Surely one of the most legendary challenges of all time, the rivalry between Eddy Merckx and Felice Gimondi passed into the annals of cycling history and captured the headlines of newspapers in the 1970s.
Everything started in 1968. Gimondi (26 years old - Team Salvarani) and Merckx (23 years old - Team Faema) faced each other for the first time at the Giro d´Italia. Felice was already a winning cyclist and the new promise of Italian cycling: he won in 1965 the Tour de France and in 1967 the Giro d´Italia. Eddy was still a "rookie".
But as it happened, Eddy Merckx overwhelmed everybody and showed his extraordinary talent, becoming indeed the most winning cyclist of his time.
1970s: the golden age of cycling. Eddy Merckx and Felice Gimondi were participants of an exciting challenge, a few years later after Coppi and Bartali´s one. Cycling was at that time even more popular than football and many people crowded the stages of the Giro d´Italia and Tour de France to cheer their heroes.
Rivals whilst racing but friends beyond the finish line, they were a good example of both fairness and determination. "Do not buy upgrades. Ride up grades", as Eddy Merckx used to say.
In 1969 Eddy Merckx was disqualified from the Giro d´Italia for doping, and Gimondi won the race but refused to wear the "Pink Jersey" in respect of his friend Merckx.
In 1974 Eddy Merckx became legendary. He won the Giro d´Italia for the fifth time - equaling Alfredo Binda and Fausto Coppi - the Tour de France and the World Road Racing Championship, although he was not the favorite.
Everybody will remember the epic winning at "Tre Cime di Lavaredo" (20th stage of the Giro d´Italia), when Eddy won the final sprint against Baronchelli.
As a matter of fact, it was the "Eddy Merckx Era". The "Cannibal" - as the daughter of his Peugeot teammate Raymond named him - was the predominant cyclist and left very little hope for the others. But Felice Gimondi was undoubtedly a respectable and determined rival, who never gave up and struggled until the last meter.
Finally Gimondi had his payback in 1973 in Montjuich (World Championship - Barcelona), winning the final sprint against Merckx. In 1974 at the Milano-Sanremo and in 1976, the 33 years old Italian achieved his third success at the Giro d´Italia.
Gimondi acknowledged Merckx´s superiority and Merckx acknowledged Gimondi´s greatness. They both owe each other something and marked a milestone in the cycling history.