Half Man, Half Bike: The Life of Eddy Merckx, Cycling's Greatest Champion by William Fotheringham:
Stage five of Merckx’s rapid progress to world domination was completed at the end of 1968, when he overcame Gimondi yet again, this time to win the Tour of Catalonia. Gimondi had been the precocious new star of Italian cycling: handsome and urbane, son of a postwoman and a lorry driver who initially could not even afford to buy him a bicycle. He was three years older than Merckx and, at twenty-six, approaching full physical maturity. On the bike, he was a stylist: spinning the pedals far more smoothly and with less impression of effort than the brutally physical Merckx. Watching him ride, the purists purred.
Their careers had run parallel since he won the Brussels-Alsemberg amateur classic ahead of Merckx in 1963. In 1964 Merckx won the world amateur road race championship with Gimondi fifth. At the Olympic Games, Gimondi had been responsible for Merckx being caught after a late attack. Unlike Merckx, the Italian had broken through immediately he turned professional in 1956. That year, he became one of the youngest ever Tour de France winners, and he added the Tour of Spain and Tour of Italy in the following two seasons, plus Paris-Roubaix and the Giro di Lombardia. It was all enough for the Italian media to crown him as the obvious successor to their late lamented darling Fausto Coppi.