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The great climber Charly Gaul died in a Luxembourg hospital on Tuesday morning after suffering a pulmonary embolism. Winner of the 1958 Tour de France and twice a winner of the Tour’s mountains title, the 72-year-old Luxemburger, who would have celebrated his 73rd birthday on Wednesday, had been hospitalised after falling at his home at Itzig in Luxembourg.
Winner of 10 stages at the Tour and of the 1956 and 1959 Giro d’Italia titles, Gaul was one of the most outstanding climbers that pro cycling has ever seen. Despite his frail build, Gaul thrived in adverse weather conditions. His 1958 Tour success was forged around courageous performances in Alpine downpours, while his first Giro victory came after he shot up through the field during a snow-hit day on Monte Bordone.
Less heroically, he is also reputed to have on-the-bike urination after being attacked by Gastone Nencini and Louison Bobet during the 1956 Giro.
Known as the ‘Angel of the Mountains’, Gaul retreated into a hermit-like existence deep in an Ardennes forest after selling the bar he set up following his retirement and leaving his second wife. For two decades Gaul shunned all contact with the cycling fraternity, but marriage to his third wife led to Gaul’s occasional re-emergence from his solitary existence.
In 1989 he was awarded the Tour de France medal, and he also appeared at the 2000 Tour, although his memory of his famous exploits remained muddled after so many years in the forest with just his dog for company.
Gaul, though, should be remembered for some of the most adventurous riding the Tour and Giro have ever seen. As well as overall successes, he also collected 21 stages wins in the two races.