Before winning the Tour de France 2020, Slovenian rider Tadej Pogačar caused a sensation in La Vuelta 19 by finishing 3rd, at just 20 years, 11 months and 25 days of age, behind his countryman Primož Roglič and Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde. However, he is not the youngest rider to have ever made it onto La Vuelta’s podium. Today, we are in Granada with Antonio Jiménez Quiles (86 years old). At the time, he was only 20 years, 9 months and 25 days of age when La Vuelta’s 10th edition ended in Bilbao in 1955.
La Vuelta 1955 was the first Vuelta to be won by a French rider: Jean Dotto, who paved the way for other countrymen to follow in his footsteps: Jean Stablinski (1958), Jacques Anquetil (1963), Raymond Poulidor (1964), Roger Pingeon (1969), Bernard Hinault (1978 and 1983), Eric Caritoux (1984) and Laurent Jalabert (1995).
Following a four-year break, due to economic reasons, La Vuelta 1955 marked the start of a new uninterrupted cycle (the race has been held every year since then). Before this, it had been interrupted several times: between 1937 and 1940 due to the Spanish Civil War and from 1943 to 1944 due to World War II.
“When I arrived in Bilbao for the race’s departure I wasn’t on the list. I found out I was going to participate in La Vuelta on the eve of the first stage (Bilbao > San Sebastián)”, explains Antonio Jiménez Quiles, who joined a regional team at the last minute which, with his presence, represented Catalonia-Aragon and Andalusia. He was the only Andalusian member and was replacing the son of Santiago Mostajo, the sports director of this group, that could hardly call itself a team. “In truth, I was alone. I ate dinner away from the others and gave myself massages after each stage”, remembers he who remains the best representative of the history of Andalusian cycling. A professional in the decade of 1954 to 1963, he won hundreds of races, among them two Spanish mountain championships; besides being one of the 100 most illustrious personalities in the City of Granada in the 20th century.
“Jiménez Quiles has fought against his rivals and against general indifference”, said the headlines of the Diario Ideal on the 10th of May 1955. That Vuelta’s youngest rider began to draw attention within his own team on the 10th stage, Valencia > Cuenca. His capacity was growing in crescendo, leading him to ask Mostajo for permission to try his own luck. Permission granted. Despite his 8-minute delay, he took off in pursuit of seven escaped riders from the very first kilometre in order to find himself in the finale with the Italian Antonio Uliana, the day’s winner and Jean Dotto, the new leader of the general classification who took over from two other Frenchmen, Gilbert Bauvin and Raphaël Geminiani, favourites at the time, both of whom had worn the yellow leader’s jersey for the first time before him. The tactic used by his sports director, Sauveur Ducazeaux, consisted in throwing rivals off the scent by sending other team mates into the escapes. This tactic paid off that day. Geminiani finished third on the final podium.
Jiménez Quiles was third and finally second in the general classification, and remembers organising the peloton into a single file over several kilometres in order to avoid letting Dotto get past, who was the victim of an unfortunate flat tire in the stage between Valladolid and Bilbao. “Geminiani came to congratulate me for my bravery”, remembers the best Spanish rider in that Vuelta – an unknown until then – who, in his big break, had to face such important names as Italian rider Fiorenzo Magni, winner of the points classification. He made the most of internal battles within the national team, of the rivalry between Jesús Loroño and Federico Martín Bahamontes who were the object of cycling columns all through the 1950s.
During that Vuelta, Jiménez Quiles made friends with Bernardo Ruiz (95 years old), winner of La Vuelta 1948 who is enjoying his well-deserved retirement in Orihuela Playa, Province of Alicante. “We talk on the phone often. With him and with other riders of my time”, explains the rider from Granada, who reinvented himself in the commerce, restaurant and bus transport industries (the logo on Jiménez Quiles buses was a cyclist’s silhouette). He also had a luxury vehicle hire business, aimed at movie stars (among them, Sergio Leone), who went to film in the Almería area.
Later on, he returned to La Vuelta as a race Commissary, and is always happy when the Spanish tour’s caravan stops in Sierra Nevada (the first time was in 1979).
His feat continues to be exceptional in the history of cycling, even today. Only 11 riders have made it to the podium of a Grand Tour before turning 21 (the 10 that preceded Pogačar were legally younger). The youngest was Henri Cornet, winner of the Tour de France 1904 at 19 years, 11 months and 19 days of age. Fausto Coppi won the Giro 1940 at 20 years, 8 months and 25 days of age. Since World War II, only Giambattista Baronchelli (2nd in the Giro 1974 at 20 years, 9 months and 2 days of age) comes chronologically between Jiménez Quiles (1955) and Tadej Pogačar (2020).
In 1955, this legendary Andalusian rider left Granada with a third-class train ticket. He returned by plane and had a triumphant reception along the streets of a city that was not in the habit of celebrating sports achievements. He continues to live in Granada, near the city centre, and follows La Vuelta on TV every year.