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20 years without “climbing genius” Jose Maria Jimenez

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Jose-Maria Jimenez, once touted as a successor to five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain, died in a detox clinic in Madrid on December 6th, 2003.

The cyclist from El Barraco, hung up his bike two years before due to his personal problems. He triumphed in the Vuelta, but, despite his great class and his ease of climbing the highest mountains, he never succeeded in the Tour de France.

Jimenez was an idol of Spanish cycling like Marco Pantani in Italy. ‘El Chava’ was the last rider capable of dividing fans between angry defenders and relentless critics. Both on and off the bike, Jimenez had an erratic character that excited the fans when he made a bold attack in the mountains, but also would infuriate the spectators when he would collapse spectacularly and lose a lot of time, seemingly without any concern.

Miguel Indurain, summed him up: “He was a rider in the old style. When things went well, they went very well. When things didn’t go well, they didn’t go at all.”

Jimenez will probably be mostly remembered for his win on the Angliru in the 1999 Vuelta a Espana. He would often attack without considering the consequences, but when ‘El Chava’ emerged from the fog on El Angliru in 1999, the myth of the Vuelta was created. The Angliru needed a hero: Rain, wind, cold, fog – all the ingredients you need for an epic stage, but they also blinded the television, obscuring the action from the millions of fans at home. The headlights of the cars appeared and the figure of ‘El Chava’ danced ahead of them.

Jimenez was forced to hang up the bike in the winter of 2001, a few months after getting his third climbers jersey in a Vuelta in which he won three stages. The inevitable death came when in one of his last moments of lucidity he had decided to go back to a clinic. Two years after losing the battle with cycling, he lost the battle with life.

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