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Friends and colleagues of Charly Gaul have been paying tribute to the 1956 Tour de France winner, who died in Luxembourg on Tuesday after suffering a pulmonary embolism. Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc recalled Gaul's "kindness, modesty and tolerance" and his "graceful figure who used to turn the pedals incredibly fast and was capable of building enormous gaps in the mountains".
Known as the 'Angel of the Mountains', Gaul won a total of 21 stages on his way to his Tour win and two victories in the Giro d'Italia. After retiring, the Luxembourger spent almost two decades living virtually as a hermit in the Ardennes forest, but regained contact with cycling when the 1989 Tour started in his homeland. "After that he became a keen follower of the Tour," said Leblanc. "He always used to spend time with me when he was on holiday in France."
Leblanc added: "He wasn't at all nostalgic. On the contrary he was totally enthused by modern cycling, like a real fan would be. I haven't known many champions like him. When the Tour started in Luxembourg in 2002, I went to his house. Everything was devoted to cycling - books, trophies, medals. It was like going into a chapel."
Six-time Tour King of the Mountains Federico Bahamontes told AS he remembered Gaul as "the toughest sporting rival I ever had. He was an extraordinary rider and one who always required you to push yourself to your limit."
In a recent interview with AS, Gaul said of Bahamontes that "he was the best in the heat and I was the best in the cold", adding: "With [Jacques] Anquetil, who used to defend himself in the mountains, the French put together Tour routes that did not favour the climbers. I have always thought that if Fede had been born French he would have won the Tour many more times. and that I would have as well." In the end, the two climbers ended their careers with one Tour win apiece.
Belgian Pino Cerami told La Dernire Heure he remembered first seeing Gaul and was astonished by him climbing "with a smaller gear than everyone else, perched on his saddle a bit like Marco Pantani. He seemed to lack power, but in fact he was very strong. He climbed better than [Fausto] Coppi, who used a bigger gear and had to attack several times before getting clear." Cerami said that "in the cold he was unbeatable".
Another long-time rival, Fiorenzo Magni, told Tuttobici that Gaul should be remembered for much more than his incredible victory on the Monte Bondone stage of the 1956 Giro. He said he had last met his former rival in October when Gaul attended the unveiling of two signs on Monte Bondone commemorating that June day in 1956 when he rode through a snow storm to capture the maglia rosa. The road up the 17km climb is now known as the Salita Charly Gaul.
"He was a little man but made of steel," said Magni. "If Bahamontes was the greatest climber of all time, Charly Gaul was second. In some respects his career was short, but intense. He really loved Italy and even became somewhat Italianised because he rode for an Italian team. He became an Italo-Luxembourger. It's a great loss."
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