cycling has produced a number of riders whom one might describe as the type to stand out in a crowd. In some cases, they do so for all the right reasons - Hugo Koblet, for example, or Charly Gaul when he wasn't doing one of his frothing-at-the-mouth rabid jackal death-faces, and Ben Swift and Mark Cavendish (Swifty and Cav included at the insistence of Mrs. Cyclopunk). There are also those who are "not conventionally attractive," the Cadels and Andys ("They've got something" - Mrs. C again) and there are those whose looks made small children burst into tears, none of whom will be listed here out of respect for the dead and the feelings of those still with us. Then there was Jean Robic, who looked as though he belonged on the side of a church tower with a drainpipe sticking out of his mouth. He also had a tendency to wear unusual glasses, weird bug-eyed goggles and, strangest of all for the times, a leather helmet; the combined effect made him look uncannily like he might be more used to traveling by flying saucer than by bicycle.

It would be wonderful to say that he made up for it with a kind, generous and endearing personality, but he didn't.

Robic was born on this day in 1921 in Vouziers, which is in the French Ardennes, but in common with most Celts he was proud of his ancient heritage and claimed to be a Breton like his father; which, combined with those odd looks, gave rise to his nickname Le Farfadet de la lande Bretonne, "the Hobgoblin of Brittany Moor." The family moved to Brittany when Jean was seven and set up home in Radenac, still a tiny village and the sort that the charitable might claim has rustic charm (locals probably think it's a bit of a dump), where his father - a keen racing cyclist himself - set up a bike shop and taught his son the trade, also encouraging him to become the sort of rider he'd probably once dreamed of being. It looked for a while as though fixing bikes was as close as Jean would get to making a living from racing, because he didn't make much of an impression when he got a job with the H. Sausin cycle factory. The New York-born journalist René de Latour was one of the few to remember him:
"If anybody had told you or me in 1939 that this skinny kid of 17, with ears large enough to be of help with a back wind blowing—if we had been told that here was a future winner of the Tour de France, we would just have laughed... His arrival in the Paris area was not sensational. Robic won a few races out in the villages but this did not mean much. We had hundreds of boys like him in France."
When war broke out and Northern France fell to Nazi occupation, many of the most important races were brought to a halt. This did Robic a huge favour, because it forced him into the sort of small, local race apprenticeship period that he badly needed if he was ever going to develop into a champion. In 1943, L'Auto, which had run a race between Le Mans and Paris when fighting brought a temporary end to Paris-Roubaix (and which would be accused of collaboration and shut down after the war) got permission to start running the race again. Robic entered the second wartime edition, which took place in 1944 (the Nazis, who used cycling events to try to convince the French that life was going on as normal and draw their attention away from all the millions of people they were murdering, made sure the race was filmed and widely shown. It can be seen here) - it was due to a crash in the race, and the fractured skull it left him with, that he adopted the leather helmet; hence his other nickname Tête de Cuir, Leatherhead.

Robic's advantage - he had the lightness to climb and the
strength to attack on the flat stages
Big-headed as ever, Robic had told his new wife Raymonde that he would be bringing back the maillot jaune as a wedding present when he entered the first post-war Tour in 1947, but nobody else expected him to even stand a chance despite the fact that, at 1.61m tall and a wiry 60kg in weight, he had the classic build of a climber (like many climbers, he loathed descending and would arrange for a soigneur to hand him a lead-filled bidon - or mercury, when solid bidons were banned - at the top of a climb in order to weight down his bike and help prevent it skipping around on the way down). Much to their surprise, he won three stages. De Latour still didn't think he could win because he was too inconsistent, but at the end of the Stage 19 time trial Robic had got himself into third place overall. He couldn't improve on that by the time the race reached the start of Stage 21 and, since the final stage is largely ceremonial and an unwritten law states that the leader must not be attacked on the way into Paris, it looked as though Pierre Brambilla would win. Robic, meanwhile, had no time for traditional niceties and bore respect for nobody but himself - with help from Edouard Fachleitner (it was later claimed that Robic told him, "Ride with me. You'll come second but I'll give you 100,000 francs") he attacked repeatedly and so savagely that Brambilla became ill. When the two men reached the Parc des Princes, they had an advantage of thirteen minutes and, for the first time, Robic was leading the race. Despite the ferocity of his attacking, Robic couldn't catch Briek Schotte (who was the only Flandrien, some say) but once time bonuses had been awarded he became the first man to have won a Tour without wearing the yellow jersey whilst competing for it, and legend has it that Brambilla was so disgusted he went home, buried his bike in his garden and swore he'd never ride again.

Brambilla did ride again, though; including another four Tours - which makes the story look rather as though it's probably just another one of those apocryphal, romantic tales that constitute a good quarter of all cycling history (and long may it remain thus -  journalist Jock Wadley knew Brambilla and said that his greatest regret was that he never thought to ask him if the buried bike story was true until after he'd died. We should be grateful for that, just in case it turned out to be a myth). What's more, the Fachleitner bribe might not have actually happened, either: Pierre Chany, L'Equipe's chief cycling journalist and a man who reported on no fewer than 49 editions of the Tour, said that the rumour was stared by René Vietto who hated Robic and would stop at nothing to blacken his reputation (Vietto, incidentally, is at the centre of two of cycling's romantic tales. You can read about both of them here).

