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Julio Jiménez, one of Spain’s greatest climbers, dies in car crash

The 'Watchmaker of Ávila' was one of the best climbers of his generation. He died Tuesday in Spain.

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Julio Jiménez, one of Spain’s greatest climbers, died Tuesday in a car crash. He was 87.

Spanish media reports say that Jiménez, whose pro career spanned a decade from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, died in a hospital in his native Ávila from injuries.

Reports say Jiménez was traveling in a car Tuesday that struck a wall, injuring all three passengers in the car. The accident occurred after a car Jiménez was traveling in went the wrong way and stuck a wall. The car was leaving a carwash owned by another former pro Ángel Arroyo.

Arroyo told the Spanish daily El Mundo that Jiménez was not driving the car, but died from the impact when the driver apparently put the automatic transmission into reverse by accident and struck a wall at a high rate of speed.

Jiménez was transported to Hospital de Ávila and later died from injuries.

Also read: Spain’s greatest climber? VeloNews meets Julio Jiménez

Officials in his hometown of Ávila have put flags at half-staff and ordained an official day of mourning for one of the city’s most famous citizens.

During his heyday in the mid- to late-1960s, Jiménez raced against the legends of the age, from Fédérico Bahamontes to Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor to the dawn of the Eddy Merckx era. He dropped and beat many of them.

Nicknamed the “watchmaker of Ávila” because he worked in a watch shop during his teens and early 20s, Jiménez raced locally before finally earning a pro contract in 1959.

Though he was already in his mid-20s, he quickly emerged as one of Europe’s best pure climbers. He won five stages at the Tour de France, four in the Giro d’Italia, and three more at the Vuelta a España.

His climbing prowess also saw him win the best climber’s jersey at both the Tour and Vuelta.

VeloNews visited Jiménez last fall at his home in Ávila, when he recounted many of his adventures during his racing career.

One of the pure climbers of his era, Jiménez never won a grand tour but was second in the 1967 Tour de France.

“I should have won that Tour,” Jiménez said last year. “That year, the Tour was raced with national teams. The French ganged up on me so I wouldn’t win, but I was the strongest in the race that year.”

Despite racing and winning against the greats of his time, the 5-foot-5 Jiménez refused to put himself on the same pedestal as the likes of Anquetil and Merckx.

“I turned pro too late,” he said last year. “It wasn’t easy to turn pro out of Spain in those days, and I didn’t go to my first Tour until I was 29. Within a few seasons, my best years were behind me. I squeezed out what I could.”

One of his most memorable exploits came during his Tour debut in 1964, but his stage victory is often overshadowed by what happened behind him.

Also read: Raymond Poulidor, the last of the black-and-white heroes

That year, Jiménez won the now-famous stage up the Puy de Dôme in 1964 where Poulidor and Anquetil battled elbow-to-elbow for the yellow jersey in one of the Tour’s most storied rivalries.

The duo squared off for the yellow jersey throughout that Tour, and the Puy de Dôme was a key stage, and Jiménez was up the road chasing glory.

“I didn’t see it, because I was off the front,” Jiménez said last year. “Anquetil was a true gentleman, class from top to bottom. He helped me get my first pro contract. I met him at critériums and he told me I was too good not to have a team and helped me join Faema [in 1962]. I cannot say enough good things about the man; class on and off the bike.”

Jiménez won the first of his three straight climber’s jerseys at the Tour in 1965, the same season Bahamontes retired.

Jiménez, too, would be retired by 1969. A new generation was coming in, and Jiménez couldn’t find a contract. His racing days were over, but cycling remained an integral part of his soul.

“Who impressed me most? Anquetil in the time trial was simply the best,” Jiménez remembered. “Hinault was a brute who could win everything. Today’s generation? Bernal is pure class, but this Pogačar kid, he’s something special.”

After retiring, he owned a hotel and bar, and always remained close to the cycling community around Ávila that later produced such riders as Arroyo, Carlos Sastre, and José María Jiménez.

Jiménez admires a replica of one of his former jerseys. (Photo: James Startt)