Sunday 17 August 2014

Daily Cycling Facts 17.08.2014

Filippo Simeoni
Filippo Simeoni
Born in Desio on this day in 1971, Filippo Simeoni was taken on as a trainee by Carrera Jeans-Tassoni in 1994 and showed sufficient promise to receive a professional contract the following year, then spent all but twp of the next fourteen series riding for a sucession of Italian teams (in 2005, he raced for Swiss-based Naturino-Sapore di Mare, the team relocated to Italy in 2006; in 2008 for Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce who, for that one year, were based in Ireland before they too relocated to Italy). During that time, he became known as a super-domestique, a rider who could chase down attacks and still deliver his team leader to the best spot to win a race, but also one who could take a few victories of his own when given opportunity to do so. His best results were his two stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana; one in 2001 and one in 2003, and he also became Italian Road Race Champion in 2008, the year before he retired.

Simeoni's palmares, if we are truthful, is not especially impressive - despite a long career, he achieved just eight victories as a professional and his best Grand Tour result was 55th overall at the 1998 Tour de France. However, he was a character and is fondly remembered for his occasionally rebellious nature: when he won his first Vuelta stage, he stopped shortly before the finish line and walked across holding his bike above his head. Many interpreted this as an ungracious act designed to show rivals that he could still win even if he walked, others said that he was trying to show that the bicycle, rather than the rider, is the most important part of a race. Simeoni himself said that he had intended it to be a tribute to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which had taken place sixteen days earlier. Nevertheless, the UCI fined him.

Later, he became involved in a long-running battle with Lance Armstrong. Simeoni was caught out by a doping control in 2001 and received a relatively short ban after wisely deciding that the best way forward was to co-operate with the investigation and make a full confession; and with cycling finally waking up in the wake of the Festina Affair to how serious a problem doping had become and following a number of deaths attributed to EPO, Simeoni's testimony would rock cycling - especially when he stated that he had been prescribed EPO and growth hormones by the highly-respected sports doctor Michele Ferrari in 1996 and 1997. Dr. Ferrari's highest-profile client was Armstrong, who publicly called Simeoni a liar in an article published by Le Monde in 2003. Armstrong had become a little too used to those he saw as his enemies backing down the moment he called them out by that time, but Simeoni was made of sterner stuff - he launched a defamation suit, seeking to sue for €100,000 and stating that any money awarded to him would be donated to charitable causes (the case would later be dropped, however). During Stage 18 at the Tour the following year, Simeoni bridged to a six-strong breakaway group. Though neither he nor any other member of the group posed any threat to Armstrong's lead, the American went after him, which in turn forced US Postal's rivals T-Mobile to respond and destroyed any chance the riders in the break had of winning the stage. They begged Armstrong to return to the peloton and let them have their opportunity to shine, an opportunity offered to the best of the non-GC contenders in any Tour, but he would not. Eventually, Simeoni buckled under the pressure and dropped back to the main group where he was met with a barrage of abuse from several riders who had allied themselves with Armstrong, among them Danielle Nardello, Filippo Pozzato and Andrea Peron.

Traditionally, riders do not compete with one another until the sprinters try to be first to the finish line during the final stage of the Tour; instead, they pose for the press and the leader basks in his hard-earned glory. Simeoni's rebelliousness once again came to the fore, because he wanted to show that he was not cowed by Armstrong's bullying tactics, and he attacked the leader time and time again. Each time, US Postal chased him down and brought him back; and each time Simeoni was subjected to more abuse and, shamefully, a barrage of spit from several riders. It was not one of professional cycling's finest moments.

In time, it would become apparent that Armstrong had made a serious mistake - Simeoni was still a prosecution witness in an investigation into Dr. Ferrari at the time of the 2004 Tour, and lawyers involved with the case felt that Armstrong's actions constituted witness intimidation. He was questioned over the incidents early the next year, but no further action was taken; then in December he was indicted and ordered to face charges of defamation dating from the 2003 Le Monde article. That case was also dropped, in April 2006. Armstrong escaped prosecution but, it seemed to many fans and other riders, by the narrowest of margins, and the Cult of Lance began to crumble. Finally, years later, Armstrong was found out: Simeoni's palmares might not be particularly impressive, but his two Vuelta a Espana stages wins and the 2008 National Road Race Championship shine out; Armstrong, meanwhile, was stripped of all results gained since August 1999 and, without them, his palmares is little more extraordinary than Simeoni's.

