In Memoriam: Il Pirata, Ten Years Gone

In Memoriam: Il Pirata, Ten Years Gone

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// In Memoriam // Kermis // Look Pro // Nostalgia // Reverent

  1. Only speed with passion

  2. @Markp

    Where does one find that?

  3. @Souleur

    On its surface, many judge Pantani as a doper, one of a self destructive, impulsive and perhaps smug euro snob. However, upon further study and reading, his personality could not have been farther from this. He indeed was an innocent soul, a nationalist inherently, a proud Italian. As he made rank, turning PRO, the capitalistic expectations of returns on investments revealed the organized dope of an era inflicted and something upon him, and perhaps it seems to me the great conflict was manifest between his inherent innocence and love of cycling that drove him deeply into depression and I can’t say I can find a thing wrong about that perspective.

    Forever, he will be loved on this day of love, it seems so perpetually fitting for his inherent virtue and innocence

    Excuse me, this is where I get off…

    Fine to remember him if he inspired you, to recall some of his great moments against rivals who were similarly juiced… if people view his rides in the context of their time then knock yourselves out. I’m perfectly prepared to let those who want to glorify him get on with it.

    But it’s the attempts to portray him as some sort of victim that I find nauseating and unable to let pass without comment.

    The photo leading this article is of Pantani leading a protest against doping investigations during the 1998 TdF, which he won, and has subsequently been shown to have been taking EPO. That’s not only actively cheating it also means he made a personal choice to conspire with others to prevent any changes to the system which provided him with wealth and fame.

    Great rider, sublime climber and undoubtedly cursed with a fragile personality but “inherently innocent, virtuous victim of capitalistic expectations” – the bollocks he was.

  4. @ChrisO feel free to disagree, I understand.  He, as all true greats are polarizing figures.  And until most recently, as the depths of doping over the past years has been made transparent, it is easy to consider his guilt in this.  However, what if he had no choice nor will as you assume? In the very photo in protest I think it may be misinterpreted.  He isn’t a hypocrite, as it would be so easy to dismiss.  Perhaps he was protesting, seriously, as the doping was so organized, it stole the will of riders, in that they really had no choice, there were expectations, follow or leave, and in that is why I think he really was innocent inherently.  Listen, there is so much written of first hand accounts of the expectations, most comically is Joe Perkins ‘a dog in a hat’, the riders will was not regarded.  The only will that was regarded was the return on sponsors investments.

    I really do respect your opinion, in fact mine was of the same after his death, however, just back up a moment, and consider the possibility in light of the evidence

  5. Interesting interview with Matt Rendell (who wrote ‘The Death of Marco Pantani’) over on Velonews:

    Everyone seems to have forgotten that Pantani had a vicious bullying side as well. I remember in the 1999 Giro, he brought Andrea Tafi to tears in the peloton because Mapei had signed [a pledge for clean cycling]. 

    The guys who retired, were bullied out of the sport, or never got a start because they refused to dope — these are the tragic innocents of the era.

  6. @scaler911

    Sad really. I loved watching him climb. He made it look so easy. I remember hearing the news of his untimely meeting with his maker (if you believe in such things) and just being sad.

    I’ll always wonder why it seems the most inspirational stars that we follow, that we long to be like, don’t stay long in this world (PSH, Hendrix, Staley, Cobain……the list seems endless).

    Whinehouse is on that list too; also in the trainwreck that everyone saw coming but was helpless to stop.

    I remember calling the VMH and telling her to sit down before telling her he died. She was a bigger fan than I was even.

  7. @ChrisO

    A couple points, of importance only if you’ve already accepted there may be some gray area between being a good cheater and a bad cheater. First, I think your argument is fair enough but it also ignores the complexities of being part of a system and not having any realistic alternative choice other than to go with the flow.  He certainly did have a choice to walk away, but that choice would have put him on the street with very few other options to make a living. Not many would consider that a viable alternative to going along with the flow.

