Monday, July 30, 2012

Family Ties

Nothing supports the idea of "nature versus nurture" more strongly than family ties in sports. The human physique, perhaps more than psychology and other less visible markers of human quality, evokes genetic advantage, and cycling has its share of family ties. In this post we share a few cycling family stories.

Serse and Fausto Coppi: brotherly love,
from .

One of the better-known examples to English-speaking fans is Nicolas Roche of Ag2R-LaMondiale, son of Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche who married a French woman. Father Stephen was best known for achieving the treble in 1987: winning the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, and World Championship. Son Nicolas has been a GC leader or co-leader first with Cofidis and recently with Ag2R. He has won the Irish National Championship several times, and has nearly broken into the top-ten of the Tour de France. He has expressed his wish to switch teams for next year, and we are eager to know what he will do next. Even when riding a big race, he shares his thoughts on his blog for the Irish Independent.

Another is Axel Merckx, retired racer and son of Eddy Merckx. It is hard to argue that Eddy Merckx isn't the most accomplished cyclist ever - surely the weight of expectation bears quite heavily on the shoulders of very slender and tall Axel - but Axel is notable to have won the Belgian national champs in 2000, GP de Wallonie in 2001, Tour de l'Ain in 2003, and Olympic Bronze in Athens in 2004. These are in addition to his stage win in the Giro d'Italia. Instead of following his father's footsteps into the frame-making business (which was just sold a few years ago), he is now directeur sportif for Trek-Livestrong the U-23 team. Axel rode for a number of teams throughout his career: two stints with Motorola (including a time when his father's Merckx bicycle company was a sponsor), two stints with Telekom/T-Mobile, Polti, Belgian super-teams Mapei, Domo-FarmFrites, and Davitamon-Lotto, and Phonak.

Italian cycling fans have been excited over the prospect of Moreno Moser of Liquigas-Cannondale, nephew of cycling great Francesco Moser. Moser the uncle was winner of the Giro d'Italia and multiple classics including Paris-Roubaix (3x), Lombardia (2x) and the World Championship. Moser the nephew is a great young prospect: in his first season in 2012 he has won a few small races and contended in the Italian National Championship. Uncle Moser was famous not only for his racing results but also for his rivalry with Giuseppe Saronni, another great Italian cyclist of the early 1980s. The younger Moser may yet find his arch-nemesis, but we are not aware that he has one yet.

Going back in time we are reminded of the brotherly ties of Fausto Coppi and Serse Coppi. Fausto is clearly the more famous of the two, one of the first championissimo, but younger brother Serse was joint winner of the 1949 Paris-Roubaix with André Mahé. You see, a breakaway of three led by Mahé was mis-directed at the entrance to the track, and the chasing group sprint was won by Serse Coppi. Mahé was initially declared winner, but protest by Fausto forced the organizers to also anoint Serse a co-winner a few months later.

Fathers who became famous not as cyclists also produce racing heirs, look no farther than Tony Gallopin of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek (RSNT), son of Alain Gallopin. The name Alain Gallopin is not well-known; he started his career as a middling domestique in French team Gitane-Renault-Elf, became personal soigneur to the legendary Laurent Fignon, and eventually rose to team management at Cofidis and RSNT. Tony is very young, and is just starting his career as professional.

Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli was the man behind the victories of Marco Pantani and Stefano Garzeli in Mercatone Uno, Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego in Saeco/Lampre, and more recently of Alexandre Vinokourov and Maxim Iglinsky in Astana. He is responsible for the rise of Astana version 3, who won la Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this year. His son Davide Martinelli has just started his pro cycling career as stagiare for Team Sky this year. The roster of Astana also includes Francesco Martinelli, but we are not sure whether he is related to the other Martinellis.

Unfortunately, coming from a cycling family doesn't make one necessarily wiser, as we learned from the life of the late Frank Vandenbroucke. Born into a cycling family where his uncle Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke was directeur sportif for Belgian super-team Lotto, he was considered a cycling prodigy from a very young age and in many ways he never grew up from the adolation he was subjected to. We will never know what was in his mind as he neared the end of his life, but certainly the weight of expectation was quite high.

Have you missed any good stories of cycling family ties? Share yours below!

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