With his hook nose and diminutive stature, Robic
bore an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Punch
Robic was almost universally hated by the other riders. The peloton in the heat of a race is not a place where polite language is always used, but Robic was said to be so foul-mouthed that he offended even the earthiest sons of the French soi. This also did little to endear him to race organisers - on at least one occasion, when he and others finished outside a time limit, his verbal response to the news would lead to him being the only rider not invited to continue if the judges then relented for some reason. He was also bad-tempered, always angry, fond of insulting others and a braggart, once claiming to have "a Coppi in each leg" and on another occasional dismissing Gino Bartali (who won two Tours de France and three Giri d'Italia, nine King of the Mountains and 29 stages) entirely. André Mahé, who finished in second place behind Ferdy Kübler in Stage 1 at the 1947 Tour, said that when Robic went to a restaurant he'd stand in the doorway and wait until all the diners had stopped eating and were looking at him, then proclaim "Oui! C'est moi - Robic!" ("Yes! It is I - Robic!") As is almost invariably the case, however, there was another side to him: when his father died in an accident (a branch that he was trying to saw off a tree fell on him), he spent a large portion of winnings on buying a haberdasher's shop and setting her up in business and he would also write to her while away on the Tour. He was brave, too: after the war, it was revealed that he had risked torture and execution at the hands of the Nazis by using his bike to transport secret messages between Resistance cells and even though he smashed several bones in his spine in a crash at the 1953 Tour, he was back on the start line in 1954. A very few people looked deeper and saw that side of him - one of them was Louison Bobet, who despite being a Breton himself was once Robic's arch-enemy (interestingly, Bobet also carried messages for the Reistance during the war). Perhaps it was because Bobet knew how it felt to be the most hated man in the peloton (find out why here) that he was waiting to pay his respects when Robic finished his last race in 1967, 24 years after his first professional contract.

Robic was also a talented cyclo cross
rider - he was National Champion in 1945
and World Champion in 1950
The general impression is that life always tasted sour to Robic, but in retirement it got worse. Raymonde's family owned a cafe called Au Rendez-vous des Bretons near Montparnasse Station, which he took over; but it failed. Then Raymonde - whom he seems to have loved deeply - left him for another man and he fell into depression. For a while he refereed wrestling events, a sort of "sports-based entertainment" version much like the American type popular today that relied heavily on crowd-pleasing stunts such as when "heels" who disagreed with his decisions would lift him above their heads and throw him out of the ring. For a man as full of himself and his abilities as Robic, that must have hurt even more than the damage it surely did to his injured spine. Then, he went for a long period without employment and took to walking the streets, hoping to meet somebody who might offer him any sort of paid work at all - or, some say, a drink.

Eventually, an old friend took pity and gave him a job; allowing him to begin piecing his life back together. He even learned to moderate his language and behaviour, in time making friends with other cyclists in addition to Bobet and developing a social network, which is why he was driving home from a party given in honour of Joop Zoetemelk, just after the Dutchman's 1980 Tour victory, when he was killed in an accident. The street on which he lived as a child in Radenac has been renamed after him and a room in the village hall has been converted into a museum of his achievements.

Christophe Bassons
Christophe Bassons was born in Mazamet, France on this day in 1974 and started to race mountain bikes in 1991, when he was sixteen. A year later, he took to road racing and in 1995, while studying for his degree in civil engineering, he won the Tour du Tarn et Garonne and the Military World Time Trial Championship. He signed a contract to ride professionally for Force Sud in 1996 and then, when the team broke up in March, Festina-Lotus, where he remained until Willy Voet's mobile pharmacy was stopped by customs and the cycling world was torn apart by the Festina Affair of 1998.

Christophe Bassons
Thus began one of the worst scandals ever to hit cycling, sparking off a cycle of admissions, denials, investigations, accusations and counter-accusations. Yet two of Festina's convicted riders, Christophe Moreau and Armin Meier, both of whom wisely decided the best option was to confess shortly after they were arrested, were vociferous in their insistence that Bassons was entirely innocent. Opened up for all to see, professional cycling was reminiscent of Bosch's scenes of Hell, but Bassons was an angel far removed from the rotteness - Jean-Luc Gatellier, a writer who studied the Affair for L'Equipe, agreed: "It's true he's not one of them and he hasn't come out of the same mould... it's true that Christophe Bassons doesn't belong to the family of cheats and the corrupted," he said. As a result, the rider had little difficulty in securing a contract with La Française des Jeux when the Festina team died.