Thomas Gascoyne
Thomas Gascoyne
Thomas Jepson Gascoyne - various known as Thomas Jeb Gascoyne, Thomas Jefferson Gascoyne or Thomas Mills - was born in Whittington, Derbyshire on this day in 1876 and became a cyclist in 1893. Three years later he made an attempt on the World 25-mile record, the first time he had ever attempted to beat a record greater than 10 miles, and did it in 57'18.4" - 1'43.2" faster than the previous holder's 59'01.6". According to contemporary reports, he was paced by a three-man tandem but overtook it because the combined effort of the riders was too slow for him.

Gascoyne would go on to set numerous other records, including the two miles on a tandem and the flying quarter mile. This led to widespread fame, and when he went to the USA in 1901 his arrival was reported by the New York Times, which seems to have been the first time he was called Thomas Jefferson Gascoyne. The newspaper stated that he had never been beaten in a pursuit race, and on the 20th of July he beat the famous "Major" Marshall Taylor twice in Boston. The following day, having first won a half-mile handicap, he took part in a pursuit without taking a rest break in between and was beaten for the first time.

For reasons unknown, Gascoyne chose to walk away from professional cycling a short while after his return to Europe and emigrated to Australia with a friend (also a cyclist) named Brown. Rather than continue making a living from their sport, they found badly-paid manual jobs and kept them for several years before entering amateur races under false names; Gascoyne became Thomas Mills and Brown became Atkinson. Neither man was race fit; however, Gascoyne's natural talent was sufficient that before too long rumours began to circulate and both men were forced to reveal their true identities - fortunately, the Australian public did not consider their actions dishonest, probably because they'd worked hard for little pay before returning to racing, and Gascoyne in particular became something of a hero.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Gascoyne enlisted in the Australian army and was posted to the trenches of West Flanders. He died there during the Battle of Passchendaele at Ypres on the 4th of October 1917, when he was 41. His body was not recovered and presumably lies where it fell, his memory is preserved at the Memin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres.

Phillip Lavery

Born in Dublin on this day in 1990, Phillip Lavery scored good results ever since he came second in the National Junior Road Race Championship in 2007. 2012, which he spent with the Node4-Giordana team, was the best of his career to date with victories at the GP Stephen Roche, the Shay Elliot Memorial, the Under-23 Nationals and a bronze at the Nationals in the Elite class, and he began 2013 as a guest rider with Team H&R Block from Canada.

From the 1st of August, having impressed with a stage win at the Tour de France Comté Cycliste, the silver medal in the Road Race at the Irish National Championships and a victory a La Chapelle-lès-Luxeuil, he moved to Pro Continental squad Cofidis with a trial contract. Cofidis believed it would be given a Pro licence for 2014, but did not receive one.

Unable to secure a place with a Pro team due to the large number of top-class riders then looking for contracts in the wake of the collapse of several teams, Lavery became disillusioned and decided that he - like the vast majority of cyclists that ever dare to dream of it - was not destined to make it as a professional. He sold his bikes and got a job, turning to running to maintain his fitness. Salvation came from an unexpected source - Azerbaijan, where David McQuaid, himself an Irishman, managed the Synergy Baku team that, in addition to several local riders, boasted a number of Australians and Irishmen Connor McConvey and Matt Brammeier on its roster. The team had started the year with no spare places, but one of the Australians, Will Walker, had been forced into early retirement due to a heart condition; McQuaid heard about Lavery and got in contact, offering him a place with the team.

Álvaro Pino, born in Ponteareas, Spain on this day in 1956, is a rider who is chiefly famous for his success in the Vuelta a Espana - he was 22nd in 1981, tenth in 1982, fourth in 1983, eighth in 1985 and 1988 and fifth in 1989. His best result - and the race for which he is best remembered - was the 1986 Vuelta, which he won against the favourites Laurent Fignon of France, Sean Kelly of Ireland and Robert Millar of Scotland.

Magali le Floc'h, born in France on this day in 1975, won some 28 races during her long career from 1994 to 2008. She was National Road Race Champion in 2002 and 2005 and won the Coupe de France in 2001, 2005 and 2008.

Massimo Strazzer, born in Italy in this day in 1969, managed numerous podium stage finishes at the Giro d'Italia and, in 2001, won the Points competition.

Other cyclists born on this day: Sin Dae-Cheol (South Korea, 1959); Rinus Paul (Netherlands, 1941); Roland Zöffel (Switzerland, 1938); Julio Rubiano (Colombia, 1953); Algis Oleknavicius (West Germany, 1947); Les Ingman (Great Britain, 1927, died 1990); Jean Bourlès (France, 1930); Bojan Ropret (Yugoslavia, 1952); George Cameron (USA, 1881, died 1968); Carl Naibo (France, 1982); Kenneth Røpke (Denmark, 1965); Michael Hepburn (Australia, 1991).

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