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The VV View: Whatever Happened to the Individual Pursuit?


Who’s Filippo Ganna?

Just the World Individual Pursuit Champion, that’s all.

But don’t worry, we’d never heard of him either, until he won it.

Individual Pursuit
Filippo Ganna.

The rot first set in when the UCI ‘unified’ the professional and amateur pursuit titles in 1993 and cut the distance back to 4000 metres – the pros had previously contested the title over 5000 metres.

But wet rot gave way to even nastier dry rot after the Beijing Olympics when the UCI announced that the individual pursuit was being chopped from the Olympic programme.

As a ‘non-Olympic’ event the Federations immediately lost interest – it’s those Olympic medals which get you the funding, don’t you know? – and nowadays you’re lucky if you can find someone who can name the world pursuit champion.

We ran an interview with the 2015 champion, Stefan Küng soon after he won – we thought we’d landed a ‘scoop’ but we didn’t see the PageViews that we expected.

Individual Pursuit
Stefan Kûng.

Ganna’s win is actually a historic one; it’s 40 years since an Italian last won the World Pursuit Championship with Francesco Moser taking the title in Monteroni de Lecce from Dutch star, Roy Schuiten.

Both huge names at the time.

Moser was second in 1979 behind Bert Oosterbosch; with Maurizio Bidinost taking bronze at Leicester in 1982 behind Alain Bondue and Hans-Henrik Ørsted.

We had it in our mind that 90’s Azurri pursuit flyer, Andrea Colinelli had taken the title. but no, he was twice denied by Brits – Graeme Obree in Bogota in 1995 and Chris Boardman in Manchester in ’96.

Colinelli also took bronze in ’97 behind French meteor Philippe Ermenault and ‘Big Bob’ Bartko.

Italy’s last appearance on a Worlds pursuit podium was in 1999 when Mauro Trentini – a member, along with Colinelli of the nations’ fabulous (if tainted) team pursuit squad of the era – took bronze behind Bartko and Jens Lehmann.

Trentini apart, there’s not a name we’ve printed above which wasn’t/still is a ‘household name’ in cycling.

Ganna’s not a bad rider – he’s still young and will move up to Lampre for 2017.

He was Italian Novice Time Trial Champion in 2012; third in the junior race for 2013 before winning it, along with the junior pursuit, in 2014, when he also garnered a good international result with a win in the Junior Chrono des Nations.

Last season he won the Chrono Champenois and this year started the season well with a win in the early season UCI Euro Tour GP Lugana in Croatia.

Not a bad rider – but when compared to Moser, Schuiten, Bondue, Ørsted…

We thought we’d take you on a wander through what we feel was the discipline’s ‘golden era’ – the 70’s and 80’s with no little help from the lens of ace photog Mr. John Pierce to whom we are in debt from more fabulous images

Individual Pursuit
Hugh Porter. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

The crowned king of pro pursuiting with an unprecedented four world titles – 1968-’70-’72-’73 with silvers in ’67 and ’69 and bronze in ’71.

Not to mention Commonwealth Games Pursuit Champion in 1966 and a Worlds amateur bronze in 1963.

As an amateur there was little on the UK road scene which he didn’t win and later in his career when he teamed up with Sid Barras at Bantel they made a virtually unbeatable double act – the huge power of Porter and the lightning finish of Barras.

As John McMillan observed;

“If you were in the break, looked back down the road and Porter was on the front of the bunch, you knew it was all over!”

We spoke to Hugh just over a year ago.

Individual Pursuit
Dirk Baert. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Porter’s one bronze came in 1971 when Belgium’s Dirk Baert took the title as the man from Wolverhampton went through a struggle with his motivation and wasn’t his usual ‘starving tiger’ self.

When Baert was asked for a comment on his deposing Porter he famously said; “Well, he’s an old man …”

A year later with Porter back in ermine and Baert third, the Englishman observed; “Not bad – for an old man.

Baert also took bronze in ’75 as well as multiple Belgian pursuit championships.

