Felice Gimondi, winner of all three grand tours and classics Paris-Roubaix and Milano-Sanremo, died today at the age of 76. The Italian great had been on vacation near Taormina on the island of Sicily, when he suffered a heart attack while swimming. He leaves behind his wife Tiziana, and daughters Norma and Federica.
Gimondi was the second rider after Jacques Anquetil to win all three grand tours. His Tour title came in his first year as a professional in 1965 at the age of 22, only slightly older than Egan Bernal, winner of that race’s most recent edition.
Gimondi was born in the valleys above Bergamo where he first rode on a red Ardita bicycle. He was introduced to the sport watching his mother deliver mail by bike, and he remains the fifth youngest Tour de France winner.
“For me, a boy from Sedrina, everything seemed big and sparkled,” Gimondi said in in a 2015 interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport. “In the race, though, I felt on the same playing field as the others. As a matter of fact, I felt as though as I had energy to spare up until one point.”
Team Salvarani had decided to take Gimondi to the Tour “just for experience.” They met in an Autogrill road stop after the young rider finished second to Anquetil in the Castrocaro time trial, a post Giro classic of the day. He was only supposed to race one grand tour in his debut season, but after a third place in the Giro behind team leader Vittorio Adorni, and then the eye-opening Castrocaro time trial result, plans changed.
Like many riders of that time, Gimondi never won the Tour again thanks to the arrival Eddy Merckx, who came along to write his own massive chapters in cycling’s almanac. The closest Gimondi came was second in the 1972 Tour.
“Eddy Merckx, I know him well,” Gimondi later said. “Unfortunately, I have to say, that he made me understand what it’s like to suffer in hell.”
The Italian found his space, though, establishing himself as one of cycling’s greats in the generation after Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. Gimondi scored top 10s in every Tour de France he entered. He was also top 10 — including three victories — in every Giro d’Italia from 1965 to 1976. He also won his lone Vuelta a España appearance in 1968.
His lengthy resume also included triumphs at the Romandie and Catalunya stage races, Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, and twice at the Giro di Lombardia. In Barcelona in 1973, he won the world road race championship ahead of Freddy Maertens and Luis Ocaña.
But the best moment of his life, Gimondi said, was marrying wife Tiziana.