One of Italy’s most decorated cyclists, Felice Gimondi, has died, aged 76. Gimondi passed away on Friday after suffering a heart attack while swimming on holiday in Giardini Naxos on the coast of the island of Sicily. Despite receiving medical attention, he was unable to be revived.
Gimondi was born in September 1942 in Sedrina, in Bergamo province in the north of Italy, becoming a professional in 1965 following a win at the Tour de l’Avenir in 1964.
He was a prolific winner right from the off, winning five Grand Tours in his career including the Tour de France in his first year as a professional in 1965, three editions of the Giro d’Italia (1967, 1969 and 1976), and the Vuelta a España in 1968. There were also 14 stage wins in Grand Tours along the way, including seven in the Tour and six at the Giro.
Gimondi still holds the record of podium finishes at the Giro with nine, finishing off the podium only three times between his debut in ’65 and his final victory in ’76. He finished outside the top-10 in the final two editions of his career in ’77 and ’78, having taken a remarkable late victory ahead of Belgium’s Johan De Muynck at the age of 34 to take his third and final victory.
Gimondi was not only a force in the Grand Tours, triumphing in a number of cycling’s biggest one-day races. He won a wet edition of Paris-Roubaix in 1966 over four minutes ahead of Jan Janssen in second place to take his first Monument, before adding another in the Autumn at Il Lombardia, beating a truly stellar final group of Eddy Merckx, Raymond Poulidor, Jacques Anquetil, Michele Dancelli and Vittorio Adorni to the line in Como. Gimondi finished with two further Monument victories in his career; another win at Il Lombardia in 1973 and Milan-San Remo in 1974.
There was also a year in the rainbow jersey following a win ahead of Freddy Maertens, Luis Ocaña and his great rival Eddy Merckx at the 1973 World Championships road race in Barcelona.
Gimondi spent time as a team manager following his retirement in 1979, and remained involved in cycling throughout his life.
“I had only one idol in my life: Felice Gimondi,” Italian national coach Davide Cassani said on news of Gimondi’s death. “Whenever I saw him it was an emotion because when you fall in love with a champion it is for life. You were a great Felice.”
Italian Cycling Federation president Renato Di Rocco said to Italpress: “A huge sadness. There is regret, disappointment, a cry in the heart. I followed his entire career as a manager, I always admired him and appreciated him. Gold at the World Championship in Barcelona in 1973 is the best memory and he was one of the very few to have won all three of the Grand Tours.”