r-EPO Man

r-EPO Man

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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.

// Book Review // General // Racing

  1. @Marcus
    I thought Paul Kimage’s book was a book written by a weak, broken man. I hated it. His psychology is precisely the type that dopes for the wrong reasons (though the “right” reasons to dope a difficult to justify). He had bad moral, and he hated training. He would get behind on this form, start a race, and drop out. Having dropped out, his morale dropped more, he trained less, and – lacking the racing kilometers his competitors were getting, he would get shelled out of the bunch in the next race, and drop out. It seems like he never enjoyed bike racing an awful lot.

    I sympathize with the guy, and I am grateful he opened up about doping. But it’s too easy to look at his style of training and say, “That’s a weak man with a weak mind. Of course he doped.”

    Take, then, A Dog in a Hat, by Joe Parkin. Same situation. Under classed. Doped like Kimage. But the guy was living his dream and loved to climb aboard a bike. Completely different book, different take on the sport, and – I feel – the same message on doping in cycling.

    I never dropped out of a race, ever. I couldn’t live with myself if I did. I think your mind is the most important component in any sport. Love him or hate him (most of us here hate him), Lance Armstrong epitomized that. His mind was so strong, with 2/3 the form (and more dope) than his adversaries, he’d win the race at the start line, just though his sheer will and determination.

    One of his great quotes (despite his CoTHO status)

    Pain is temporary, quitting is for ever.

    It’s true. I don’t even quit on intervals. I don’t quit “riding tempo” until I simply can’t go any further. I haven’t raced in several years, but I still push myself so hard I can’t hold my body up on my bars at the top of a climb when I push myself. If I don’t have the form to do another interval or ride a hill hard, I’ll make that decision before I start the interval or hill – never during. I never allow my mind to shut my legs off during an effort. It’s a flood gate and once you open it, it just becomes more and more acceptable to quit.

  2. frank :
    One of his great quotes (despite his CoTHO status)”

    Pain is temporary, quitting is for ever.

    It’s true. I don’t even quit on intervals. I don’t quit “riding tempo” until I simply can’t go any further. I haven’t raced in several years, but I still push myself so hard I can’t hold my body up on my bars at the top of a climb when I push myself. If I don’t have the form to do another interval or ride a hill hard, I’ll make that decision before I start the interval or hill – never during. I never allow my mind to shut my legs off during an effort. It’s a flood gate and once you open it, it just becomes more and more acceptable to quit.

    Couldn’t agree more on any of this. Principle and practice are very sound. I try to instill this in my kids (off the bike), but it’s a sign of strong character. I’m no LA fan, but that’s a terrific quotation, which translates roughly as HTFU.

  3. By the way, awesome photo of the book; love how you propped it up against your bars. Are you experimenting with dropping your bars some? It seems you have more stack above the stem than I recall in other photos.

    Also, what bar wrap is that? The texture looks almost like cloth tape.

  4. @Steampunk
    Yup, it comes down to a bit more of Rule #5. And Rule #10. Which is why we put them on the leg of the bibs.

  5. @frank
    Yep, what an eagle eye you have! I dropped the stem and shortened it from 130 to 120. Hard climbing in the drops Pantani-style though!

    The tape is Zero Gum Wrap, it is almost a rubberized type of material, very grippy but doesn’t clean very well.

  6. Can I borrow that book when you are done with it??? :D

  7. You want me to send it from NZ to the US?

    How about nooooooo…

    http://www.amazon.com/Death-Marco-Pantani-Biography/dp/0297850962

  8. @frank
    I didn’t say that Kimmage was a good guy just that the book was a good read – you would have to agree that it was enlightening. And I disagree with your interpretation of his doping. Didn’t he do it in a post-Tour crit which was effectively meaningless?
    No doubt he was/is a nasty piece of work…

  9. @Marcus
    I didn’t mean to imply that he should be dismissed; I was trying to say that due to his mentality and his bitter writing style, that it’s easy to dismiss him as such. And yeah, I don’t think he doped much. Just once or twice, at minor races. Which is all the more reason it’s disappointing his style makes it so easy to disregard him.

    But I agree, the book was enlightening, but I found his attitude in it unappealing. Like I said, Dog in a Hat was much better. And, Breaking the Chain, I thought, was truly Earth shattering.