Bassons was among the lowliest of domestiques and, had be not have been singled out as the sole innocent man among a gang of criminals, he's probably have come out of the Affair no less anonymous than he had been before the story broke and would have been able to get on with his career. However, while subjected to intense scrutiny by some (his good character remained steadfastly intact), he was hailed as a hero by others and was chosen as something of an unofficial figurehead for the new, clean cycling that fans hoped would emerge when the scandal finally ebbed - assuming, of course, that cycling survived, which looked far from certain at some points. He was invited first to write for Vélo, in which he referred to riders who opposed quarterly medical checks (then used in an effort to catch dopers, or at least to be seen to be doing something to catch dopers) as hypocrites, then for Le Parisien. Basson's articles were generally considered harmless, amusing fripperies that shed a little light on the fit-for-public-consumption inner workings of the peloton; but once in a while they revealed a glimpse of its dark heart, stretched to over-capacity as it laboured to keep the EPO-thickened blood flowing through the sport. In one, he mentioned Lance Armstrong's rise back to the top of cycling after his recovery from cancer, which he said had been viewed as highly suspicious by many riders.

One day, Bassons claimed that as the Tour was climbing Alpe d'Huez, Lance Armstrong rode alongside him and delivered what sounded very much like a warning. It had been, the Texan said, a mistake to keep talking about doping. Bassons replied that he was concerned about future generations and what might happen to them if doping continued. "Why don't you go home, then?" Armstrong asked, which many took to be a politer way to say "if you don't like it, go." Armstrong confirmed later that the exchange had in act taken place, but explained it differently: "His accusations aren't good for cycling, for his team, for me, for anybody," he said. "If he thinks cycling works like that, he's wrong and he would be better off going home." He's still sticking to that story.

Bassons had either seriously misjudged the peloton's mood with regard to doping or he was simply far too angelic to survive in such as dirty world as late 1990s cycling. Whichever it was, the sport was not yet willing to clean up its act - after all, the Festina Affair wasn't the first scandal that had been survived. When Tom Simpson died, ranks were closed, a few new measures put into place to make it look as though steps had been taken and riders reminded one another to be a bit more careful in the future; the journalists went away and nothing much changed. Seven years earlier, when Knud Enemark Jensen collapsed, fractured his skull and later died at the Olympics, the same thing happened; and five years before that when Jean Malléjac came close to dying on Mont Ventoux, the same mountain where Simpson died. It had been that way ever since the days of Choppy Warburton, in the 1890s, and it remained so until Operación Puerto in 2006 when cycling finally realised something had to be done - and that time, set about doing it. Also, he had made a powerful enemy in Armstrong, who was well on his way to winning a Tour and beginning to put together a marketing and public representation team far beyond anything cycling had ever before seen - he may not have been liked by all the riders, but if they were going to have to pick sides there was no doubt they'd be on his, where the money was.

Very soon, he found that riders he once thought were friends would completely blank him. If he tried to instigate a breakaway, nobody would go with him. When he walked into a room, he was ignored. Sometimes, when he was surrounded by 200 men in a peloton, the atmosphere was distinctly threatening. It wasn't long until he cracked and, the morning after Stage 11 at the Tour that year, he got up at 05:30 and packed his bags. He took the time to say goodbye to his team mates ("one rider didn't look at me and refused to shake my hand," he said. "That hurt.") On his way out, he met team manager Marc Madiot, who had admitted to using amphetamines during his own career, and was told that he was letting down the squad.

Bassons has turned his back on cycling - or
cycling turned his back on him - but he
remains active in sport
His team mates, old and new, were almost unanimous in their condemnation: "I was the only one to talk to Bassons [at Force Sud]... He doesn't listen to anyone. Bassons is an individualist. Even in a race he doesn't easily lend a hand. He rides for himself," said an uncharacteristically serious Thierry Bourguignon, usually the (somewhat tediously) zany clown of the peloton. He found a handful of new friends, some of them powerful figures - "His solitude was the living proof that nothing fundamental has changed in the morals of the milieu, "said the journalist Jean-Michel Rouet. "Christophe Bassons died at the stake, burned by his passion. On official communiqués, he left two words: non partant. The peloton had already forgotten rider number 152."

The French Minister of Sports Marie-George Buffet was another to take his side. "Rather than fighting against doping, they're fighting its opponent," she said and wrote to him to let him know he had her support, congratulating for having the courage to speak up, but the ProTour remained too hostile an environment - in 2000, he went to the second-category Jean Delatour team; then at the end of 2001, when he was still only 26 and would have been about to begin his best years, he retired. That same year he qualified as a sports teacher and took up a job with the Ministry of Sports and Youth in Bordeaux, where he is now in charge of anti-doping. In a 2012 interview with Bicycling magazine he revealed that in his early years as a professional, team manager Bruno Roussel (who was later given a one-year suspended sentence and fined 50,000 francs for his part in the Affair) had approached him and said, "You’re a young rider, so in the first couple of years we’d prefer that you don’t do any heavy doping with EPO or human growth hormones. But you can you lighter things such as cortisone." He also said that, later on, he'd been given the choice of a 30,000 francs-per-month contract if he remained clean or 300,000 if he would take EPO - and had opted for the former.

Lance Armstrong, who was called the greatest Tour rider of all time by some, has since been declared guilty of doping, is charged with playing a part in the greatest sporting conspiracy to have ever taken place and has been stripped of all of his seven Tour victories.

