Francesco Moser

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Francesco Moser

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Francesco Moser broke a cycling record that most thought was unbreakable.

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Born in Palu di Giovo, a small village in the wine country of northern Italy, on June 19, 1951, Moser became a professional road racer in 1973.  The Mosers are the Italian royal family of cycling.  At one point, Francesoc and his three brothers all rode for Filotex, a professional Italian cycling team.  Moser emerged as a dominant rider from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.  After finishing seventh in the Olympic road race at the 1972 Munich Games, he took second at the World Championship four years later.  In 1977, “The Sheriff,” claimed the gold medal at the World Championship Road Race in Venezuela.  The following year, he earned silver.

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The Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelto a Espana make up professional road cycling’s prestigious three-week-long Grand Tours.  They are the sport’s most important events.  Comprised of 21 separate day-long stages over a 23-day period that include two rest days, they are contested at the same time each year.  The Giro d’Italia–or Tour of Italy–is primarily held in Italy, but also occasionally passes through other nearby countries.  The second-most important of the Grand Tours, the Giro is held in late May and early June.  The Tour de France [Daily Dose, 7/21/16]– the oldest and most prestigious bicycle race in the world–is held in July, and the last race of the trio—the Vuelto a Espana—is contested in late August and early September.   The winner is of each Grand Tour event is the rider with the fastest aggregate time over all 21 stages, and points are given to riders who finish among the first in a stage, independent of the time difference.

The powerfully-built Moser was a superb time trialist.  His 5’10’, 174 pound frame was built for power, not for climbing.  In 1975, Moser competed in the Tour de France and, although he won two stages, led the race for seven days and won the young rider competition, he never rode the Tour again, as the mountains did not suit him.  He had greater success in Italy, where the courses were flatter.  In 1984, Moser won the Giro d’Italia over two-time Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon.  He also won the points classification in the Giro d’Italia in 1976,1977, 1978 and 1982.  In his 14 year career, Moser won 23 stage races in the Giro, had eight top-tens, and finished second three times.

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Union Cycliste Internationale [UCI] is the world governing body for cycling and oversees its international competitions.  The classic races are one-day professional road races run in western Europe and have been fixtures on the professional calendar for decades.  Five of these classics are called the Monuments.  The five Monuments are the oldest, hardest, and most prestigious one-day events in cycling.  Each has a long history and individual characteristics.  Among the one-day races on the UCI World Tour, which determines its champion using a season-long points system, the Monuments carry the most points.

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Paris-Roubaix, known as “Queen of the Classics,” is considered to be the most heroic Monument event.  Starting north of Paris and finishing on the Belgian frontier, Paris-Roubaix is one of cycling’s oldest races.  Famous for rough terrain and containing long roads of cobblestones,  Paris-Roubaix is the most unpleasant of the classics.  In 1976, a Danish filmmaker directed A Sunday in Hell, a documentary chronicling the 1976 race.

“The Sheriff” excelled on the cobblestones, winning three straight Paris-Roubaix classics between 1978 and 1980.  With two second- and two third-place finishes, Moser earned seven podiums in racing’s toughest one-day event. The powerful Italian won six Monument races and ten classics over the course of his 14-year professional career.

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The Hour is cycling’s most iconic record.  A test of endurance, technique, and technology, it is man and machine against the clock.  The Hour is the record for the longest distance cycled in one hour from a stationary start.  Cyclists attempt this record alone on a track, without any other competitors present.  It is considered the most prestigious mark in all of cycling.  In 1972, Belgium’s Eddy Merckx, the greatest rider in cycling history, set a new Hour record at 49.431 km in Mexico City.  Racing at an altitude of 7,500 feet, and in some of most polluted air in the world, Merckx [Daily Dose, 6/21/16] later said it was the hardest ride of his life.  The legendary Belgium’s record was considered unbreakable.

In 1984, Francesco Moser set his sights on the Hour record, which had stood for a dozen years.  He employed a team of engineers, ramped up his training, and rented a velodrome in Mexico City to take advantage of the reduced wind resistance in the thin air.  In 1972, Merckx’ team believed the key to setting the record was weight, going so far as to inflate his tires with helium to lighten the bike.  Moser’s team understood that it was aerodynamics.  They built a time-trial bike using oval steel tubing, carbon-fiber disc wheels, and aerodynamic handlebars.  At 9.6 kilograms, it weighed nearly twice that of Merckx’ machine.  Moser, who was 32 years old and in the final chapter of his career, employed innovative training techniques, including the use of a heartrate monitor and climbing intervals.  Wearing a body suit, aerodynamic helmet and riding a space-age bike no one had seen before, Moser set a new record of 50.808 km.

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UCI changed the rules in 1997.  With the widening gap between modern bicycle technology and what was available at the time of Eddy Merckx’ record, UCI established two records.  Best Human Effort, in which modern equipment is permitted, and the UCI Hour record, which restricts competitors to roughly the same equipment as Merckx had available in 1972.  As a result of the rule change, all records since 1972 were moved to Best Human Effort and the distance of Mr. Merckx’ ride in 1972 became the official UCI benchmark.

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In October 2000, Britain’s Chris Boardman, using 1972 technology, rode 49.441 km to surpass Merckx.  Five years later, Czech rider Ondrej Sosenka went 49.700 km, which remains the Hour record.  Graeme Obree [Daily Dose, 4/27/16] twice broke Moser’s record, only to be surpassed by Boardman, whose 56.375, set in 1996, currently stands as the Best Human Effort mark.

Mr. Moser retired with 298 professional cycling victories in 1987.  He now owns and operates Maso Villa Warth winery near his birthplace in northern Italy, where he makes Trentino wine.

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On this date in 1984, Francesco Moser broke the record for the Hour, pedaling 50.808 kilometers in 60 minutes to break the record Eddy Merckx set in 1972.  Competing on the same track in Mexico City four days later, Moser bettered his own mark when he covered 51.151 kilometers in one hour.

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