Julio Jiménez, one of Spain’s greatest climbers, dies in car accident

Julio Jiménez, one of Spain's greatest climbers, dies in car accident

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Julio Jiménez, one of Spain’s greatest climbers, was killed in a car accident on Tuesday. He was 87.

According to Spanish media reports, Jiménez, whose professional career spanned a decade from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, died of injuries at a hospital in his native Avila.

According to reports, Jiménez traveled on Tuesday in a car that hit a wall, injuring all three passengers in the car. The accident happened after a car Jiménez was driving turned the wrong way and hit a wall. The car left a car wash owned by another former pro ngel Arroyo.

Arroyo told the Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo that Jiménez was not driving the car, but died from the impact when the driver apparently accidentally put the automatic transmission into reverse and crashed into a wall at high speed.

Jiménez was transported to Hospital de Ávila and later died of injuries.

Read also: Spain’s greatest climber? VeloNews meets Julio Jiménez

Officials in his hometown of Avila have flown flags at half-mast and instituted an official day of mourning for one of the city’s most famous citizens.

During his heyday in the mid to late 1960s, Jiménez raced against the legends of the time, from Fédérico Bahamontes to Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor to the dawn of the Eddy Merckx era. He fell and defeated many of them.

Nicknamed the “watchmaker of Avila” because he worked in a watch shop in his teens and early twenties. Jiménez raced locally before finally earning a professional contract in 1959.

Although he was already in his mid-twenties, he quickly emerged as one of Europe’s best pure climbers. He won five stages in the Tour de France, four in the Giro d’Italia and three more in the Vuelta a España.

His climbing skills also won him the best climbing jersey in both the Tour and the Vuelta.

VeloNews visited Jiménez at his home in Ávila last fall, where he told about many of his adventures during his racing career.

One of the purest climbers of his day, Jiménez never won a Grand Tour but came in second in the 1967 Tour de France.

“I should have won that Tour,” said Jiménez last year. “That year the Tour was held with national teams. The French grabbed me so I wouldn’t win, but I was the strongest in the race that year.”

Despite racing and winning the greats of his time, the six-foot-tall Jiménez refused to put himself on the same pedestal as Anquetil and Merckx.

“I turned pro too late,” he said last year. “It wasn’t easy at that time to become a pro from Spain and I didn’t go to my first Tour until I was 29. Within a few seasons, my best years were behind me. I got out what I could.”

One of his most memorable feats of arms came on his Tour debut in 1964, but his stage win is often overshadowed by what happened behind him.

Also read: Raymond Poulidor, the last of the black and white heroes

That year, Jiménez won the now famous stage at the Puy de Dôme in 1964, where Poulidor and Anquetil battled from elbow to elbow for the yellow jersey in one of the Tour’s most storied rivalries.

The duo battled for the yellow jersey throughout the Tour, and the Puy de Dôme was an important stage and Jiménez was on his way to glory.

“I didn’t see it because I wasn’t at the front,” Jiménez said last year. “Anquetil was a true gentleman, class from head to toe. He helped me get my first professional contract. I met him on crits and he told me I was too good not to have a team and helped me get to Faema [in 1962]† I cannot say enough good things about the man; class on and off the bike.”

Jiménez won the first of his three straight-climbing jerseys at the Tour in 1965, the same season Bahamontes retired.

Jiménez would also retire in 1969. A new generation came and Jiménez could not find a contract. His racing days were over, but cycling remained an integral part of his soul.

“Who impressed me the most? Anquetil was simply the best in the time trial,” recalls Jiménez. “Hinault was a brute who could win everything. Today’s generation? Bernal is pure class, but this Pogačar boy is something special.”

After retiring, he owned a hotel and a bar and always remained close to the cycling community around Ávila which later produced such riders as Arroyo, Carlos Sastre and José María Jiménez.

Jiménez admires a replica of one of his former jerseys. (Photo: James Startt)