Andy Schleck
Andy Schleck at the prologue of the Critérium du Dauphiné,
Born in Lëtzebuerg on this day in 1985, Andy Raymond Schleck comes from a Luxembourgish cycling dynasty - his older brother Frank is also a professional cyclist (and rides for the same team), his father Johny was National Road Race Champion in 1965 and 1973 and rode six Tours de France and his grandfather Auguste came third in the GP Faber of 1926 and 1927 and in the Independents National Road Race Championship of 1928. Oldest brother Steve is a politician. A little-known fact about Andy is that during his youth he was a cyclo cross rider of considerable promise, winning the National Junior Championship in 2002.

In 2004, Andy joined the amateur Vélo Club de Roubaix and was spotted immediately by Tour veteran turned directeur sportif par excellence Cyrille Guimard, a man whose proteges have won numerous prestigious races including seventeen Grand Tours. Among them was Laurent Fignon, of whom he said Andy reminded him, adding that the Luxembourgish rider was one of the greatest natural talents he had ever seen. When he won the Flèche du Sud that same year, he was noticed also by Bjarne Rijs, manager of Frank's team CSC, and offered a trainee contract. Just a year later he was a full professional and got his first taste of a ProTour at the Volta a Catalunya and won the time trial at the National Championships (Frank won the road race).

Having won two stages of the 2006 Sachsen Tour, Rijs deemed his young rider ready for a Grand Tour in 2007 and sent him to the Giro d'Italia, where he finished four stages in third place, won the Youth category and took second place in the General Classification - a stunning result for a Grand Tour debut. The following year he rode his first Tour de France, finishing the Alpe d'Huez stage in third place and proving to the world that a rider destined to be remembered as one of the great climbers had arrived. He was twelfth in the General Classification and won the Youth category, but more importantly had been an instrumental part of CSC's efforts to win the Teams competition - their total prize money equalled €621,210, not far off €0.4 million more than second place Silence-Lotto's €233,450.

Schleck is known as one of the peloton's nice guys. Here,
he awards a medal to Didi Senft, The Devil - who is not as
popular with riders as he is among the fans
In 2009, Schleck won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, one of the toughest and most prestigious Classics - and thus established himself as many people's favourite for the Tour. In fact, there was only one thing in his way, and that was his friend Alberto Contador. Schleck is, without a doubt, one of the top General Classification contenders of his generation and on a good day in the mountains no man alive can beat him, Contador included; Contador, meanwhile, is one of the greatest of all time, and unlike Andy he time trials almost as well as he climbs. That gave him the advantage he needed, Andy had to settle for second place and the Youth category once again. When July in 2010 rolled around, a lot of people looked at Andy and thought it was to be his year. Contador, who by that point had alread won four Grand Tours, was still very much in his prime; but Andy had grown up. His form had always been good, but a year earlier he still had the unformed, softer look of a boy; now he was chiseled, harder and purposeful - when the race got to the high mountains in the Pyrenees and Alps, would Contador be able to hold him off? For a long time it looked as though he might not: whenever he attacked and looked over his shoulder to see who'd followed him, there was Andy smiling back. Then, the Luxembourger won Stage 8, took the maillot jaune from Cadel Evans and held it for six stages through the Alps and the flat stages en route to the Pyrenees, where many expected him to increase his lead, perhaps even prove himself a better climber than Contador, and win the race.

It was not to be. During Stage 15, as the race climbed the last mountain of the day on the way to Bagnères-de-Luchon, Schleck dropped his chain. Contador chose that moment to attack, assisted by Denis Menchov, Samuel Sanchez and a number of other climbers looking to improve their times. By the time he'd set off again he was alone with nobody able to help him make up the gap. Contador took the maillot jaune at the finish line, along with a 39" advantage - the exact same time by which he would win overall five stages later. It remains one of the most controversial incidents in recent Tour history, attacked and defended by equal numbers: Sean Kelly was disgusted with what he saw as a total lack of sportsmanship and Gerard Vroomen said that while Contador had gained a great chance to win, he'd lost his chance to win greatly; meanwhile, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain saw nothing wrong in what he'd done. Contador said that he hadn't realised Schleck was in trouble and apologised (but even those who want to believe him, this writer included, have difficulty accepting his claims: the video of the incident makes it look very unlikely that he didn't know). Schleck says that he accepts the explanation and the apology; they remain friends.

In the Leopard Trek kit
Four days after the 2010 Tour, Andy and Frank gave a press conference in which the announced they would be leaving CSC at the end of the season and would ride with a new Luxembourg-based team managed by Brian Nygaard and Kim Andersen. The team was to be called Leopard True Racing, but when the young Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang announced that he too would be joining, he revealed that it would be Leopard Trek. The announcement of Team Sky was one of the biggest things to ever hit British cycling, but the buzz surrounding Leopard Trek was worlwide and in a different league altogether and kept growing as some of the most popular and talented figures in professional cycling were confirmed for the squad, many of them asset-stripped from CSC; among them was Stuart O'Grady, Oliver Zaugg, Joost Posthuma, Wouter Weylandt, Brice Feillu, Maxime Monfort, Lunis Gerdemann, the legendary Fabian Cancellara and, perhaps most popular of all, Jens Voigt; thier combined UCI points made the team number one in the world before it even officially existed. They also took media-savviness to a whole new level, like a multi-platinum selling rock band making maximum and effective use of social network websites, their own excellently-designed site, TV and magazines. One of the most recognisable and stylish team kits, tour buses that looked like space shuttles, Mercedes team cars and the gorgeous Trek Madones the team rode were the icing on the cake - Leopard Trek meant business, and they had the talent and the budget to take on the world and win.