    And, he didn’t lead that protest, he participated. The photo just makes it look like he’s the ring leader. Also, it was in protest to how the police were treating the riders – TVM in particular – not against the dope controls themselves.  (I think the last person with the balls to protest a drug test was Anquetil.)

  8. @andrew

    The guys who retired, were bullied out of the sport, or never got a start because they refused to dope “” these are the tragic innocents of the era.

    This is the major point to always remember; I don’t feel so bad for the dopers cheating other dopers – I feel bad for the clean guys who got cheated.

    The other thing we’ve sorted out is that since the UCI defined the 50% hematocrit level, it basically meant that the less talented you were, the more you could dope. It was the farthest thing possible from a level playing field.

    Enough about doping though, those were some batshit crazy awesome races!

  9. Doped, not doped, pressured, or not pressured, fragile soul, or not – regardless what anyone thinks, that man could ride up and descent a mountain like I could only do in my dreams and is the main reason I started cycling. He will forever have my admiration, however misplaced that may be.

  10. Terrific story about Il Pirata, but who the phoque is “Layne Staley”?

  11. @Angling Saxon

    Terrific story about Il Pirata, but who the phoque is “Layne Staley”?

    Oh, someone from Seattle will go off on this.

  12. Another Layne Staley gem:

    The cracks and lines from where you gave up – they make an easy man to read.

  13. So, I guess that a lot of you who admire his (doped up) riding performances and the way he glided up those mountains (doped up of course) must also be in awe and have fond memories of the same skills displayed by (dare I say it) Lance Armstrong?

  14. @Wondering

    Have you ever watched cycling? Armstrong rode with perhaps 1/10 the panache of Pantani. Also, Pantani was a tortured soul who you feel like wanted to do nothing more than race his bike. Retrospectively, Armstrong was a psychopath.

  15. @Angling Saxon

    Terrific story about Il Pirata, but who the phoque is “Layne Staley”?

    …aaand I’m old. :/

  16. “Panache”? Sounds like you’re infatuated with the European Legend vs Loud American. “Oh, but Marco rode with panache, style, flare and was only riding doped because he was just a victim of the cycling culture of the time.” Give me a break. Time to take off those rose coloured glasses. If the victim excuse is good for Marco, then why not for Lance. I think they’re both drugged up cheats, so don’t think I’m siding with Armstrong.

    (to several of the posters here) If you want to glorify a troubled soul with a tragic fall from grace, then go right ahead, I’ll back you on that. But if you’re going to celebrate his drugged up cycling achievements and say they inspired you back then (and now) then don’t be placing Marco on a pedestal and Lance in the gutter. Again, I’m no fan of Lance, but his achievements dominated cycling for many years, even dominated Marco when Marco was at his peak.

  17. @Wondering

    When I am watching a race and the road is getting steep and the attacks are flying the last thing on my mind is who is or isn’t doped….  I like to watch guys race bikes, I tend to keep the doping debate and just plain awesome riding in separate compartments of my brain and have a Chinese wall between the two areas …  I am not saying it is right, that is just the way I am.   When I see clips of Lance crushing it, I look at it and think what stage it was? who he was racing? what was the outcome etc?  others may look at them and get disgusted by the fact that he doped blah blah blah …  Me I look at these photos and clips go Holy Fuck look at guy climb …

  18. @Fins

    I grew up cycling in that era.

  19. @Goggles

    I too separate them, and I love watching particularly the 1997 Ulrich “strong man domination” to the 2007 “last of the big doper” races. I just find it so pathetic to idolise some cyclists despite their vices and demolish others who have essentially the same vices. They are entertaining and awesome achievements for what they are.

  20. After several years of fighting against doping allegations in the courts, in his last six months, Pantani scribbled some notes on some pages in his passport then tore them out and put them in a bin. His friend Mengozzi found them and read them out loud sometime later at Pantani’s funeral.

