Over two thousand people attended Felice Gimondi's funeral on Tuesday, with many following the ceremony from outside the packed church in the central of his hometown of Paladina near Bergamo.
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. He was due to be cremated after the public funeral.
Gimondi was one of only seven men to win all three Grand Tours during their career. 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 Eddy Merckx at 34 and winning the penultimate stage in Bergamo, and also won the 1968 Vuelta a España.
Gimondi was known for his tenaciousness in the face of Merckx’s dominance in the late sixties and early seventies but the two became friends, with Merckx in tears when he was told of Gimondi’s death. He was reportedly too saddened to attend the funeral but promised to visit Gimondi’s widow and family very soon.
Many of Gimondi's former teammates and rivals were at the funeral, as were the riders he inspired during his career, including his long-time domestique and then team manager Giancarlo Ferretti, current Italian team manager Davide Cassani, Francesco Moser, Giuseppe Saronni and fellow Bergamo-born riders Ivan Gotti, Paolo Savoldelli and Gibi Baronchelli.
Gimondi’s family agreed to the broadcasting of the funeral on Italian television after huge public out pouring of emotions and memories of Gimondi’s career and life.
"Today we need to recall the life of a champion and of a human being, that was always guided by the values of family and hard work. Thanks to his victories and his defeats, he helped us to never give in," the Gimondi family priest Mansueto Callioni said during the funeral.
"His victories taught us to be courageous, his defeats taught us to never give up because you can't always win."
Gimondi raced for Bianchi for much of his career and was linked to the Italian bike brand for the rest of his life as manager of the mountain bike team and other initiatives.
In recent years Gimondi has ridden a number of Eroica-style events with his daughter Norma.
"In Felice, the whole cycling World lost a great man, a good and loyal person. We at Bianchi owe him a special gratitude for everything he did over the years for the success and prestige of our brand," an emotional Bianchi President Salvatore Grimaldi said.
"He was an extraordinary man and champion, but he always remained humble and relatable. That's why he was so unanimously loved, and what made him even greater after his career ended."