There are those who say that Leopard Trek never delivered what they promised, but that's just because many fans expected them to win everything. In fact they were highly successful during the single year for which the team existed with numerous victories in the one-day events and the stage races. One of the most impressive was Andy's spectacular Stage 18 triumph at the Tour, when he rode away from the peloton on the 2,645m Col du Galibier. Nobody could get anywhere near him that day and, once again, it looked as though the Tour was his. In the following stages, however, his avantage was gradually eroded and by the time the Stage 20 time trial came around, he had just 57" on second place Cadel Evans. He lost, and Evans because the first Australian to win a Tour.

In August 2011, Geox team manager Joxean Fernandez Matxin claimed on Twitter that he'd heard Leopard Trek and RadioShack were to merge for 2012, but few believed him and when officials from both teams denied it the story seemed dead in the water. Then, further information began to leak out - Leopard Trek's Brian Nygaard was apparently none the wiser, but there were persistent tales of mysterious meetings between Leopard owner Flavio Becca and RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel. Gazzetto dello Sport, the reliable Italian newspaper that owns the Giro d'Italia, said that it had received confirmation the new team would be called RadioShack-Trek; if that was a guess it was a good one, because when the team was confirmed it was RadioShack-Nissan Trek.

Andy follows Cadel on the Alpe d'Huez
Though Andy became the official winner of the 2010 Tour after Contador's controversial two-year ban in the wake of a failed anti-doping test (an honour he was reluctant to accept, having remained a steadfast supporter of the beleaguered Spanish rider throughout the long and drawn-out trial), 2012 didn't get off to a good start. His performances in the Classics was so poor that Bruyneel packed him and Frank off to an extra training camp. Frank then became a last-minute choice for the Giro after Fuglsang was injured; he abandoned with an injured shoulder but, for three weeks the spotlight was not on Andy, giving him excellent opportunity to train. Tour organisers announced that there would be more than 100km of time trials and less emphasis on the mountains, which in the opinion of many fans ruled him out of contention. However, sometimes - when he really needs to - Andy can ride time trials. He did so in Stage 19 at the 2010 Tour, looking for a while like he might even beat Contador (though ultimately, he didn't). The 2012 Tour, in which the mountains played less of a part than in previous years, was never going to be Andy's race and RadioShack's problems (Bruyneel was involved in the same legal case that saw Lance Armstrong lose his seven Tour victories, as outlined in the section on Bassons above) added to his woes, then a crash in the time trial during June's Critérium du Dauphiné left him with injuries that forced him to abandon that race and, a short while later, announce that he would not be riding in the Tour. Brother Frank did go to the Tour, but a failed doping test (and a subsequent one-year ban, declared when the court ruled he was unlikely to have deliberately doped) didn't help matters either.

In the first half of 2013 Schleck finished the Gran Premio Città di Camaiore, the first ProTour event he had completed in almost a year, but would abandon several more races - he failed to finish due to mechanical problems, illness or injury in the Tour Down Under (dropping out in the last stage when he was 40' behind leader Tom-Jelte Slagter of Blanco, it looked rather as though he'd have been in last place had he have finished), Tour of Oman, Tour Méditerranéen, Tirreno–Adriatico and the Amstel Gold Race. Results from races he did finish - 91st at the Città di Camaiore, 57th at the Critérium International, 86th at La Flèche Wallonne and 46th at Liège–Bastogne–Liège - were far from promising, with only 25th at the Tour of California hinting that there was any of the talent he'd once shown left.

So - what happened to Andy Schleck? Is he finished? Only time will tell - Andy was such a prodigious talent that he became a household name (even among some non-cycling households) at an age when most riders are still anonymous domestiques and for that reason it's very easy to forget how young he is: in 2013 he will turn 28, the age that throughout the history of the sport has seen many riders begin the best years of their careers. Perhaps age will bring with it a new toughness, a greater ability to deal with the pain, brutality and cruelty of professional cycling and professional cyclists, and perhaps Andy will win a Tour by his own merits after all.

On this day in 1899, 44-year-old composer Ernest Chausson lost control of his bicycle while riding down a hill on his estate in Limay, Yvelines, crashed into a wall and died instantly. Chausson's father made his fortune working with Baron Haussmann, whose 1850s redevelopment of Paris gave us much of the grand architecture that is familiar to cycling fans from the last stage of the Tour de France as it rolls along the Champs-Élysées each year. He was buried in the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, not far from the graves of Albert Champion (who won Paris-Roubaix the same year Chausson died and set up the Champion spark plug firm), Laurent Fignon (winner of two Tours and one Giro) and Félix François Faure, who was president of France from 1895-1899 and whose determination to see the Dreyfus Affair permanently declared res judicata indirectly gave rise to the events that led to the creation of the Tour de France.

