Jose Maria Jimenez, the former Banesto rider once predicted to succeed five-times Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain as Spain's top cyclist, has died aged 32 of heart failure.
Jimenez retired two years ago, and then fought a drawn-out battle against drug addiction which ended on Saturday night in a clinic in Madrid. He was apparently showing fellow patients a photo album of his racing days when he collapsed.
The early death of the tall, lanky climbing specialist made the main headlines on all of Spain's TV channels yesterday, keen to pay tribute to Jimenez, whose anarchic riding style earned him a large and loyal fan base.
Unpredictability was always the watchword for Jimenez during his eight-year career. One day he would cheerfully rampage to a lone victory in a remote Spanish sierra, the next he would finish 20 minutes down on the race leaders - but in an equally good mood.
Despite his inconsistency, Jimenez somehow attained the all-time record in mountain-top stage victories in the Tour of Spain - six - the most memorable being a rain-soaked victory on the country's toughest climb, the Angliru, in 1999. However, his inability to maintain any kind of consistency in a race meant dreams of inheriting Indurain's crown in the Tour were quietly shelved.
"We could all respect him because he was always attacking, incapable of giving in," 1960s climbing star and close friend, Julio Jimenez, commented yesterday. The Spanish Cycling Federation President, Manuel Perez added: "He was a great cyclist. To me, he was a great sportsman and a great friend. When they gave me the news. I thought I turned to stone."
By the end of 2001, Jimenez's personal life had begun to go seriously off the rails and he quit racing shortly afterwards. He nonetheless still remained a hugely popular draw, acting as an occasional consultant for radio stations during the Tour of Spain.
Following his early death, his unpredictable, unscripted attacking style - now a real rarity in the sport - will long be remembered and treasured by Spanish cycling fans.
Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling WeeklyReuse content