Jan 31, 2008

Taking care of the boss

As you know, I enjoy writing about cyclists, but I want to share with you these great image's of an unsung hero ... the soigneur. This is Guillaume Michiels, taking care of his boss, Eddy Merckx. He was the ultimate servant, and made sure that Eddy was well looked after with; massage, a proper diet, motorcycle pacing, chauffeur to races and acting as a body guard. He took a role that only an select could do. Michiels, a former racer was really a domestique from 1959 to 1962 and served for many famous racers; Adoni, Bitossi, and Van Looy. He had a short, unremarkable cycling career but where he really shone was behind the limelight of 'the cannibal.' In 1962, he announced his retirement and went into the coffin making business settling in Brussels. He was soon known as, 'The Grave', and due to his reserved and aloof demeanor provided Merckx as his trustworthy confidant. The cannibal's success was not only supported by his indispensable teammates but in a rather large way by his devoted soigneur. "Loyalty and good performances were generously rewarded by Eddy," said Michiels.
Il était un soigneur extraordinaire.

Michiels, taking care of the boss, a 'grave' undertaking!
Photo's from, "Eddy Merckx."

Jan 28, 2008

Han's will have a drink of rrrrosso!

I talked to my friend, Hans, this morning. After reading my post on the Colnago Master X-Light he decided to order one! I should be so jealous, and in a way I was. The Master X-Light is like lusting after an exotic, beautiful woman from afar. So close yet so far away. Atleast, I will have a friend that has one and if I ask him nicely, I maybe able to touch it! Like all beautiful, handmade works of rolling art from Italy, it will take around 18 weeks for him to get it. Sounds like alot of time. But, all good things take time. And as he talks I'm slowly salivating. He's hit my Italian nerve, big time. I try to wipe my mouth, but it's too late for that. He'll be getting the X-Light with carbon fork with the Campy Chorus gruppo. And, for the icing on the cake, he's ordered the Saronni Rosso(by the way, folks that's red)! The true classic. And how appropriate!
One thing, Hans ... as soon as you get it, can I ride it?

From "Tour 86". Beppe punishing his rivals at the 1986 Giro on his beloved 'Master.'

Jan 26, 2008

The Ogre: Freddy Maertens rollercoaster ride.

"Ogre": A monster usually represented as a hideous giant who feeds on human flesh. Not a flattering nickname, but in this case, it's befitting of the great Belgian sprinter, Freddy Maertens.
He was one of my favorite sprinters and I always admire his tenacious ability to torch any rider when the last 100 metres came up. He was one of a handful of unlucky guys to challenge the 'Cannibal'. Merckx's historical 1969 Tour win placed him on the pedestal as the new Belgium cycling god. There was no room for any other stars. When De Valeminck won the 1969 national championship, he was treated to whistles because he took the spot reserved for Merckx. Maertens turned pro after the 1972 Olympics where he finished 13th. The young and talented Maertens pissed off the public by blaming Merckx for his defeat in the 1973 World Championship in Barcelona. Could it be a contest between Campagnolo and the up and coming, Shimano? "He must have decided that Gimondi would make a better winner. And that's simply because Felice Gimondi,
like Merckx, rode with Campagnolo. Shimano, for whom I was riding, was the up and coming rival of Campagnolo. Tullio Campagnolo called Walter Godefroot and passed on the message that under no circumstances was the world championship to be won by a Shimano rider", claimed Maertens.

During his first 3 pro seasons, he won an astounding 80 victories and everyone knew he had the talent to rival Merckx. Maertens had only one way to go, battle as Merckx does, like a cannibal. He did, and his palmares grew with big wins in: Gent-Wevelgem('75, '
76), Paris-Brussels('75), Paris-Tours('75), Amstel Gold Race('76), and Züri-Metzgete('76). In 1976, Maertens racked up 54 wins, and finished 8th in the Tour de France with 8 record equalling stage victories. He easily won the green jersey of best sprinter with his amazing first Tour appearance and showed that he was the time trial king by winning 3 out of 4 ITT stages. At the 1976 World's in Ostuni, Italy, he showed his classic sprint beating Francesco Moser.