Other cyclists born on this day: Alois Wacha (Austria, 1888); Donna Gould (Australia, 1966); Natsue Seki (Japan, 1966); Lucien De Brauwere (Belgium, 1951); Nico de Jong (Netherlands, 1887, died 1966); Carlo Bomans (Belgium, 1963); Luigi Roncaglia (Italy, 1943).

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Daily Cycling Facts 09.06.2013

The tenth edition of La Flèche Wallonne was held on this day in 1946. Having been run on shorter parcours during the Second World War, it was increased to 253km between Mons and Liège and was won by Désiré Keteleer who had twenty seasons as a professional rider between 1942 and 1961.

Luis Ocaña
Luis Ocaña (image c/o Granny Gear Blog)
Jesús Luis Ocaña Pernía was born in Priego, Spain, on this day in 1945, but moved to Mont-de-Marsan in France with his family when he was twelve and joined the local club. He showed some promise, but not enough to suggest he'd ever be anything more than a talented amateur and it took him until 1968 to get his first professional contract with the Spanish team Fagor. That very year, he won his first National Championship and even got a couple of good results in his first Grand Tours, finishing second on Stage 8 at the Vuelta a Espana and second again on Stage 19 at the Giro d'Italia. The year after that he won the Grand Prix du Midi Libre, the Vuelta a La Rioja, the Setmana Catalana de Ciclisme and three stages, the King of the Mountains and second place overall at the Vuelta a Espana; now, those French teams he'd been trying to join when he was an amateur couldn't get to his door quickly enough - he chose Bic, where he rode alongside Jan Janssen (who, in 1968, had been the first Dutch rider to win the Tour de France), Michael Wright (the Bishop's Stortford-born cyclist who was raised in Belgium and spoke such bad English that few people realised he was English) and Johny Schleck (father to Frank and Andy).

Ocaña entered his fifth Grand Tour with Bic, the 1970 Vuelta a Espana, and spent much of the race locking horns with Agustín Tamames of Werner. He won the prologue, then set about making sure the yellow jersey (nowadays, the leader of the Vuelta wears a red jersey - but that's only been the case since 2010. From 1998, it was gold; from 1955-1997 it was yellow and it had varied between white, orange and white with a red stripe before that) remained his. In Stage 13, Tamames took it; those who had followed their careers knew that Ocaña was likely to have little difficulty in getting it back when the race reached Bilbao for the the final stage, a time trial, and they were right - Ocaña screamed around the parcours and beat Tamames by 1'28". The race - the only Vuelta he won - was his, and the Spanish press called him "the best time-trialist that Spanish cycling has ever had, and the best cyclist of the moment." They, meanwhile, were wrong; because a rider from the other end of Europe, one who had already won two Grand Tours and was about to win another, and stood on the very cusp of revealing himself to be the most phenomenally talented rider cycling has ever known.

Had the pinnacle of his career come just a few years earlier or later, and had he have had just a little more luck, Ocaña would almost certainly have earned himself a place among the greatest ever Tour champions with three and possibly more victories. As it happened, he faced an insurmountable hurdle - Eddy Merckx. Merckx had sufficient respect for Ocaña for the two to become rivals (very few riders were that good, most were just people that Merckx saw briefly at the start of a race) and on a good day, the Spaniard was even capable of gaining the upper hand; but Merckx was simply in a different category to anything the cycling world had ever seen before. At the 1970 Tour, Ocaña performed exceptionally well and won a superb Stage 17 victory on the 1,464m Puy de Dôme, the Massif Central volcano that hosted some of the most dramatic moments in Tour history and is still missed since the roads were declared too narrow for future use after 1988; but Merckx, who was so powerful that he could set his sights on stage wins and General Classifications, won eight stages and overall.

Col de Menté, 1971 - the crash that could so
easily have killed
Merckx won the Critérium du Dauphiné in 1971, instantly making himself favourite for the Tour, but the Spanish remained hopeful that now he knew what he was up against Ocaña would find a way to respond. As he climbed towards the finish of Stage 8, once again on the Puy de Dôme, it looked as though he had and when he crossed the line he'd gained 15"; and then he added to it as the Tour headed through the mountains of the next three stages. By the end of Stage 11, which he won, he had the yellow jersey and an eight minute advantage over the Belgian (Merckx had been too slow off the mark when his rival attacked with Gosta Pettersen, Joaquim Agostinho and Zoetemelk - he begged the peloton to help him chase them down, but they were rather enjoying seeing the Cannibal in difficulty for once and refused). Merckx wasted no time at all in getting to work clawing it back, but in the end Fate stepped in. As they descended the Col de Menté in Stage 14, Merckx - who feared nothing - launched a savage attack, plummeting down the mountain at a rate that turned out to be too fast even for him: his tyres lost their grip and he slewed straight into a wall. Ocaña slammed on his brakes but, having been trying to stay as close as possible, was not able to stop in time and collided with him. Merckx was fine; back on his feet in seconds he was soon speeding away down the mountain. Ocaña had difficulty releasing himself from his toe clips but was also on his feet moments later, but had to wait while his wheel was replaced. As a result, he was right in the path of Joop Zoetemelk when he too lost control and smashed into him at full speed, followed by Agostinho and another rider. His Tour ended there as he was rushed by helicopter to hospital and Merckx became race leader - though he refused to wear the yellow jersey as a sign of respect the next day.

