Tuesday 20 May 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 20.05.2014

The Giro d'Italia started on this day six times: 19611967, 1968, 1971, 1977 and 1978. Jacques Anquetil, who had become the first Frenchman to win a Giro the year before, went to the race as the favourite in 1961; but he faced stiff competition from Arnaldo Pambianco who had finished in 7th place at the 1960 Tour de France. He fought hard to leave him behind and took the General Classification leadership in Stage 10 but, somehow, Pambianco stayed with him all the way until Stage 14 - where the Italian dropped him on the Passo del Magulione. From that point onwards, the tables were turned and Anquetil never got a look in, taking second place after 21 stages and 4,002km with a 3'45" deficit on Pambianco's time of 111h25'28".

Anquetil was widely expected to win 1967, too; especially since Italy's best hope Felice Gimondi was racked with bronchitis on the start line - and the tifosi all but forgot their dreams as he failed to keep up with the high pace in the first few stages. Yet, he kept going and in time began to feel a little better, then won Stage 19. - although there had been such blatant, widespread cheating with fans pushing the Italian riders (including Gimondi) up the mountains that even the notoriously patriotic judges agreed they would have to disallow the results and annul the stage. Realising, perhaps, that he now had a serious rival, Anquetil pulled out all the stops the next day and took over the General Classification. Now, however, Gimondi was fully recovered and determined to win; with superhuman effort, he clawed his way to the top and took the leadership, then retained it to overall victory three stages later in Milan, 3,572km from the start line. For the first time that year, the leader of the Points competition was awarded a red jersey. It was a change that can be seen as symbolic of greater changes in cycling, because a new era was just beginning - both Anquetil and Gimondi couldn't fail to notice that two of the 23  stages and 9th place overall had gone to a rider who was taking part for the very first time that year, a young Belgian named Eddy Merckx.

Gösta Pettersson, the only Swede to
have won a Giro
Gimondi would play an instrumental part in the outcome of the 1971 - but not in the way he'd hoped. Looking to win Stage 18, he teamed up with Francisco Galdos, Herman can Springel and Gösta Pettersson to make a four-man break which successfully escaped the peloton and led the race to the finish line, where he won the stage. Unfortunately for him, the plan had worked better than he thought - they finished so quickly that Petterson moved into the General Classification lead, followed by van Springel in second place. So great was their unexpected advantage that they remained thus through to the end when, after 23 stages and 3,567km, Petterson became the first 9and at the time of writing, only) Swedish rider to win a Giro. Gimondi was 7th.

1977 saw the Belgian Freddy Maertens lead the General Classification for the first six stages and win seven in total, which some fans (especially Belgian ones) apparently considered a more impressive achievement than the overall victory - he'd almost certainly have won the Points competition as a result, but a crash 100m from the finish line in Stage 8b forced him to abandon. Francesco Moser was a favourite for the GC and his success seemed all but inevitable after he took the race leadership in Stage 5 and kept it until Stage 17, when Michel Pollentier (another Belgian) wrested it away from him. However, Italy didn't worry unduly: the 29km time trial at Binago (Stage 21) may as well have been specifically in order that Moser could thrash his rivals, so ideally did the parcours suit his skills. Everybody knew that he was going to win it by an enormous margin. Of course, irony stepped in at this point and saw to it that it was in fact Pollentier who won the stage, and the General Classification. One year later, Pollentier's reputation and career were in tatters after he became the second rider to be caught using a pipe connected to a condom containing somebody else's urine that he had hidden under his armpit, which allowed him to produce a sample of "clean" urine at the anti-doping control (he was caught through sheer bad luck, in fact: the rider just before him had an identical system, but it became blocked, possibly as a result of sabotage, and the doctor, having spotted the pipe as he fiddled with it, demanded that Pollentier pull up his jersey to see if he had one too), so we can probably assume that irony was not the only factor in his time trial win. It's perhaps not quite as unfair as it first seems, meanwhile - if Moser was riding clean that day, it was probably the only race of his professional career in which he did so.

Felice Gimondi was still racing in 1978, though it would be his final Giro - now 36 years old, his 11th place overall was very respectable. The Belgian Rik van Linden held the General Classification leadership through Stages 1 and 2, fighting off savage attacks from Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni. However, in Stage 3 he lost it to another Belgian, Johan de Muynck, who then defended it all the way through the remaining 18 stages and finished the race with a time of 101h31'22" - 59" faster than second place Gianbattista Baronchelli.

Isaac Gálvez
Road and track cyclist Isaac Gálvez, who was born in Vilanova i la Geltrú, Spain on this day in 1975, was twice World Madison Champion(1999 and 2006) and won numerous stages in road races including the Volta a Catalunya and Critérium International.

During the Six Days of Ghent in 2006, Gálvez was involved in a collision with the Belgian rider Dimitri de Fauw which sent him into the railings, hitting them hard enough to suffer massive internal bleeding that killed him early the next day. He was 31 and had been married for three weeks. Following his death, de Fauw suffered deep depression and, three weeks before the second anniversary of the incident, committed suicide.

Chris Froome
Born in Nairobi, Kenya on this day in 1985, Chris Froome moved to South Africa as a teenager and became interested in mountain biking, then road racing and began to show talent as a climber and time trial rider which led to his selection for the Kenyan team at the 2006 World Championships (where he got himself known by colliding with a UCI course official). He turned professional with the South Africa-registered Team Konica Minolta a year later but was then invited to join Barloworld in 2008, racing with a British licence as his father was born in Britain. With them, he entered his first Tour de France in 2009 and came 84th overall but 12th in the Youth Classification, indication that he had great potential, then in 2009 he was 36th overall and 7th in the Youth at the Giro d'Italia. Froome was one of the first riders to be announced for the new Team Sky in 2009 - he is still with them at the time of writing.

