r-EPO Man

Photo: VeloPress

It’s always a let down for a fan to realise his or her idol is not all that they were held up to be. And while I was somewhat a fan of Marco Pantani, it was neither a surprise nor a let-down to read about his troubled life, and his subsequent sad, lonely death.

It wasn’t a surprise, or a let-down, to read that possibly his whole career was fueled by a dependence on recombinant EPO, among other performance enhancers. I knew it while watching him win the Tour in 98, I knew it when I watched him vainly struggle to hold the wheel of a super-charged Armstrong in the 2000 Tour, and I knew it when I saw him valiantly try to re-capture his former climbing prowess against the lesser gifted, yet somehow superior Simoni and Garzelli et al in the 2003 Giro, his ultimate swansong as it would eventually transpire.

Did I care that he was loaded? No. All his contemporaries were, it was no secret. Did I get an invigorating thrill from watching him fly up iconic mountain passes while holding the bars in the drops, sitting, standing, always accelerating, striving to get to the summit as quickly as possible, to shorten the suffering as he often stated? Hell yes. He was an entertainer. He was a craftsman. An aesthete. And he was a loner, foregoing any real support from a team that lacked talent and panache, something that probably pleased him as he loved to be the centre of attention.

And just as he rode alone, he lived alone. Although he was surrounded by an entourage who all claimed to be doing their best for him, ultimately he was neglected by them, and left to die a lonely, depressed, paranoid and disturbed man.

The Death of Marco Pantani doesn’t try to dispel the notion that his career was based on deception, nor does it try to glorify it. It is a stark assessment of the facts, and only the staunchest of tifosi could argue against those facts. But it still hits hard to read of such a spectacular fall from grace, the downward spiral from the pinnacle of the sport, and indeed from the pinnacle of celebrity, to a demise that one would normally associate with that of a rock star or actor. Maybe that’s how he saw himself, and how he thought it would be befitting for him to be remembered, like an Elvis, a Jim Morrison or even a James Dean.

Just as we still listen to The Doors, and watch Viva Las Vegas or Rebel Without a Cause and take pleasure from the experience, so too will we remember Les Duex Alpes in 98, or l’Alpe d’Huez in 95 and 97, not because we were watching a flawed individual, but because we were being entertained by a consumate showman, a master of his craft at the height of his profession.

And for that I can only be appreciative. RIP Marco.

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65 Replies to “r-EPO Man”

  1. Hi

    I walked the line back in about 2000. Watching Museeuw rattle across the pave from 50km out holding everyone else off and I still remember thinking, well they’re all at it, let’s enjoy the spectacle.

    But that never sat easy with me and I think it was the hypocrisy of the riders as they got caught over the following couple of years that meant I lost all respect for them.

  2. I think it was the 2008(?) TdF watching Ricardo Ricco just blow the field apart en route to a stage win. Riding up the mountain he is passing other riders like they are standing still and I’m thinking “Damn, that’s an amazing ride!” followed almost immediately by “Damn, i bet he’s doped to the gills.”

  3. @Shannon
    whereas I watched it thinking, “Wow! That’s unbelievable. Quite clearly Ricco is doped up to the eyeballs as are some of his team-mates”.* However Kohl completely slipped through my radar.

    *a slight aside. But other than the two Saunier Duval riders who were kicked off the race, there was at least one other rider from that team who was riding *exceptionally* strongly in that tour. Oddly hasn’t reproduced that sort of form since.

  4. First time I’ve come across this article. Nice write-up, Brett!

    He seemed like a tortued soul. RIP for sure.

    No matter what, I still LOVE watching videos of him at his climbing peak. In the rain, flying up the mountain…I’ll watch that before I head out on a rainy day and it motivates the hell out of me.

  5. Ron :
    First time I’ve come across this article. Nice write-up, Brett!
    He seemed like a tortued soul. RIP for sure.
    No matter what, I still LOVE watching videos of him at his climbing peak. In the rain, flying up the mountain…I’ll watch that before I head out on a rainy day and it motivates the hell out of me.