The next year Ocaña won the Dauphiné (and a second National Championship), but once Merckx announced that he would ride (he originally said he wouldn't, because he'd already won three times and he wanted to concentrate on winning a third Giro and a first Vuelta, but then changed his mind and dropped the Vuelta after hearing claims that he wouldn't have won in 1971 had it not have been for Ocaña's misfortune) it was the Belgian who was favourite. Ocaña attacked again and again, then abandoned with bronchitis in the Pyrenees. In 1973, Merckx stuck to his plans and stayed away from the Tour, but since Ocaña had only finished one of the four Tours he'd previously entered Raymond Poulidor, José Manuel Fuente and Zoetemelk were the favourites (not least of all because Merckx said they were). The race didn't get off to a promising start: he crashed in the prologue when a dog ran out of the crowd and into the peloton, but during Stage 3 when the Tour made one of its periodic visits to Roubaix to pay homage to the Hell of the North he gathered four of his Bic team mates, recruited six other riders from other teams and set off in a break that, for a while, had an advantage of five minutes. By the end of the stage the peloton had reduced it to around two and a half, but what really mattered was that Fuente was a full seven minutes down. Poulidor and Zoetemalk were closer, but all the same - one down, two to go.

Ocaña was always a good climber and had proved that the mountains were the one place where he surpassed Merckx, so it was there that he began his campaign, starting with Stage 5 but concentrating on gaining time rather than winning the stage; Walter Godefroot took the top step on the podium that day. He did the same on Stage 6, where Jean-Pierre Danguillaume won. Stage 7 was split into two sections, the first 86.5km and the second 150.5km. Ocaña won the first and took the yellow jersey, but then Bernard Thévenet won the second and, all of a sudden, Ocaña had three rivals for the General Classification again; but on Stage 8 he attacked on the Col du Télégraphe, led the race over the Galibier and won the stage, finishing up with an advantage of nine minutes over Fuente, ten over Thévenet and a crushing 23 over Zoetemelk. As far as many people are concerned, he'd already won by this point. However, cycling is a strange, unpredictable and dangerous sport, something that Ocaña understood very well after the 1972 crash and he knew he couldn't rest on his laurels - especially as Fuente was promising to get his revenge in the Pyrenees, which are a very different range of mountains to the Alps. On his side was the fact that there were still three individual time trials to go, two of which he won. Another two mountain stage victories, one of them on his old friend the Puy de Dôme, sealed the deal and his Tour was won. It's a great shame, and indication of how cruel cycling can be, that he was never allowed to forget that he'd done it in the year that Merckx stayed away. Sadly, it's also true that he probably wouldn't have won had it have been otherwise. He didn't ride the Tour in 1974 due to an injury, then returned in 1975 but abandoned in Stage 13. In 1976 he was 14th, then the following year 25th. Realising that he was fading, he retired.

The memorial (image c/o Lost Boys 2010)
Sadly, retirement was not kind to Ocaña. He owned a vineyard but it didn't do well and he was soon in grave financial difficulties, despite help from what for many people was an unexpected source - Eddy Merckx who, despite his Cannibal image, could show deep concern for a fellow rider and used his contacts to persuade a Belgian importer to purchase a considerable portion of estate's output. Things would get worse: he was involved in two serious car accidents, losing so much blood in one of them that he needed a blood transfusion which went wrong, leaving him very ill. Then he began to develop clinical depression, which proved to be too much stress for his wife Josiane and she left him; and as if he hadn't been through enough already he was diagnosed first with hepatitis C, then with cancer. On the 19th of May 1994, when he was 48 years old, he used a gun to commit suicide. A memorial stone stands on the Col de Menté, right where he crashed in 1971, and cyclists from all around the world go there to pay their respects to one of the most tragic characters the sport has ever known.

Josephine Tomic
Born in Perth on this day in 1989, Josie Tomic is one of Australian cycling's great natural talents - having taken up road racing at the age of 14, she was riding for her country at the Oceania Championships only a year later. That same year, she became National Under-17 Pursuit Champion, won the New Zealand Oceania Tour and took bronze medals in the National U-17 Road Race and Time Trial finals.

Josie Tomic
In 2005, Tomic became National U-17 Champion in Individual Pursuit, 500 m TT, Team Sprint, Duo Time Trial  and road Time Trial, took a silver medal in the National Criterium Championships and another bronze in the National Road Race. In 2006 and 2007, she won four Junior and U-19 National titles (setting a new Junior Individual Pursuit world record in the process) and in 2008 she became National Individual Pursuit Champion. 2009 brought her three gold medals at the Nationals,  two more at the Oceania Championships and the Omnium World Champion title; then in 2010 she was selected for the teams that won gold at the Track World Cup in Melbourne Round, the Oceania Track Championships, the Australian Track Championships and Track World Championships, also winning the U-19 Individual Pursuit and Points race at the Nationals. The 2011 Nationals saw her win three more gold medals; excellent results in 2012 including a bronze medal for the the Pursuit and gold for the Team Pursuit at the Nationals and a silver for the Team Pursuit at the Worlds in 2012 earned her the leadership role in Australian Women's Team Pursuit squad at the London Olympics and made her very much one of the riders to watch - the team was fourth behind Canada (bronze), the USA (silver) and Great Britain (gold).

