Remco Evenepoel turned 24 on Jan. 25, 2024, and we compared the palmares - up to the 24th birthday - of great riders from various eras and countries. Today we come to the number fourteen in our ranking Charly Gaul.

First name: Charly
Last name: Gaul
Nationality: Luxembourg
Age: Died 06-12-2005
Date of birth: 08-12-1932
Place of birth: Luxembourg-Pfaffenthal
Nicknames: The Angel of the Mountains, Monsieur Pipi

Charly Gaul was born in Luxembourg-Pfaffenthal, a district of the capital. He was a professional cyclist between 1953 and 1962. ‘The Angel of the Mountains,’ as he was called, referring to his climbing abilities, won the Tour de France in 1958 after already finishing third once in 1955, a podium finish he would repeat in 1961. In 1955 and 1956, he won the mountain classification in the Tour. He also won the Giro twice – in 1956 and 1959 in which he also won the mountain prize both times. In 1957, however, he lost the Tour of Italy due to a botched pee break. When Gaul pulled over to pee, Bobet and Geminiani went on the attack…After this, he was then called “Monsieur Pipi.

Gaul won a total of eleven stages in the Giro and ten in the Tour, he was Luxembourg’s road champion six times and also twice national cyclocross champion. Charly Gaul was voted Luxembourg’s Sportsman of the Twentieth Century. He was a big fan of Marco Pantani whose attacking spirit he admired.

The Angel who went into the black hole

During and after his second divorce, Gaul led a reclusive existence. The Angel of the Mountains entered the black hole. The Angel who owed his nickname both to his elegant pedal pace and to his handsome appearance lived for 18 years almost untraceable in the forests of Luxembourg.

An inexplicable turn of events in Gaul’s life. He was an idol, a star and woman magnet during his career. At the height of his fame, he received more than fifty fan letters a day, mostly from female admirers. His handsome head, in which two bright blue eyes sparkled, made him look much like James Dean. His appearance caused wet dreams for many ladies and he allowed himself to enjoy that. However, he did not take advantage of that status and made clear selections.

Even after his career, life smiled on him. When he quit cycling in 1965, he opened a café in Luxembourg City with his second wife shortly thereafter. However, that café turned out not to be such a good idea. Charly became the best customer of his establishment. He didn’t hide his alcohol abuse either, but he didn’t explain it either. Did he have relationship problems with his wife? Couldn’t place his parting from cycling? The fact is that he had no shelter after his career and it pained him that the Luxembourg cycling federation had not appointed him national coach. So he dove straight into the black hole. Six months after opening the café, however, he abandoned everything and everyone.

Gaul moved into the Luxembourg forests and lived there as a hermit for nearly 18 years. He lived there in a mobile home without running water and electricity. Journalists and fans who came looking for him were unkindly asked to turn back right away. Until suddenly light returned to his dark mind and in 1983 he reappeared in public with his new wife Josée and little daughter Fabienne. Never, however, did he himself give one word of explanation about his disappearance and his withdrawn life.

Memorial plaque on top of Monte Bondone

Legendary stage to Monte Bondone

Charly Gaul will forever be associated with that legendary stage on June 9, 1956. He had fallen during the descent of the Stelvio the day before and his gap to leader Pasquale Fornara was twenty-four minutes. The final tough mountain stage is a 240 km ride with a finish on Monte Bondone. It will be a hellish stage that would never be ridden today. For a whole day the riders will have to face rain, hail and icy winds. Moreover, at that time the riders will wear only a wool sweater, with no rain jackets, covers, rain-repellent or thermal clothing. After a whole day of suffering, they ride up the flanks of the Bondone. There all hell breaks loose. The riders were caught in a blizzard with sub-zero temperatures.

It becomes a complete battleground as more than sixty riders, including pink jersey Fornara, give up. Charly Gaul rides alone through the carpet of snow to the finish and takes the pink jersey. The scenes after the finish are unlikely. The freezing cold meant Gaul could not even brake at the finish and had to stop by dragging his feet against the ground. In his hotel – so it was told – a pair of scissors was used to cut his jersey to pieces because it had frozen to his skin. This victory is still described as one of the most punishing achievements ever in cycling history. “Never did a rider have to endure more pain, fear and exhaustion,” Jacques Goddet wrote in l’Equipe. No one would later manage to reverse such a huge deficit in one day in a major tour.”

Bronze plaque Parc Vauban city of Luxembourg

Charly Gaul died on Dec. 6, 2005, two days before his 73rd birthday, from the effects of a pulmonary embolism.

Plate at the start of the climb of Monte Bondone, Charly Gaul

Text: Patrick Van Gansen
Fotos: collectie Teus Korporaal

More news

More Articles