Chris Froome
In the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, Froome was selected by the team to act as a domestique for Bradley Wiggins and did an admirable job in assisting his leader to 4th place in Stage 9. The next day, meanwhile, he completely out-rode Wiggins in the time trial, finishing the stage in 2nd place behind Tony Martin. Over the next few stages he was notably weaker and concentrated on his domestique duties until Stage 15, which featured an ascent of Alto de l'Angliru - a mountain so steep that in the past team cars have been unable to follow their riders to the summit. After Stage 10, he'd taken 2nd place in the General Classification; this time he was the second fastest up the mountain behind Juan José Cobo - and while he got to the top 48" after Cobo, it was good enough to keep his GC place. Stage 17 featured a summit finish on top of Peña Cabarga, a far less daunting climb than Angliru but a tough one nevertheless and one that Cobo was expected to win with ease. 1km from the finish line, Froome attacked - Cobo was on his case immediately and got in front of him with 300m to go, apparently securing the win. However, Froome hung on, refusing to let go of his rival's back wheel and then, when Cobo looked around to see if he'd shaken him off yet, he sneaked past on the other side and put the power down, winning the stage by 1". With the bonuses awarded, Cobo's overall lead was reduced to 13". By keeping himself out of danger and continuing to ride well in the next stages, he was able to keep 2nd place in the General Classification through to the end of the race four days later - and thus equalled Robert Millar's best ever finish by a British rider in a Grand Tour.

In 2012, 75 years after Charles Holland and Bill Burl had been the first British riders to take part, Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win. Froome, who had won Stage 7 (one of seven stages won by British riders, more than any other nation), took second place with an overall time 3'21" slower, leading to an interesting situation: Wiggins is a remarkably talented all-rounder who can win a Grand Tour through his time trial abilities, but most Grand Tours are won not in time trials but in the mountains - and Froome appears to be a better climber than Wiggins. Who, then, would lead Sky at the 2013 Grand Tours? Wiggins was chosen to be team leader at the Giro, but a few weeks before Froome's birthday team managers seem not yet to have decided who will lead at the Tour.

Giovanni Gerbi
Giovanni Gerbi, winner of the first Giro di Lombardia, was born in Piedmont on this day in 1885. Always racing in a red jersey and his dare-devil attitude earned him the nickname Il Diavolo Rosso. Considered one of the pioneers of Italian competitive cycling, he bought his first bike in 1900 with money he'd earned doing odd jobs and that very same year finished his first three races in third place, then won his fourth - the 95km, now long-defunct Asti-Moncalieri. Realising he could make a living on the bike, he moved to Milan and began racing against the likes of Carlo Galetti, who would win the second and third editions of the Giro d'Italia, supporting himself by working as a baker until 1902 when he won the amateur Coppa del Re and received an invitation to turn professional with Maino.

After winning Milan-Turin in 1903, Gerbi entered the second ever Tour de France but was one of the many riders who failed to finish. He also rode the first Giro d'Italia in 1909, but abandoned after a crash in the early stages left with an insurmountable disadvantage. He entered again in 1920, but was disqualified for riding a bike with - of all things - a sidecar attached to it.

A few years after his retirement, Gerbi returned in veteran competition and continued winning races, including two editions of La Coppa Guerra, and set a veteran's hour record at the Vigorelli velodrome. According to legend, he was once mistaken during a race for the real devil by a priest.

Laurent Dufaux
Laurent Dufaux, born in Montreux, Switzerland on this day in 1969, became National Road Race Champion in 1991won the Critérium du Dauphiné in 1993 and 1994, was twice fourth overall at the Tour de France (1996 and 1999, he was also ninth overall in 1997) and second overall at the 1996 Vuelta a Espana.

Noted as an excellent climber, Dufaux rode alongside Richard Virenque with Festina; the two men forming a highly-effective partnership in the high mountains of the Grand Tours. He doped alongside Virenque, too, but whereas Virenque first denied the charges and then tearfully blamed everyone and everything but himself, Dufaux had the good sense to know when the game was up and confessed to using EPO. As a result, Virenque's case span out for more than two years until he was eventually banned, fined and then had enormous difficulty in finding a team that would have anything to do with him (Domo-Farm Frites would, but only when Eddy Merckx promised to provide a big chunk of cash towards his keep), whereas Dufaux served a relatively light six-month suspension and was racing with Saeco early in the following season.

Katie Cullen, born in Edinburgh on this day in 1977, had no interest in cycling until she was assigned the task of producing a velodrome blueprint while she studied for her architecture degree. Visiting the example in Manchester to investigate which features a velodrome should have, she found that she was becoming fascinated  by the racing - and became hooked when she was given a chance to ride around the track. In 2005, she won the first of her four National Championship titles.

Other births: Marco van der Hulst (Netherlands, 1963); Michael Allen (USA, 1935); Armando Latini (Italy, 1913); Robert Karśnicki (Poland, 1972); Gintautas Umaras (USSR, 1963); Robert Bouloux (France*, 1947); Norman Webster (Canada, 1896, died 1967); Noé Medina (Ecuador, 1943); Andreas Walzer (Germany, 1970); René Bianchi (France, 1934); Wiesław Podobas (Poland, 1936); Armando Castillo (Guatemala, 1932, died 2006); Lado Fumic (West Germany, 1976); Imants Bodnieks (USSR, 1941).

*Fortunately, for him. You would not want to go through the British school system with that surname.

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