Alex Rasmussen
Rasmussen has also ridden for SaxoBank
Alex Nicki Rasmussen, who is not related to Michael Rasmussen but is the son of Danish amateur track champion Claus Rasmussen, was born in Svendborg, Denmark on this day in 1987. He followed his father into track cycling but achieved much more, winning numerous professional victories on the track including six consecutive National Madison Championships, and enjoyed success on the road including the 2007 National Championship.

On the 15th of September 2011, news broke that Rasmussen had failed to supply anti-doping officials with correct details of his whereabouts; as a result missing a test. His road race team, HTC-Highroad, was then informed that he had missed two others during the preceding eighteen months which, under WADA rules, is punishable by a two-year suspension. The team (which for many years had been famous for its anti-doping policies, which went beyond what was legally required) suspended him immediately, then he was deselected from the Danish World Championships and warned that he was likely to face legal prosecution. Highroad was at the time going through financial problems (ironically because sponsors had pulled out due to not wishing to be associated with what they saw as a "druggy sport" and which would ultimately cause the team to close at the end of the year), which had led manager Bob Stapleton to inform his riders that they might want to look for new teams during transfer season - Rasmussen had done so and been offered a contract with Garmin-Cervelo. That contract was torn up.

However, the Union Cyclist International failed to notify the rider that he'd missed a test until ten weeks after the incident; by their own rules and those of WADA, they must do so within fourteen days. As a result, Rasmussen was cleared and Garmin, who became Garmin-Barracuda for the 2012 season, once again signed him up - but then the UCI successfully appealed to the Court for Arbitration in Sport and, in April that year, Rasmussen was banned for 18 months and was sacked from the team. The ban was backdated, meaning that he became free to seek a new contract in April 2013; in late March it was announced that his old team, now renamed Garmin-Sharp, had made him an offer and that he would be returning to them. On the 22nd of May he achieved his first post-suspension victory when he won Stage 1 at the Bayern Rundfahrt.

Anthony Geslin
Geslin at the 2008 Vuelta a Espana
Anthony Geslin, born in Alençon (also the hometown of the legendary mountain biker and cyclo cross rider Laurence Leboucher) on this day in 1980. He was taken on by Bonjour for a two-year period as a trainee in 2000 and immediately began to get himself onto podiums, including a second place finish for Stage 5 at the Tour de l'Avenir in 2001 which got him a professional contract with the same squad in 2002, when he was second in Stage 4 at l'Avenir. In 2003, Bonjour became Brioches La Boulangère and Geslin won the Criterium des Espoirs, then rode with them in his first Tour de France where his results were not stellar, but promising: he finished in the top 25 three times, but more importantly he survived through all 3,427.5km the race. The following year he won just one race, the Route Adélie de Vitré; but in 2005 it became clear that the reason for that was he'd found his speciality and had spent the year transforming himself into a sprinter - returning to the Tour, he was eighth on Stage 3 and sixth on Stages 13 and 16.

Many of the true greats from cycling history are notable in that they excel in two or more areas, for an example an ability to both climb and descend, sprint and time trial, win on the flat stages and in the hills; this being why ultra-specialised riders such as Mark Cavenish will never win a Tour and why some riders win Tours - like Charly Gaul, who descended as well as he climbed and also had an ability (natural, though undoubtedly helped by vast amounts of amphetamines) to withstand pain and suffering far in excess of most human beings - but are greater than others who have won Tours  and why a tiny minority of riders who are so phenomenally good at everything, a category into which at present perhaps only Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Marianne Vos can be placed, are the greatest of them all. Geslin had a near unique bonus power to his skills in the sprint, and that was that he could also climb: as he proved by winning the Trophée des Grimpeurs in 2007 and the tough Brabantse Pijl with its repeated slogs up high-gradient hills in 2009. For that reason, it seems strange that Geslin did not achieve a great deal more.

An Van Rie, who was born in Menen on this day in 1974, was Belgian Time Trial Champion in 2006, 2007 and 2008. She also rode well in criterium races with numerous victories over the same time period, during which she rode first with Lotto-Belisol, then AA and finally Vrienden van het Platteland.

Sinead Emily Miller was born in South Park, Pennsylvania on this day in 1990, began racing BMX when she was five years old and rose to the top levels of the sport during pre-teen childhood, earning a place on a series of professional teams. Aged 10, she took up road cycling and soon discovered that she enjoyed it, then soon afterwards that she was very good at it, so she entered some races, winning the National Junior Criterium Championship in 2004. It would be the first of many; as a result she was selected to ride for the US team at the Junior Championships in 2006 and 2007. Currently, Miller is studying at Marian University in Indianapolis, where she rides for the cycling team and has attained several good results so far in 2012.

Other cyclists born on this day: Petr Bucháček (Czechoslovakia, 1948); Ilya Chernyshov (USSR, 1985); Gonzalo García (Argentina, 1976); Paul Espeit (France, 1878, died 1960); János Juszkó (Hungary, 1939); Skip Cutting (USA, 1946).