He then crushed his opponents at the 1977 Vuelta by dominating, à la Merckx, winning the overall, points classification, and 13 out of 19 stages. That years Giro was his achilles' heel. He won 7 stages and looked towards the overall, but, a fall in the Mugello autodrome forced him out with a broken wrist. This was a precursor of the end to his career. Maertens achieved 53 victories that 1977 season, prompting Merckx to admit he was the strongest rider in the peloton. Then, his career went into a tailspin. Wins were few a far between. In 1978, he won only 18 races, but he did manage to win his 2nd green
jersey including two stage wins in the Tour. Incidentally, that Tour turned into a shocker with the Velda-Flandria team unravelling due to Michel Pollentier's expulsion from being caught trying to pass off someone else's urine as his own during a drug test.

Maertens fall was partly due to his fervent use of the 12 tooth sprocket. Surprisingly, he never had the problems normally associated with the abuse from it ... the tendinitis in his knees or Achilles tendon damage. Then he faded and suddenly resurfaced at the 1981 Tour, in true fashion. He literally came back as that monster from the dead. On the new Sunair-Sport 80-Colnago team he showed his old panache and once again, dominating the sprints, securing his 3rd green jersey, winning five stages including the final prestigious stage on the Champs-Élysées. For an encore, he won the big sprint and was victorious in Prague at the 1981 World Championship road race, outgunning Hinault and Saronni.
But it wasn't all rosy, his critics started to question his new found success and rumors were spreading through the cycling world. He was using drugs that could not be detected by the doping tests.
Some even said that his urine was poison green and he acted drunk racing. Constant doubt set in, his lingering wrist injury, pressures and stress brought his career to a slow end as he bounced around with lackluster teams finally retiring in 1987.

His autobiography was published, "Not from Hearsay", an account of how the jealous cycling world was pitted against him. He was convinced that certain envious persons, put a 'spell' on him, and as a result he had gone through treatment by ... exorcists. Only Freddy Maertens would know if this had purge any of his demons - we will never know. One thing we do know, that his dramatic roller coaster ride of a career certainly placed him as one of cyclings' greatest sprinters!

All photos from The Fabulous World of Cycling.

Jan 22, 2008

Will the lion rock?

It's official, flamboyant Mario Cipollini has come out of retirement and signed for the controversial American Rock Racing Team. The aging 40 year old sprint veteran will concentrate on the US races including the Tour of Georgia and February's Tour of California. And when his racing contract ends, he will take over as manager of the Monaco-based team in 2009. Troubles are already coming from the Rock camp of finding suitable equipment sponsors and Cipo has made it clear that he doesn't want certain riders on his team. We're talking Hamilton, Botero and Sevilla...the Puerto trio. Although, he has expressed high interest in having Ivan Basso on his 2009 team. But, to counter the uproar he will make a reported annual salary of around a million pounds. Will it be enough to make the lion king purr?

With the impending storm about to brew... atleast to help pay for his back taxes! 

Jan 20, 2008

Bauer's 88, his Tour success

Steve Bauer started 1988 well with a new team (Weinmann/La Suisse/SMM Uster), with notable placings in high profile races...Ghent Wevelgem(6th), Paris Roubiax(8th), Amstel Gold(6th), Tour de Suisse(2nd overall, 1 stage win), Tour de I'Oise(1st), Dauphiné Libèré(1 stage), Trophea Pantalica(1st), and Etoile de Bésseges(1 stage). With these encouraging results... his year was going well. Bauer missed that year's Giro, planning the precious few weeks to rest up for the upcoming Tour de France. 

He was coming off from a good 1987 season; with a stage win in the Criterium International, Giro d'Italia (10th overall, 2nd in the Prologue - 1 second behind Visentini.), but, finishing a disappointing 74th in the Tour. During that Tour, he caught a stomach bug but manage to claw his way back on the last stage into Paris, missing by a fraction of a second to catch stage winner, Jeff Pierce. Swiss coach Paul Köechil always believed in Bauer, and left Tapie's French La Vie Claire to form a Swiss based squad to help him achieve victory. Weinmann-La Suisse had a good team and included top Swiss rider's Nikki Ruttiman and the world champion, Pascal Richard. 