  10. Breaking the Chain was a beauty – thinking of that book prompted me to do a quick check of the Lexicon. I couldn’t find an entry for “Reeshard”… surely that super-douche qualifies for his own listing?

  11. @Marcus
    yeah, we really need something for him. Reeshard is a good start though…

  12. @Marcus, @brett
    I always called him “Tricky Dickie”.

  13. @frank @marcus @brett
    Tricky Dicky

    @marcus
    Kimmage a nasty piece of work? What fucking planet are you on? A Rough Ride wasn’t the easiest read, but perhaps you’d be a bit bitter if you’d gone from being a champion to an also ran. People react differently to failure. I think Kimmage was immensely brave for writing the book, don’t forget he was the first. Without him the chances are many of the other books might not have been written. He is also one of the best journalists out there, he is willing to ask questions of people and still one of the few to have stood up to Armstrong and it seems to take a lot of balls to question/stand-up to Armstrong. Kimmage was right all along as well, he is one of the good guys, along with David Walsh (Lance to Landis author).

  14. @Jarvis
    Was referring to Kimmage’s persona – he comes across as being pretty sour on life and bitter about cycling (maybe forgive the latter, but not the former). He would most likely disdainfully call all velominatus a bunch of ‘chamois-sniffers’.

    He doesn’t exactly come across as the kinda guy who you would want to hang out with – examples off the top of my head: his description near the end of the book of riding L’Etape; and his (self-admitted) shoddy treatment of his in-car partner during a Tour he covered as a journo. Nasty is the right word I believe.

    I do applaud his courage for spitting in the soup (see my first post above) – but he was never a ‘champion’ rider – which he candidly admitted.

  15. sorry, read velominati above.

  16. I was nervous to read this book, as I was worried it wasn’t about cycling, it was about doping… but reading this article tells me I should get over it and read the bloody thing. I read Kimmage’s book, and it nearly put me off cycling. It certainly made me half the size of my next internet order of EPO and ease back on ingesting extra testosterone for about a week. I know he’s a ‘real journalist’ relentlessly seeking the truth, but it does smack of a crusade. That youtube video of him vs. Pharmstrong is compelling viewing… even if CoTHO makes good points (e.g. “David Millar, and I like him, was caught with his fingers in the cookie jar… he then chose to speak out against doping”)

    Don’t know if you’ve read ‘Le Metier’ by Michael Barry, but that is an awesome book about the pro-cyclists way of life… unfortunately currently slightly tarnished by Landis’ accusations against Barry (who has always appeared anti-doping)… with great insights into every aspect of cycling, throughout the seasons (Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn – that’s ‘Fall’ for you yanks) culminating in his late season stage win in Tour of California, where he just applied Rule #5 and blew away everybody else because his legs just felt stronger and he could dish more hurt. I finished that chapter, got on my bike, and rode the longest I’ve ever ridden at the highest average speed, imagining I was at the head of the paceline trying to get my sprinter to the 10km to go line in good position – I was picking up random cyclists en route, and telling them to “take my wheel, I’ll get you back to the peloton”… am sure that’s why there are still cyclists in London who point at me, and won’t make eye contact. A great book about what’s good about road cycling (second only to the Rider, as has been pointed out)

  17. @roadslave says, “I was picking up random cyclists en route, and telling them to “take my wheel, I’ll get you back to the peloton””. Now that’s the way you ride with anonymous strangers on the road. Cool.

  18. @roadslave
    Le Metier is also how the French refer to doping

  19. @ Jarvis

    Oh bugger. Sometimes my own naivety astonishes me.

  20. @roadslave
    I take no credit for picking up on this, or for questioning why a supposedly “clean” pro would choose to call his book this. All the credit belongs to this very good blog.

  21. Have you guys seen this?

  22. @Cyclops
    It’s not like any of us have ever really doubted that he doped, but it is amazing to see the story catch so much traction. I have a funny feeling like it’s going to stick this time around. As they say, you can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the peoples some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.

  23. @frank
    I dunno. There was an excellent article somewhere about a month back outlining what the possible causes of action might be. From memory it is not clear there is one – unless someone can get done for lying to a grand jury (as happened to those convicted post Balco). But hope springs eternal …

  24. @G’Phant
    I think I read the same piece; there’s also a question over how sweeping the case could be interms of misuse of government funds, but it appears that no US Taxpayer money go towards operational costs of the Postal Service.