    ‘I’ve been humiliated for nothing,’ he wrote, in reference to his legal struggles. ‘For four years I’ve been in every court. Rules, yes, but the same for everyone.’

    Now isn’t that essentially what Lance and a lot of his fans say.

  21. @GogglesPizano

    @Wondering

    When I am watching a race and the road is getting steep and the attacks are flying the last thing on my mind is who is or isn’t doped…. I like to watch guys race bikes, I tend to keep the doping debate and just plain awesome riding in separate compartments of my brain and have a Chinese wall between the two areas

    And that’s absolutely fine… but it only lasts until someone comes along and starts claiming Pantani as a victim blah blah blah.

    Most of it is pure speculation and romanticised projection- that’s the bit I find hard to take. To look, as Souleur does, at a photo of him protesting against drug testing and suggest he is actually protesting against organised doping. To convince yourself as Frank has that he is just taking part, not leading, when he was the Giro winner and a favourite going into that Tour, who would have been one of the key voices to say yes or no to any action by the peleton.

    Even regarding his climbing talent, Rendell makes the point that we don’t actually know how sublime he was or wasn’t. The evidence suggests he was juiced up for his entire career. He didn’t arrive in the pro peleton, wide-eyed and innocent. But if people want to celebrate his supposed talent then I don’t begrudge it.

    My own speculation  is that Pantani felt betrayed by cycling and couldn’t handle it,  because he couldn’t separate cycling and doping. It was completely ingrained and he didn’t have the confidence to think he could achieve anything without it.

    You might say that’s what makes him a victim but I would also say that’s what rules him out from being called a Great. Champions in any sport are often those who have the most ability to overcome setbacks, doubts and adversity with renewed desire and determination. Look at the difference between say Merckx and Ocana.

    Dealing with pressure and expectation is not victimisation, it’s what makes competitive sport interesting, otherwise you go back to  ‘all shall have prizes’ and ‘it’s the taking part that counts’.

    I agree with @wondering that if you think Pantani was a victim then you have to extend the same indulgence to Armstrong, Ulrich, Ricco, di Luca and the rest. Hell, even to people like Verbruggen and McQuaid who spent their whole lives working in and sustaining a system only to have it torn apart as unacceptable. Hein and Marco, two peas in a pod ?

  22. @ChrisO

    @Souleur

    On its surface, many judge Pantani as a doper, one of a self destructive, impulsive and perhaps smug euro snob. However, upon further study and reading, his personality could not have been farther from this. He indeed was an innocent soul, a nationalist inherently, a proud Italian. As he made rank, turning PRO, the capitalistic expectations of returns on investments revealed the organized dope of an era inflicted and something upon him, and perhaps it seems to me the great conflict was manifest between his inherent innocence and love of cycling that drove him deeply into depression and I can’t say I can find a thing wrong about that perspective.

    Forever, he will be loved on this day of love, it seems so perpetually fitting for his inherent virtue and innocence

    Excuse me, this is where I get off…

    Fine to remember him if he inspired you, to recall some of his great moments against rivals who were similarly juiced… if people view his rides in the context of their time then knock yourselves out. I’m perfectly prepared to let those who want to glorify him get on with it.

    But it’s the attempts to portray him as some sort of victim that I find nauseating and unable to let pass without comment.

    The photo leading this article is of Pantani leading a protest against doping investigations during the 1998 TdF, which he won, and has subsequently been shown to have been taking EPO. That’s not only actively cheating it also means he made a personal choice to conspire with others to prevent any changes to the system which provided him with wealth and fame.

    Great rider, sublime climber and undoubtedly cursed with a fragile personality but “inherently innocent, virtuous victim of capitalistic expectations” – the bollocks he was.