The Swiss team was given a rather pleasant surprise during the 1st stage, Pontchäteau-Machecoul, Bauer took the initiative and 7 miles from the finish took the catch sprint, the solo stage win and the yellow jersey! He was the second Canadian(Alex Steida in 1986) ever to wear the yellow jersey and the first to win a stage. Now, Bauer led the green and the combine jersey classifications. However, in the afternoon's time trial was won by Panasonic and the maillot jaune changed hands to Teun Van Vliet. The ever surprising Weinmann-La Suisse squad took second, only 24 seconds behind. Bauer had alot of fight in him and during stage 8, Reims-Nancy, recaptured the yellow jersey. He held on to it another 4 stages, right to the start of the monster stage 12, Morzine-L'Alpe D'Huez. The yellow jersey turns good riders to excellent ones and Bauer was no exception. He fought his way to the main bunch of chasers with Herrera, Theunisse, and Parra. Dutchman Steve Rooks would go on for the famous win, splendidly alone, in front of Theunisse and Delgado. And, Bauer would turn in an amazing 7th place beating mountain goats; Hampsten, Pino and Arroyo. 

On to Stage 13, the mountain time trial, Grenoble-Villard de Lans, (38km) was ridden over 3,000 ft. at 22 mph by Delgado in the winning time of 1hour 2 mins 24 secs. Bauer rode like a man posscessed, finished a brilliant 6th and leap frogged over Parra to 3rd overall. Then, scandal broke ... Pedro Delgado tested positive for probenecide, a masking agent for steroid use. Probenecide was banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but not yet by the Union Cycliste International(UCI). Though skepticism ensued, Delgado was the strongest and continued faithfully racing winning the 1988 Tour. Bauer led an outstanding Weinmann-La Suisse team(4th overall team classification) and with great panache finished in 4th overall, 1 stage win, 10th in points classification and 5 days in le maillot jaune.

Steve Bauer's performance was to say the very least ... golden!

Coming soon:  The darkside of the rainbow, part 5

All photos from "Tour 88".

Jan 18, 2008

Mario are you back?

Retired cycling star, Mario Cipollini "maybe" returning to the sport  for the American Rock Racing Team. Rumour has been flying since the reports of Super Mario and Rock Racing owner Michael Ball's meeting in Malibu.
Super Mario had quite a racing career racking up 42 Giro d'italia stage wins(a record), 12 Tour de France stage wins, victories in Milan-San Remo and Ghent-Wevelgem. To cap all his victories was the huge win in the 2002 Zolder World Road Championships. He never won the Tour's green jersey, just because he couldn't stomach the mountains. He angered Tour organisers, what became an annual joke, by slipping quietly away after the first week of sprints, then off to the Italian beaches to perfect his tan. He rode six Tours, never finishing any of them. But, for all his palmares, the ability as the talented showman craving the limelight  and gaining publicity shone through. Ball, the founder of Rock and Republic Jeans signed estranged riders, Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and  Santiago Botero, all linked to the Operación Puerto doping scandal. Just where would the 40 year old lion king fit in? Manager and rider was bandied about.  Interestingly, Cipollini was reported to owe Italian authorities back taxes of over $1 million euro. Authorities claim that during a two year period, he was based in Lucca, Italy. Cipollini claims he was in Monaco. 

And, with all the attention garnered ...  super Mario still has to be signed. 

Jan 16, 2008

Secret agent man

An interesting rider from the early days of cycling has an list of exceptional palmares, but with closer scrutiny I have discovered a man with an fascinating story. 
Paul Deman was a Belgium professional rider for 15 years from 1910-1925. During the first Tour of Flanders, held in 1913, he was included in a field of 37 riders. The course was long, 330 km long ending with 4 laps of the wooden track around a small pond at Mariakerke, the suburb of Ghent. One rider was so exhausted that he fell in the pond. And, 24 year old, carpet-maker Paul Deman was the winner. In 1914, Deman would be victorious once more in the gruelling 592 km Bordeaux-Paris road race.

