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Ferdy Kuebler, 1950 Tour de France champion, dies at 97

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LONDON — Ferdy Kuebler, who came back from injury and the interruption of World War II to win the 1950 Tour de France, has died. He was 97.

The Swiss won an epic battle with French rider Louison Bobet in the 1950 race, and became world champion the following year.

Andre Haefliger, the chief reporter at Swiss magazine Schweizer Illustrierte, said from Kuebler’s home in Switzerland on Friday that he could confirm the death on behalf of Kuebler’s widow, Christina. Kuebler died Thursday at a Zurich hospital. He had been suffering from a cold.

Switzerland’s national cycling association, Swiss Cycling, paid tribute to Kuebler and offered its condolences to his family. “We are taking leave of one of the greatest cycling legends of our time,” it wrote on its website.

For many, his biggest achievement was winning the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege races, then held on successive days, in both 1951 and 1952.

In an era of marathon races on poor roads, Kuebler also won the 1953 Bordeaux-to-Paris after 570 kilometers (356 miles) and more than 14 hours in the saddle.

Born July 24, 1919, into a poverty-stricken family near Zurich, Kuebler knew as a child that he wanted to be a professional cyclist.

Forced as a teenager to find work to support his family, he got a job delivering bread by bicycle.

“I had to climb the mountain up to four times a day. That was how I trained for my career. I told myself: one day you will be a cyclist,” Kuebler said in a 2003 television documentary.

Later, as a Zurich office worker, Kuebler cycled the 100-kilometer (63-mile) round trip from home.

World War II broke out as he was starting to make his name as a cyclist. Kuebler was drafted into the Swiss army.

“I lost five or six of my best years,” he said.

An accident in 1946 that hospitalized him for two months almost ended his postwar career.

He came back in 1947 and started his first Tour, aged 28. He won the first stage, becoming the first post-war wearer of the famed yellow jersey.

In 1950, third-placed Kuebler took over the race lead when Italy’s team of riders withdrew, accusing spectators of assaulting them.

He finished the 4,773 kilometers (2,983 miles) 9 minutes, 30 seconds ahead of Belgium’s Stan Ockers, with Bobet third.

Kuebler chose not to race another Tour until 1954. He finished second, behind Bobet.

After retiring at age 38, Kuebler trained as a ski instructor and worked on the Swiss slopes for 25 winters. In summer he did publicity for the Tour de Suisse and traveled with the race as an official for 35 years.

Kuebler said there was never any other career for him except cycling.

“I always said if I came back to earth – which I hope will happen – I would be a cyclist again,” he said.

Italy’s Felline wins Tour of Romandie prologue for Scarponi

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AIGLE, Switzerland — Fabio Felline of Italy won the Tour of Romandie prologue and dedicated his victory to compatriot Michele Scarponi, whose funeral was taking place on Tuesday.

Felline says his best win of the season “is also for Scarponi” – the 2011 Giro d’Italia winner who died Saturday after a collision with a van while training near his home.

On Swiss roads made slick by rain, Felline timed 5 minutes, 57 seconds for a 4.8-kilometer (3-mile) route around the International Cycling Union’s home town.

The Trek-Segafredo rider was two seconds faster than runner-up Alex Dowsett of Britain, and seven seconds ahead of Australian Alex Edmondson.

Two-time Romandie winner Chris Froome of Britain was 29 seconds back in his first race for a month.

The six-day race heads into the mountains Wednesday.

Michele Scarponi funeral to take place in Italy on Tuesday

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FILOTTRANO, Italy — The funeral of former Giro d’Italia winner Michele Scarponi will be on Tuesday in his hometown of Filottrano, near Ancona.

Scarponi, who won the Giro in 2011, died after a collision with a van while training near his home on Saturday. He was 37.

A service will be held in the town’s football stadium and will be officiated by Ancona cardinal, Edoardo Menichelli.

Italian National Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malago is expected to attend, along with the head of the Italian cycling federation, Renato Di Rocco, and numerous teammates and rivals, including Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali.

Thousands of people have visited the chapel where Scarponi’s body lies.

Scarponi’s body was dressed in his Astana kit, while drawings by his four-year-old twin sons have been placed beside him in the coffin.

Scarponi was awarded the 2011 Giro trophy after Alberto Contador was stripped of the title because of doping.

The Italian had also faced doping sanctions. He was banned for 18 months in July 2007 following the long-running Operation Puerto doping scandal, while he served a three-month suspension from the end of 2012 after working with the banned physician Michele Ferrari.

Scarponi had been named as Astana’s leader for the upcoming Giro d’Italia, which starts in less than two weeks, after Aru pulled out with a knee injury.

Scarponi was one of the most liked riders on the circuit, with his sense of humor and jovial disposition. He often started training rides with his parrot on his shoulder, posting videos which quickly went viral.

The parrot, Frankie, has been seen perched on a signpost at the site of the accident, where flowers and tributes have been placed.