'This time I lose': Eddy Merckx pays tribute to former rival Felice Gimondi

Gimondi died suddenly while on holiday on Friday at the age of 76

(Image credit: Roger Viollet via Getty Images)

Belgian Eddy Merckx dominated cycling in his time and kept Felice Gimondi from winning as much as he could have, but on hearing about Gimondi's death on Friday, he says: "this time I lose."

Merckx won many races with Gimondi runner up: the 1972 Tour de France, the 1970 and 1973 Giro d'Italia, the World Championships, the Tour of Flanders and Milan-San Remo. They became good friends later in life, and that is what first came to mind for Merckx.

>>> Italian cycling legend Felice Gimondi dies, aged 76

"This time I lose," Merckx told ANSA news agency when hearing the news.

"First of all, I lose a friend and then the opponent of a lifetime. We competed for years on the road against each other, but we became friends at the end of our career. I had last spoken with him two weeks ago, as we did every now and then."

The Italian from Bergamo, 76 years old, suffered a heart attack when entering the water in Sicily. He had been on holiday with his wife Tiziana. He leaves her behind and their two daughters, Norma and Federica.

He was only the second rider  to win all three Grand Tours after Jacques Anquetil. He had found his space in cycling, especially Italian cycling, in the years that followed the domination of Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali. Merckx, as with every rival, kept Gimondi from winning even more.

Gimondi had said: "I have to say, that he made me understand what it's like to suffer in hell." With the passing post-competition years, they grew much closer.

Felice Gimondi in 2014 (Tim De Waele/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Corbis via Getty Images)

"What can I say, I am destroyed," Merckx continued.

"Felice was first of all a great man, a great champion, and unfortunately, they took him away. It's a big loss for cycling.

"All the struggles we have done together come to mind... A man like Gimondi is not born every day, with him goes a slice of my life. He was among the greatest ever."

"I could not see his feats live because of age, I didn't live his in his time, but I have the memory of a wise person that always said the right words," explained Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), the next and only other Italian to win all three Grand Tours.

"He always said good things about me and I remember his anger when I won the [2014] Tour because he wasn't invited to the party by the organisation. And the news of his death, which occurred in my Sicily, among other things, left me with great sadness.

"Gimondi's death is a great loss for all of us, we will miss him so much."

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