As World War I arrived,  racing stopped and Deman traded his cycling jersey in for a military one. He became a courier for the intelligence services, carrying coded messages across the country hidden ... in a gold tooth. Shortly before the Armstice in 1918, he was caught on his 15th mission, and would have been shot had peace not been declared on the day of his execution. After the War, he returned back to the 'friendlier' confines of the cycling world ...  and in 1920 wins Paris-Roubaix.  He was first in front of the great Eugene Christophe and Lucien Buysse. Deman's last major victory was the 1923 Paris-Tours at the ripe old age of 34. 

Paul Deman was a true bona fide vanquisher both on and off the bike!

Jan 14, 2008

Painted black

I was happy to hear that the  2008 Giro d'Italia will welcome back "maglia nera," the black jersey honoring the rider who finishes last in the overall classification. It had a short past originating from 1946 to 1951. With the famous frame builder,  Giovanni Pinarello as the last 'winner.'  I'd love to see the black jersey, however, organisers  decided to use a white number on a black backdrop ("numero nero"). The UCI  (Union Cycliste Internationale),  limits the leaders' jerseys to 4, the Giro has already the rosa, ciclamino, bianca and verde. So be it.  As Giro director Angelo Zomegnan explains, "We wanted to offer attention for those who fight and struggle at the back of the classification." 
A special appreciation. Molto bravo Giro d'Italia!   

Jan 13, 2008

The bedouin, a Tour legend

The 1950 Tour de France marked the addition of the North African National Team. Abdel-Kader Zaaf, nicknamed 'the bedouin', was the Algerian leader and a very good rider. 
Zaaf had won the 1950 Tour of Morocco, ridden in the Tour of Switzerland and Tour de France. He rode for professional teams; Volta, Duralca, and Terrot-Wolber. During the sweltering, hot stage 13 from Perpignan to Nimes, the overheated peloton literally jumped into the Mediterranean at St. Tropez to cool off. Meanwhile, the two North Africans Zaaf and his fellow countryman Marcel Molines saw this as the opportunity and took off. They did well, at one point gaining 20 minutes on the surprised peloton and Zaaf was the maillot jaune on the road. Molines would go on to the win Africas first Tour stage. About 12 miles from Nimes, Zaaf cracked and passed out under a tree. He awoke before a startled crowd and a stunned Zaaf got back on his bike and rode... the wrong way. Officials placed him into an ambulance. This is where Tour legend has a way with perpetrating folk tales. Some of the stories speak of sunstroke, dehydration, confusion, drugs and been revived with red wine. 

I find it hard to believe that as a Muslim he would drink and allow himself to be intoxicated on red wine. In any case, he became an instant celebrity and his start money rose from 200 to 2,000 francs. Big money for that time. A year later, he would go on to ride and finish 66th and Lanterne rouge in the 1951 Tour. Then he vanished from cycling to return back to his native Algeria. 

Thirty years later, in January of 1982 he was discovered in Paris and he had quite a story to tell. One night a soldier knocked on his door in Algeria, demanding his papers. Zaaf refused and was shot in the leg. He was tossed in prison for two years, his leg left untreated, suspected of smuggling between Algeria and France. Most of what he had was gone except some money. He developed diabetes and came back to Paris for an eye operation. When fans learned of this, warming from his exploits from the Tour, sent him telegrams and money. Four years later, he died in Alger, Algeria, on September 27th, 1986 at 69 years old... a Tour legend!

Jan 9, 2008

Save this last dance for me, Madame De Kova.

During the early days of cycling, sponsorship came from some unlikely non-bicycling sources. Famous drink companies; Carpano, Martini, Pelforth, St. Raphaël, and Margnat were fronting some of the peloton's strongest teams. Cigarette companies, a Catholic radio station, a toothpaste producer, ice cream manufacturers were but just a few of the backers, however, one odd sponsor stood out. 
A Parisian night club entertainer, Myriam De Kova wanted to promote herself...as a dancer. She already proved a point with her pink jerseys. Her Greek millionaire husband died and De Kova had become a wealthy widow. Already in her 70's, the eccentric De Kova was introduced to the charismatic Raphaël Géminiani who persuaded her to form a team. Géminiani had a very good cycling career winning the Tour's mountain's jersey in '51, '52 and '57. However, his other success was selling cycling to the St. Raphaël apéritif company and thus introducing sponsorship. 

