Happy Birthday Marco Pantani – 13.01.1970 – 14.02.2004
Unlike many of his EPO-era contemporaries, the legacy of Italian climbing ace Marco Pantani most often revolves around sympathy, pity and, following his untimely death in 2014, regret for a life lost for the apparent lack of support or understanding. A troubled character who often seemed out of his depth in his life away from his bike and he sought to hide behind some of the characterisations of himself that friends and enemies created for him, he nonetheless came alive in the saddle like no-one else. No matter that often he was at the back of the pack at the start of a climb, or that he was minutes behind on GC; as the road went upwards you always expected Pantani to find his legs and fly.
At 57kg he was perfectly suited to the mountains and his exploits on the high passes and summit finishes in May and July were never anything short of spectacular. Sporting (and occasionally jettisoning for weight savings) his trademark bandana & hooped earrings, Il Pirata’s Giro-Tour Double year of 1998 seemed to herald the dawn of a new era in which Pantani and Jan Ullrich would duel for supremacy. Instead it was the high water mark of the swiftly receding tide of Pantani’s short career. Thrown out of the 1999 Giro whilst leading by 5’38” on the evening of the final mountain stage for a high haematocrit level, he never recovered anything like his previous form and spiralled into drug dependency before succumbing to acute cocaine poisoning just five short years later, aged just 34.
More Jersey Pocket thoughts on Pantani’s legacy can be found here.