    Agreed.  A tragic figure to be sure.  To be pitied, absolutely.  But to achieve some whitewashed innocence in death I can’t extend it.  I too watched in amazement as Pantani sprinted up those beautiful slopes at an impossible rate.  Panache…no.  Implausible…for sure.  And every time I see the videos, I’m angry with myself that I could have been so gullible.  The ‘did it cause everyone else did it’ just doesn’t wash.  Sad as his story is,  there appears to be little virtue present.  Like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, I don’t think we should celebrate.  Compassion is I feel, more appropriate.

  23. “The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect.”

  24. Marco caught my attention when I was young, naive about the doping going on in the pro peloton and my cycling interests were consumed mostly by bikes with fat tyres, not skinny ones. That a road cyclist made that sort of impression on me was notable; I just loved watching him climb everything at a pace that made the others look pedestrian. Flawed? Yup. An innocent participant in the rocket-fuel era? No chance.  But it’s still a terrible shame that anyone should feel the only thing they can do is take their own life over what is ‘only’ a sport.

    We hit the hills today and every climb was taken sur la plaque, in the drops, just because.

  25. Reading the various “was he a victim/was he just a doper not deserving of sympathy” discussions reminds me of something Frank wrote here a long time ago (And forgive me if I’m paraphrasing) – we are here because we are Fans; being a fan doesn’t mean you have to apply logic to your opinion, if anything to be a fan you MUST go beyond logic.

    My one abiding memory of the ’98 Tour is switching on the shitty tv in a London hotel room and seeing the day’s summary, the first I’d been able to see in something remotely approaching the same time zone. And the one thing I can remember from that coverage is Pantani, clmibing like a homesick angel….

  26. @DavidI

    Reading the various “was he a victim/was he just a doper not deserving of sympathy” discussions reminds me of something Frank wrote here a long time ago (And forgive me if I’m paraphrasing) – we are here because we are Fans; being a fan doesn’t mean you have to apply logic to your opinion, if anything to be a fan you MUST go beyond logic.

    My one abiding memory of the ’98 Tour is switching on the shitty tv in a London hotel room and seeing the day’s summary, the first I’d been able to see in something remotely approaching the same time zone. And the one thing I can remember from that coverage is Pantani, clmibing like a homesick angel….

    This.

    It doesnt make it wrong or right.

    It just makes it !

  27. Personally, I find it easier to revere Pantani as a romantic tortured soul than I do junkie pop stars. At least some of the drugs he took actually enhanced his performance.

    Maybe we glorify the live-fast-die-young-leave-a-beautiful-corpus* because we don’t have to watch them age, slow, falter and remind us of our mortality.

    *I doubt Straley or Pantani were particularly beautiful corpses, but they left corpora (bodies of work).

  28. MP in pink jersey – Giro d’Italia 1998

  29. Panache is in the eye of the beholder. The panachyest (look it up) thing I have ever seen in a race was Landis’ comeback stage win in 06. That doesn’t seem to get mentioned too often these days – interestingly, O’Grady was in the break that day and Landis passed him like he was on a motorbike and Ole Stuey expressed immediate incredulity at the performance.  Turns out he would know.

    So to all those saying what Marco was or wasn’t, you are all correct. They are your opinions.

  30. @ChrissyOne

    @Angling Saxon

    Terrific story about Il Pirata, but who the phoque is “Layne Staley”?

    …aaand I’m old. :/

    I’m 47. How old are you?

    @Wondering

    “Panache”? Sounds like you’re infatuated with the European Legend vs Loud American. “Oh, but Marco rode with panache, style, flare and was only riding doped because he was just a victim of the cycling culture of the time.” Give me a break. Time to take off those rose coloured glasses. If the victim excuse is good for Marco, then why not for Lance. I think they’re both drugged up cheats, so don’t think I’m siding with Armstrong.

    (to several of the posters here) If you want to glorify a troubled soul with a tragic fall from grace, then go right ahead, I’ll back you on that. But if you’re going to celebrate his drugged up cycling achievements and say they inspired you back then (and now) then don’t be placing Marco on a pedestal and Lance in the gutter. Again, I’m no fan of Lance, but his achievements dominated cycling for many years, even dominated Marco when Marco was at his peak.

