Monumentally Anonymous

Juan Jose Oroz rolls along in the 2008 Paris-Roubaix
A barely visible Juan Jose Oroz | Paris-Roubaix | Photo ©:

You’ll be excused if you’ve never heard the name of Euskaltel-Euskadi pro Juan Jose Oroz Ugalde. That’s him at the tip of the arrow above, firmly ensconced in this year’s Paris-Roubaix peloton. And since Juan Jose Oroz flies so far under the radar, this is the only photographic evidence I’ve ever found of him suiting up for Euskaltel-Euskadi other than his team mug shot. My research into Mr. Oroz began at the finish of Paris-Roubaix where I routinely look to see which brave Euskaltel-Euskadi souls soldier on to the velodrome in Roubaix. I’m sure most Basque mountain goats would prefer to donate a kidney than suit up at Paris-Roubaix. But ProTour obligations are ProTour obligations and I’d heavily wager that the Basque men in orange venturing to the Paris-Roubaix start line were intimately familiar with the location of the first feed zone…and their respite from Hell. In this year’s edition of Paris-Roubaix, Oroz was one of two Euskaltel riders to complete the distance–no mean feat. Euskaltel rode their stock Orbeas–the only concessions to Roubaix’s punishing parcours being the traditional box-section wheels equipped with Vittoria Pave tubulars plus the decidedly Low Budget Superstar application of electrical tape on the bottle cages to provide some extra grip.

Just for curiosity’s sake, I checked the results of the previous week’s Tour of Flanders. And sure enough, Juan Jose Oroz survived that challenge, too. Huh. So I checked some more…and checked some more…and discovered an interesting fact: in the six month span from late October, 2007 through late April, 2008 Juan Jose Oroz has survived all five Monuments of Cycling. A feat that no other cyclist in the pro peloton has done in that same time span. Not only that, but during that time Oroz was completing his first year on a ProTour squad so each Monument was his first attempt. And not simply content to duke it out in the Monuments, Oroz managed to complete the sweep of Flanders week at Gent-Wevelgem and complete the trifecta of Ardennes week events by surviving Amstel Gold and Fleche-Wallonne to boot.

Juan Jose Oroz turned pro in 2006 for the Spanish Kaiku squad at the relatively late age of 25. 2007 seemed a bit weird–he rode for Orbea Oreka SAD from January, 2007 through May 11, 2007 and then from May 12, 2007 to the present he has been employed by Euskaltel-Euskadi. The Orbea team didn’t fold in 2007, the only obvious answer to me explaining a mid-season team change, and my cursory efforts to explain this unusual jump to a new squad have gone unanswered. Perhaps it was a feeder team and Oroz sufficiently impressed Euskaltel-Euskadi to warrant an invitation to The Show.

Only three men have won all five of cycling’s Monuments: Rik van Looy, Roger De Vlaeminck, and (no surprises here) Eddy Merckx. I’ve embarked on a task to determine just how unusual it is for a pro to merely finish all five, something I suspect is becoming increasingly unusual in this contemporary era of specialization. I started simply looking at all American attempts at the Monuments and only two have made it to the finish line in each: Greg LeMond and Bob Roll, each competing back in the 1980s. For most Americans with multiple Monuments under their belts the Tour of Lombardy is the missing piece, perhaps not too surprising due to its October slot on the calendar. Most American pros are already back in the States re-charging their batteries in October, unless your name is Chris Horner and you’re trying to impress potential Euro employers.

Perhaps among Euro riders finishing the Monuments throughout the expanse of a career isn’t such an unusual feat, but maybe I’ll find out otherwise. In Oroz’s case I don’t know if this is simply a bet he’s placed with his Euskaltel teammates (100 euro says you can’t finish them all, Oroz!), if this is some sort of Euskaltel rookie hazing (Uh, Juan Jose…uh, before you get to rock all those stage races in Spain and Portugal you’re heading North. For all the Classics.), if Euskaltel pays by the kilometer raced, or if Oroz is simply a glutton for punishment with enough pride never to quit anything he starts. Regardless, Juan Jose Oroz deserves a wee bit of applause for knocking them all out in his first attempt at each, all within a six month period. Maybe a bit of Oscar Freire and Juan Antonio Flecha has rubbed off on him (although I’m almost positive that even this pair of Spanish, Classics rock stars has yet to see the finish line of every Monument).

Juan Jose Oroz’s six months of suffering:

Date   Race   Place   Time
04.27.2008   Liege-Bastogne-Liege   42nd   @4.09
04.23.2008   Fleche-Wallonne   105th   @7.38
04.20.2008   Amstel Gold Race   100th   @7.42
04.13.2008   Paris-Roubaix   91st   @16.57
04.09.2008   Gent-Wevelgem   46th   @0.00
04.06.2008   Ronde van Vlaanderen   50th   @9.14
03.22.2008   Milano-San Remo   144th   @12.35
10.22.2007   Giro di Lombardia   92nd   @12.37

The Belly of Vigorelli

May 1981...Joe Strummer in the bowels of Milan's Vigorelli Velodrome
Joe Strummer | Vigorelli Velodrome | Photo ©: Janette Beckman

From 1935 to 1967 eight PRO cyclists set the world hour record at Milan’s Vigorelli Velodrome on ten separate occasions, making it the most heralded venue in the lore and legend of the almighty Hour. No other velodrome has seen as many successful attempts to further the distance a human being can power a bicycle over 60 immensely painful minutes:

  • 1935 October 31…Giuseppe Olmo (ITA)…45.090 kph
  • 1936 October 14…Maurice Richard (FRA)…45.325 kph
  • 1937 September 29…Frans Slaats (NED)…45.558 kph
  • 1937 November 3…Maurice Archambaud (FRA)…45.747 kph
  • 1942 November 7…Fausto Coppi (ITA)…45.871 kph
  • 1956 June 29…Jacques Anquetil (FRA)…46.159 kph
  • 1956 September 19…Ercole Baldini (ITA)…46.394 kph
  • 1957 September 18…Roger Riviere (FRA)…46.923 kph
  • 1958 September 23…Roger Riviere (FRA)…47.346 kph
  • 1967 September 27…Jacques Anquetil (FRA)…47.493 kph

And then The Clash rolled into the Vigorelli Velodrome in May, 1981.

This past month or so has been a time of intense reading…all 8 fantastic issues of Rapha’s Rouleur in rapid succession, plus plenty of books. And what held my attention the most were a couple of biographies about The Clash: Johnny Green’s A Riot of Our Own and Pat Gilbert’s Passion is a Fashion. And while the only hour record Joe Strummer and company may have been setting in the nether regions of the Vigorelli Velodrome was how may pounds of weed four human beings can smoke, Strummer and bass play Paul Simonon were hardly strangers to cycling. According to Pat Gilbert, while recording Combat Rock,

Paul and Joe turned up to Freston Road [at the Ear Studios recording studio] each day on their bicycles: very unassuming, very English. Joe used to borrow Gabriella’s [Gabriella Salter] bike, actually, that was his favorite mode of transport. Paul, he always cruised around West London on a bicycle with cow-horn handlebars. He used to ride everywhere with his hands in his pockets, hair greased back in a quiff.

Who knows…maybe Joe and Paul bumped into the Masi family prior to hitting the stage.

And for something that has nothing to do with cycling, but everything to do with today’s date, I leave you with one of the greatest, if not the greatest, April Fools jokes of all time: the mysterious tale of Sidd Finch.