For the 1973 Tour de France, the De Kova-Lejeune team was formed under the leadership of former Tour winner, Lucien Aimar. Aimar was in his last professional season and at the ripe age of 32 wanted one last kick at the can. In fact, he rode in 9 Tours, finishing in 17th place - 3 times! The De Kova-Lejeune squad finished a dismal last during the team time trial stage and throughout the race, Aimar was left without strong support. At the end of this Tour, the last 5 places in the general classification was occupied by De Kova-Lejeune riders! Frenchman, Aimar would finish his last Tour in an honorable 17th place. His cycling career would end the same year and he would go on to become race organizer of the Tour de Méditerranéen. As for Myriam de Kova, due to the poor results in that tour she stopped financing the team and disappeared from the cycling world. 

This was her final performance on the cycling stage.

Jan 5, 2008

Proof is in the puncture, Mr. Paris-Roubaix.

We have all endured flat tires. I started with tubulars, and although I haven't raced in years, now ride with clinchers. I never did like repairing tubulars because it was so laborious. For a time I did repair them but I gradually threw them out and used brand new sew-ups for my under the saddle spare. A costly venture when tubulars cost more than clinchers.
Paris-Roubaix is the Queen of the Classics, and due to the cobblestones, ruts, and danger spots that lie in wait for the oncoming riders provide the dramatic backdrop for punctures. Most get them... without it martyrdom into Hell is not achieved. Manufacturers, Michelin and Continental developed better tires for the Hell of the North. They believed tires should be inflated less than normal. And tested 250 types of tires in 5 different weather conditions to get the perfect pressure. Four time record holder, Roger De Vlaeminck knew how to avoid them with his unparallel skill over the pavé. Mr. Paris-Roubaix was particularly adept at bike handling acquired in cyclo-cross races, and together with a heavy dose of cleverness, he floated over the cobbles. With the advice of tire experts, he purposely underinflated his tires with a pressure of 65 psi down from the typical 100 psi. Better for the tires not to get caught between the cobblestones thus reducing the risk of punctures. "Everytime I won Paris-Roubaix, I never flatted," said De Vlaeminck. Years ago, riders carried spare tires over their shoulders and much to their dismay repaired their own flats. Changing flat tires with cold, wet and frozen fingers upped the added stress level to the demoralize rider. It only added to the spectacle and made this race into an enduring spring classic. By 1965 organizers sanctioned wheel changes between team-mates, the allowance of team cars and motorcycles with spare wheels to follow close to the action. Early racers used bamboo front rims for it's resiliency. Also, hanging tires in the garage to dry out was another way to make them resistant to punctures.

Although, tubulars had a significant history in bicycle racing, clinchers had a small but prominent role. In 1997, little known Frenchman, Frédéric Guesdon of the France de Jeux Team, won Paris-Roubiax on clinchers. He outsprinted Belgium strongmen, Eddy Planckaert and 3 time winner, Johan Museeuw. Guesdon had added help and won under the keen guidance from his team director, 2 time winner, Marc Madiot.
He may be the only rider to win Paris-Roubaix with clinchers.

Jan 2, 2008

My latest print...

Happy New Year to all! 
With it I would like to present my latest print entitled, "zone de revaitaillement." This is the feed zone where the riders have a designated area, usually half way through the days route, to eat. It's simple and goes like this... Soigneurs are at the feed zone about an hour ahead of the riders. They assemble the contents of each musette bag which consists of bottles, one of carbohydrate and one with a tonic. Also included,  a half a banana, a energy bar and carbohydrate gell, that's close to 200 calories. And according to each rider's preference, a little bit of bread and banana or baked goods like a apple tart can be found in the musette. This can amount to almost 1000 calories, half the daily intake for a nonrider. During the Tour, a team can use up to 3000 water bottles. Every rider is responsible for his musette, no domestique service here. However, there was an exception, Lance Armstrong had it brought to him.  And, food is never far away! If a hungry rider misses his musette, the team car will bring it up to the rider. 

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