  31. Ooops, quote malfunction. Didn’t mean to quote the two paragraphs starting with “panache.”

  32. Pure …

    Ullrich and Pantani in the 1998 Tour de France

  33. @Wondering

    (to several of the posters here) If you want to glorify a troubled soul with a tragic fall from grace, then go right ahead, I’ll back you on that. But if you’re going to celebrate his drugged up cycling achievements and say they inspired you back then (and now) then don’t be placing Marco on a pedestal and Lance in the gutter. Again, I’m no fan of Lance, but his achievements dominated cycling for many years, even dominated Marco when Marco was at his peak.

    The difference you’re overlooking is that Pantani seemed to me personally a likeable character, like someone I could have a beer with under the right circumstances. Lance just seemed like a dick. Its as simple as that; its not fair or objective, its just the nature of being a fan.

    Also, at the time, the races Pantani made happen were simply exciting to watch, while Armstrong’s felt like foregone conclusions; how much fun you have watching the races at the time has a lasting impact on how you feel about the athletes after the fact.

  34. Pantani’s Bianchi Mega Pro XL that Pantani is totally awesome. I want to get one some day. I will get one some day. I’m a soldier in the celeste army.

  35. I have a Bianchi but it’s goddamn silver. Fuck. Oh well, I could put some Celeste tape on the bars.

    Pedale – we’ll have to take your word for it! (great photo, of course!)

    If you think not knowing who Layne Staley was, the VMH asked me a few weeks ago who Richard Pryor was. I told her I wouldn’t divorce her, but that I would never get over being angry about that question.

  36. @Marcus

    Panache is in the eye of the beholder. The panachyest (look it up) thing I have ever seen in a race was Landis’ comeback stage win in 06. That doesn’t seem to get mentioned too often these days – interestingly, O’Grady was in the break that day and Landis passed him like he was on a motorbike and Ole Stuey expressed immediate incredulity at the performance. Turns out he would know.

    So to all those saying what Marco was or wasn’t, you are all correct. They are your opinions.

    I think it doesn’t get mentioned so much because the bitter taste came in too quickly after the feat to allow it to pass into true nostalgia.

    But we watched it live on French television, after missing the previous day; we were confused and lost as to why he would be so far behind. Amazingly fun day. The ITT a few days later as well.

    Anyway, I for one still have the L’Equipe front page hanging in my workshop.

    @Pedale.Forchetta

    MP in pink jersey – Giro d’Italia 1998

    That might be the most abstractly beautiful shot you’ve ever posted!

  37. Was he another rider? I’ve never heard the name. Don’t make me google names I don’t know.

  38. @frank I remember talking to my brother (who doesn’t follow cycling but is a doctor) about Landis, describing that effort and finishing with, “and you know what, he did it all on a hip bone that is dying which he is getting replaced straight after the Tour”.

    His response, “A young professional athlete with necrosis of the hip? Am guessing he has been taking shit he shouldn’t have been. Bet he is a doper.”

  39. @Pedale.Forchetta

    MP in pink jersey – Giro d’Italia 1998

    That, right there, is an awesome shot.  Pictures are supposed to tell stories, this one speaks volumes.

    Excellent

  40. @frank

    @Wondering

    (to several of the posters here) If you want to glorify a troubled soul with a tragic fall from grace, then go right ahead, I’ll back you on that. But if you’re going to celebrate his drugged up cycling achievements and say they inspired you back then (and now) then don’t be placing Marco on a pedestal and Lance in the gutter. Again, I’m no fan of Lance, but his achievements dominated cycling for many years, even dominated Marco when Marco was at his peak.

    The difference you’re overlooking is that Pantani seemed to me personally a likeable character, like someone I could have a beer with under the right circumstances. Lance just seemed like a dick. Its as simple as that; its not fair or objective, its just the nature of being a fan.

