Eddy Merckx broke down in tears on hearing about the death of Felice Gimondi on Friday evening, going on to eloquently describe his emotions with a simple but highly symbolic phrase: “This time I’m the one who has lost.”
76-year-old Gimondi died of a heart attack while swimming in the sea off the coast of Giardini Naxos in Sicily, southern Italy, while on holiday. Merckx was on holiday in Switzerland when told of the tragic news.
Merckx and Gimondi were huge rivals during their careers in the sixties and early seventies. Merckx often dominated but it was arguably Gimondi’s tenacity and huge talents that elevated the Belgian to the status of Greatest of All Time. Gimondi eventually adopted his racing style, winning whenever he could, without suffering under Merckx’s dominance and defeating his biggest rivals whenever he spotted a weakness.
Gimondi is one of only seven men to win all three Grand Tours. He won the 1965 Tour de France as a 22-year-old neo-pro, won the Giro d’Italia three times in 1965, 1967 and then in 1976, defeating Merckx at 34, winning the penultimate stage in his home city of Bergamo, beating Merckx in the sprint.
The rivalry between Merckx and Gimondi sparked reciprocal respect and then lead to a true friendship that continued after their careers and could be seen whenever they met in public and private.
Merckx broken down in tears when he was told of Gimondi’s passing by La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“This time I’m the one who has lost,” he later told the Italian news agency ANSA, the Cannibal gracefully accepting defeat from his biggest rival as the highest form of respect.
“I’ve most of all lost friend, as well a historic rival. We raced against each other for years but we became friends. I’d spoken to him just a couple of weeks ago as often did. I’m in shock.”
“Felice was a great person first of all and then a great campione. We’ve lost him and it’s a huge blow for cycling. Our duels in racing come to mind and I realise a part of my life has also gone forever. He was one of the true greats of the sport.”
Gimondi was inducted into the Giro d'Italia Hall of Fame in 2013, becoming the second rider to enter Merckx. This video recalled his career.