    Completely agree, Ron.

    The man lived his life with passion and ultimately burned out and died on it.

    But, in his glory, flying up L’Alpe, he just exuded pure cycling brillance. Doped or not, still chills my blood to see.

  6. Brett, the tone of your write-up effectively captures many of the thoughts that have been lingering in my mind since finishing this book yesterday. I read it over the past few days while away at a cottage with my family (it was certainly a study in contrasts to read about Pantani’s final days while sitting out on a deck, drinking a coffee, and gazing out over the water as the rising sun burned the mist off of the lake). Recently, I also watched the ’98 Giro and Tour on DVD. Pantani was simply electrifying to watch. He seemed to attack with a kind of reckless abandon, or perhaps more of a carefree artistry that seems in such contrast to the controlled and calculated attacks that have become so common. I suppose that the same reckless abandon that made him such an exciting climber to watch was also the cause of so much misery and self-destruction in his private life. After reading the book (which did seem very balanced and which certainly taught me a great deal about the technical aspects of doping), I am left quite conflicted about how to think about Pantani. Your review, but especially its final paragraph, provides much food for thought. Thanks.

  7. Half way through this atm. I find myself not enjoying it as much, so far, as the previous cycling books I have read. I can’t get a grasp on Marco’s personality. Maybe his shyness, or his struggle to cope with fame and personality. There isn’t a great deal about why he chose cycling, apart from a brief few lines about not being good enough at soccer. Then there is quite a bit about his race career, but only really described in terms of times ahead or behind rivals.

    I will watch that dvd and hopefully get a better handle. I will continue with it, it maybe that it isn’t a book to be enjoyed, more educational as Duende says.

    As for doping in general, my view is a class one. nearly all the top cyclists I have read about come from poverty stricken, working class families. Few of us, and our families, eat or dont eat based on our next annual work appraisal. Not getting a pro contract for these guys is that reality. If I was in that position, and I needed a result in the next race to secure a contract, would I dope? It’s a dark place I don’t want to think about.

    Like most people on here say, I am not excusing it, or condoning it, just trying to understand it.

  8. Is there any particular reason why every recent & random article at the bottom of the home page has a homage to Fiorenzo Magni in the description?

    I respected him too but this seems a rather random eulogy….are the gemlins in the code?

  9. Worth a bump for several reasons:

    1.  Great article by Brett and after so many great contributions this mornings article on motocross just seemed out of place…it is summer FFS, can we have great tales of heroes fighting dragons in the mountains…is the current world of pro european cycling so poor that we are putting up articles that firmly belong in the winter catalogue? (I am not criticising the article just the season in which it has been posted)

    2.  Recent anniversary and the new Pantani film…which I am going to watch this week…anyone seen it or have any comments on it.

    3.  Those Golden Days may have seen rivers of EPO running through riders chalets and hotel rooms.  Blood transfusions may well have been giving the vampire community conniptions but it still makes awesome reading.

    4.  That photo.  One of my all time favourites!

    I love the fact that random legacy articles pop up at the bottom of the screen.  Many themes re-occur and with some perspective really changes over time.

    As ever…strong work Keepers!

  10. @Buck Rogers thanks, that was good, the man seems to be just what I imagine we would have been if at age 27 or so our road had taken a different turn!

    Hey see you in a few weeks for a Hudson Valley ( east side) ride!!

  11. @Rob

    @Buck Rogers thanks, that was good, the man seems to be just what I imagine we would have been if at age 27 or so our road had taken a different turn!

    Hey see you in a few weeks for a Hudson Valley ( east side) ride!!

    Awesome!  Let me know when you’ll be here and we will get a nice ride in.

    I loved his perspective about US racing and the crits.  I have seen on other message boards about how some US racers think that they would be better bike handlers, etc b/c of their crit experience and how that they could easily hang with the pro peloton and he just blows that theory away.  1.5 hour races to NOT trabslate well into 5 hour “short stages”.  And loved the espresso bit on rides.  Just an all around excellent interview in my opinion.

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