    Also, at the time, the races Pantani made happen were simply exciting to watch, while Armstrong’s felt like foregone conclusions; how much fun you have watching the races at the time has a lasting impact on how you feel about the athletes after the fact.

    I agree completely. An unspoken aspect too is the fact he died, as this leads to the forgiveness of many sins.

    Unless you’re a douche. Ricco could have succeeded in offing himself with his dumbass blood transfusion but we still would think he is a prick, fantastic climber or not.

  41. @ped

    Pure …

    Ullrich and Pantani in the 1998 Tour de France

    What a fantastic shot, what a bike! That Bianchi’s not bad either, Jan’s Pinarello stunning, Jan? Fuck he’s he’s crushing it with Birthday boy, No Fucking Hands!

  42. “As much artist as athlete…….”

  43. @piwakawaka

    @ped

    Pure …

    Ullrich and Pantani in the 1998 Tour de France

    What a fantastic shot, what a bike! That Bianchi’s not bad either, Jan’s Pinarello stunning, Jan? Fuck he’s he’s crushing it with Birthday boy, No Fucking Hands!

    Surprising fact about Ullrich that everyone overlooks: he rode without blood boosters of blood doping from 1998 – 2002. The whole Festina Affair scared the shit out of him and he didn’t want to risk it. It wasn’t until 2003 that he started it back up again, after having had enough of getting creamed by Pharmy for so many years.

    That, to me, is amazing. Its also amazing that he really hasn’t spoken up about that.

  44. @frank

    @Wondering

    (to several of the posters here) If you want to glorify a troubled soul with a tragic fall from grace, then go right ahead, I’ll back you on that. But if you’re going to celebrate his drugged up cycling achievements and say they inspired you back then (and now) then don’t be placing Marco on a pedestal and Lance in the gutter. Again, I’m no fan of Lance, but his achievements dominated cycling for many years, even dominated Marco when Marco was at his peak.

    The difference you’re overlooking is that Pantani seemed to me personally a likeable character, like someone I could have a beer with under the right circumstances. Lance just seemed like a dick. Its as simple as that; its not fair or objective, its just the nature of being a fan.

    Also, at the time, the races Pantani made happen were simply exciting to watch, while Armstrong’s felt like foregone conclusions; how much fun you have watching the races at the time has a lasting impact on how you feel about the athletes after the fact.

    Several good points in this exchange.  May I add:

    This is the shirt for the Pantani fan, in Giro pink.


    This is me on the upper slopes of Alpe d’Huez  ,2013 Tour , wearing the above shirt ( the clip is from the World Cycling dvd, snapped it off the tv). I have worked the french folks up into quite a lather, and as you can see we are really “engaging” Froome and Sky as they go by.

    How can I wear a Pantani shirt and boo Froome? I guess the feeling of likeability comes into play. I think your feeling that people are coming down on Lance, the person, is correct. But honestly, the thing that bothers me most about the whole doping catastrophe is the inequality of justice and punishment.

    Rendell references the Conconi trial file that clearly shows that Claudio Chiapucci and Stephen Roche were EPO users at Carrera (at this point they didn’t want to spend the money on good dope for an unproven Pantani). Both are still public darlings. Richard Virenque? Don’t get me started.

  45. @frank

    Surprising fact about Ullrich that everyone overlooks: he rode without blood boosters of blood doping from 1998 – 2002. The whole Festina Affair scared the shit out of him and he didn’t want to risk it. It wasn’t until 2003 that he started it back up again, after having had enough of getting creamed by Pharmy for so many years.

    That, to me, is amazing. Its also amazing that he really hasn’t spoken up about that.

    Sample tests from Ullrich in 1998 did show EPO. Wouldn’t surprise me if they had samples from the next few years then they too would be positive.

  46. @fignons barber

    Richard Virenque? Don’t get me started.

    I can’t stand the way Eurosport give this guy a platform in the summer.

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