Ferdinand Kübler, first Swiss winner of Tour, dies at age 97

Kübler was the oldest living Tour winner before his death Thursday, which came after he contracted a severe cold.

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Ferdinand Kübler, the first Swiss winner of the Tour de France, died overnight in Zurich. He was 97 and was the oldest living Tour winner.

According to media reports in Switzerland, Kübler died in a Swiss hospital Thursday after coming down with a severe cold.

Born in 1919, Kübler turned pro in 1940 at the dawn of World War II. After the war years, he became one of Europe’s top stars during cycling’s golden era, winning the Tour de France in 1950 and the world championship in 1951. He won more than 400 races, including Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Flèche Wallonne, Tour de Romandie, and the Tour de Suisse three times.

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One of the iconic black-and-white photos of the era shows Kübler screaming in desperation following a puncture, holding a tire pump and wearing the Swiss national champion’s jersey.

Kübler, nicknamed “Ferdi” and “the Cowboy” for his penchant for wearing Stetson hats, clashed with some of the biggest riders of his generation, including Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. Kübler finished third in the Giro d’Italia in 1951 and 1952, and was second in the 1954 Tour. He retired in 1957.

He shared the post-war era with Swiss rival Hugo Koblet, who became the first non-Italian to win the Giro d’Italia in 1950. Kübler and Koblet are the only Swiss riders to have won the Tour de France.

Speaking to L’Equipe Magazine in 2003 on the Tour’s 100th anniversary, Kübler said he was motivated to achieve cycling glory because of his hardscrabble childhood.

“I became a champion because I was poor,” he told L’Equipe. “I struggled to eat, to have a better life. I won the Tour de France because I dreamed, because I knew that after I would never be poor again.”

Kübler remained a revered figure in the wealthy alpine nation after his retirement, as he was regularly featured in commercials and made other media appearances.

Kübler’s widow Christina told Swiss news agency ATS that he died “peacefully, with a smile on his face.”

French rider Roger Walkowiak, a winner in 1956 and born in 1927, is now the oldest living Tour winner at 89. Spain’s Federico Bahamontes, a winner in 1959, is 88.

Information from AFP was used in this report.