The Pyrenees had its famous mountain climber, who was loved in Spain as much as Pantani in Italy. This is Jose Maria Jimenez or simply «El Chava». Marco Pantani is known to everyone who is interested in cycling, even young fans who have not caught the era of cycling.
Pantani and Jose Maria Jimenez had surprisingly much in common, there is even something mystical about it. They raced in the same era, staged an unimaginable show on the mountain stages, ended their sports careers early and died at a young age literally one after another.
Jimenez alias «El Chava» was from central Spain. The future star of the mountain stages was born on February 6, 1971 in the tiny village of El Barraco, located in the province of Avila (autonomous community of Castile and Leon).
The young rascals in El Barraco had nothing to do, and to prevent the youth from doing something bad, Victor Sastre opened something like a bicycle section or club in the town.
Sastre is a familiar name, isn’t it? It is no coincidence that Victor Sastre is the father of the famous cyclist Carlos Sastre. Carlos was not born in El Barraco, but moved to live there when he was 18 years old.
The Cycling Club of Sastre Sr. had already existed for a long time by this time, and Jose Maria Jimenez was its graduate, he is four years older than Carlos Sastre. Subsequently, Jimenez and Carlos Sastre began to unite not only the cycling club, but also kinship, Sastre married Jimenez’s sister and became his brother-in-law.
El Chava The begining
Jimenez began racing in the junior team named after Tour de France medalist Angel Arroyo. Surprisingly, this driver was also born and raised in tiny El Barraco. Then in the career of the young Jimenez was the amateur team Caja Rural Salamanca, from which he got into the amateur part of Banesto.
As part of Banesto, Jimenez won 12 victories, trained in the adult team, with which he signed a professional contract in 1993. At that time, Eusebio Unsue had already worked for Banesto (now Movistar) for a long time, but he was a sports director, led by the team of Jose-Miguel Echevarri.
Pantani was born a year earlier than Jimenez and got into the professional world a year earlier. In the future, the Italian’s career developed rapidly, in 1994 he already won the overall standings of the Giro and the Tour.
Banesto hoped for Jimenez as the heir to Miguel Indurain or Pedro Delgado, but it quickly became clear that Jimenez was very weak in the cut, which meant that it would be very difficult for him to claim victories in the overall standings of the grand tours. In the 90s, there were two or three long time trial races on super races.
Jose Maria Jimenez Best Years
Jimenez’s career took off in 1997. In the summer, he first became the champion of Spain in the group race, and then finished eighth in the overall Tour de France, and this despite the fact that the leader of Banesto was then Abraham Olano.
At the Vuelta, El Chava was in 12th place, but he was very strong in some stages. He won the 19th stage and was in the top three in three more stages.
On all the difficult climbs of the finish, Jimenez kept up with the strongest and imposed on them the struggle for victory. In the overall standings, he was only in 21st place, but this happened due to too large time losses in the first half of the race. According to the results of all stages, Jimenez became the winner of the Vuelta mountain classification for the first time.
Surprise at Mont ventoux
In 1998, El Chava won the mountain stage at the Criterium Dauphine with a finish at Mont Ventoux, but failed at the Tour de France and did not even finish the race.
He managed to compensate for all this at the Vuelta. Jimenez literally dominated the mountains, in which he won as many as four stages. He had a great chance to win the overall standings, but the weak cut had disastrous consequences for him.
On two «cuttings» he lost almost seven minutes to Olano and took only third place in the general classification, passing ahead not only his Banesto partner, but also Fernando Escartina from Kelme – Costa Blanca
Jimenez’s mountain lead was overwhelming, with runner-up Laurent Jalaber scoring almost half the points, but that was little consolation.
Jimenez lost to Olano a little over two minutes. Of course, he would have easily outstripped everyone if there were no «strikes», but without them there is no way to go.
In 1999, El Chava appeared on the Giro for the second and last time in his career. In the overall standings, nothing happened, the only bright episode was the second place in one of the mountain stages, after Pantani.
La Vuelta a España 1999
At the Vuelta of that year, Jimenez finally became the first leader of a very strong Banesto, although his teammates did not really work for him. Manuel Beltran and Leonardo Piepili faced their own challenges at many stages.
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In 1999, El Chava won only one stage on his own grand tour, but which one. He finished first at the top of the legendary Alto de l’Angliru, which then first appeared on La Vuelta a España. The victory, however, turned out to be quite scandalous. There was a particularly heavy fog on l’Angliru that day, in the last kilometers Jimenez threw Roberto Eras off and rushed to catch up with the leading Pavel Tonkov.
Why didn’t Jimenez become a Pantani-caliber star in the world?
El chava Jimenez was one of the best cyclists of his time, but his weakness in the strong winds and instability in the mountains never allowed him to win the grand tours.
Pantani was also not famous for his «ability in cross winds», but he rode them much better than Jimenez, at the right moment even very decently. In addition, in his best years, Pantani performed consistently in the mountains. Winning today and losing 20 minutes tomorrow was clearly not about Pantani.
Jimenez and Pantani have a lot in common, but Pantani became a legend all over the world, while Jimenez remained an idol in Spain alone. It is true that 21 out of 23 of his professional victories El Chava won in Spain. The total number of victories of Pantani is slightly more – only 26, but he won races in different countries, in the Tour de France alone Pirate won eight stages in the mountains.
Although, we can say that El Chava won one big victory in France. In 2008, Carlos Sastre won the Tour de France and dedicated the victory to the memory of his friend and relative.
By: Berthy Perez