On the road he was a regular winner in tough Belgian races with the likes of The Championship of West Flanders, and Fayt-le-Franc going his way – and there was a second place in the Grand Prix des Nations in 1974 behind a certain Roy Schuiten.

Individual Pursuit
Roy Schuiten. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Coming soon will be our feature on the late Roy Schuiten; the Dutchman was twice World Professional Pursuit Champion, in ’74 and ’75 – he was silver medallist in ’76 and ’78 with a fifth place in 1979 and fourth in 1980.

Few men have ever looked so good on a track bike – our feature will cover his career in some detail.

Individual Pursuit
Francesco Moser. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

One man who you may contend ‘out-cooled’ Schuiten was a certain Francesco Moser.

The Italian’s road palmarès are vast; the World Championship, Giro d’Italia, La Primavera – Milan Sanremo, Fleche-Wallonne, Gent-Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix … he’s one of the ‘All Time Greats.’

But he was also a fine track rider, as well as his multiple hour records there were 16 Six Day wins, five Italian Pursuit Championships and an Italian Omnium title to add to his ’76 rainbow jersey.

Individual Pursuit
Gregor Braun.

Big German Gregor Braun took the title in ’77 and ’78 on the back of the Olympic individual and team pursuit titles in ’76.

Braun’s biggest road win was the ’78 Henninger Turm and whilst he could win races like the Tour of Germany, Milano-Vignola and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne he never truly realised his potential.

Races like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix were perfect for a man of his power and speed – third in Flanders and third in Roubaix in ’82 confirm the missed potential.

Individual Pursuit
Bert Oosterbosch.

From a big German to an even bigger Dutchman, who like Schuiten is sadly no longer with us; the late Bert Oosterbosch first caught the eye as a member of The Netherlands squad which won the World Team Time Trial Championship in 1978.

A core member of Peter Post’s Raleigh and Panasonic ‘super squadras’ his specialty was the short stage race where his power as a time trial rider allowed him to carve a winning margin – the Tour of Luxembourg, Four Days of Dunkirk, Étoile de Besseges and Three Days of De Panne all fell to him.

And there were Grand Tour stage wins in the France and Spain – not to mention the cult GP E3.

The 70’s gave way to the 80’s and a new crop of greyhounds was in the kennel, hungrier and skinnier than ever with the decade driven by the rivalry of two men who for whom perfection was the objective and ‘silver’ was another word for failure – Britain’s Tony Doyle and Denmark’s Hans Henrik Øersted.

Individual Pursuit
Tony Doyle. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

The story will be a familiar one to you; it’s the final lead in to the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the GB team has a problem – there’s just one place for the individual pursuit (that’s one more than now) but GB have two big strong boys both ‘going good.’

There’s the bestial ‘25’ Champion Sean Yates and another man who’s been racking up the amateur wins in France, as has Yates – fast pedalling Tony Doyle.

Management arrange a ride-off, winner takes all; Doyle is fastest so that’s that – except that it’s Yates who gets the Olympic ride…

A ‘stung’ Doyle turns pro straight away, heads for Besançon and comes home as World Professional Pursuit Champion, ahead of Dutchman Herman Ponsteen and H-H Øersted.

Doyle would take the title again in ’86 in Colorado and should really have won in ’88 in Gent but had to settle for silver (for the full story, have a look at our interview with Tony.)

Individual Pursuit
Alain Bondue. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Brno, 1981 saw Freddy Maertens push open the casket lid and reclaim the World Professional Road Race Championship whilst on the track the dashing, cavalier Frenchman Alain Bondue grabbed the first of a brace of titles beating the ubiquitous H-H Ørsted both years.

Bondue was class itself but didn’t have the discipline of a Porter or Øersted, happy to spend time in the local bike shop in his home town of Roubaix with a box of cream cakes and a beer but less happy to invest in the killing intervals it takes to win the Worlds.

Individual Pursuit
Steele Bishop.

Steele Bishop is a name which rather goes against my contention that all the pursuit champions of the 70’s and 80’s were big stars and/or household names.

Bishop appeared from the Antipodes – where, it must be said, he was eight times Australian Professional Pursuit Champion – won the title, went home and retired.

It was no f