    I dunno either; just a sense that this time it’s different – there’s also a list of famous US athletes in other sports coming out with admissions, and so the tone in the US towards doping is a bit different than the other times these allegations have come up. I’m also not seeing him swinging and punching like he has in the past. It’s intangible, but feels somehow different.

  25. Yeah, when it comes down to it we’ll all still cycle with great passion and follow our heroes, fallen or otherwise, but I think this time there is going to be a huge fallout and a lot of people being discredited/disgraced.

    I’ve never been a huge LA fan but one one hand he did do something incredible with seven in a row. On the other hand it all adds up. His ego, his personality, his resources, etc. points toward a person that would do whatever it takes to reach his goal and in my heart of hearts I’m pretty convinced he’s lying.

    At least I can say that I’ve never owned a Livestrong bracelet. Ha!

  26. Isn’t USPS a gov’t body though and therefore still mis-use of federal funds? Either way, simply on the grounds that he hasn’t threatened to sue anyone yet would suggest something is up. On top of that a lack of denial, the only defence is to attack the investigation or attempt to find technical failings. Then there is Armstrong’s team meeting with Federal Attorney’s to discuss the case…

    G’phant, there is one big problem that Armstrong has and that is the SCA case in ’05. Anything contradicting his sworn testimony then is going to give trouble

  27. @cyclops
    speak for yourself, but I don’t follow any fallen heroes.

  28. While we’re on the subject of doping I would recommend a viewing of the documetary Bigger Stronger Faster* http://www.biggerstrongerfastermovie.com/

    It’s a good examination of the win at all costs culture of professional sports and also our own double standards as fans and spectators.

    From imdb: “The documentary examines the steroid use of the director Christopher Bell and his two brothers… Beyond the basic issue of anabolic steroid use, Bigger, Stronger, Faster* examines the lack of consistency in how America views drugs, cheating, and the lengths people go to achieve success.” – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1151309/synopsis

  29. I’ll add that the filmmaker covers all sports in this film. For the segment on cycling he interviews Landis after his TdF title was stripped and he was still denying doping.

  30. @Shannon
    Yeah, I’ve watched that, it’s pretty grim, but doesn’t really break down any barriers that we didn’t already have broken down. The main subject is pretty funny in his little shorts and his shrunken nuts!

    Have you guys seen this? Very funny comments on there, the moderators mustn’t know anything of his past and detractors to let them through! I even got a comment on there…

  31. @frank The fact that Huevos has hired some of the biggest guns in the business – PR and legal — as well as the fact that he is laying low – very low – says volumes…

  32. @Brett geez dude, that is totally hilarious. Like more than half of the Lance “support” quotes are bogus…too funny. Love the one from Kik!

  33. Well, I had to leave my own message of “support” for Huevos signed as “Floyd L.” hahahaha…..

  34. @Shannon
    First off, welcome. I’ll kick this off to say that I think all of us here at Velominati (except maybe @Jarvis who has a very firm line on who/what he does and doesn’t support – and we love him for it) fully acknowledge the hypocrisy inherent in loving sport; the issue of doping is a particularly complicated one, but really just one facet of our sport. Our Doping category shows a pretty healthy slice of our flirtations with the subject.

    I haven’t seen that film, but I’ll watch that, shriveled nuts and all. Thanks for the link.

    As someone who places personal responsibility above all else – we all have control over our destinies and our choices – I do put a lot of stake in the environs that one is raised in. I feel bad for the sport in general; the riders entering the sport are young and don’t usually have a higher education and can’t generally appreciate the magnitude of the choice they are making when they accept a vitamin injection or some such thing and start down a path, guided by their mentors who have a similar background, into doping. Then they become the mentors, and the mentors become the coaches and directors.

    As a society of (generally) sloths, we’ve set out a set of principles of what we believe is to be “fair sport”, and then we set about reconciling the two environments.

    It’s fucked completely and while I personally wish there were no drugs in the sport – and think it’s possible, right, and should be our top goal – when I look at it through that lens, I have a hard time pointing the finger at the riders and saying, “you’re to blame”. We all have to work together and understand each other. It’s possible, but at the moment we’re about as close to resolving the issue as the Middle East is to finding Peace.

    And Merckx knows we all wish that would happen.

  35. @Frank
    Thanks for the welcome. I’ve been perusing the archives lately and I like this place.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.”

  38. @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.

  39. @Jarvis

    @Shannon

    I see Vacansoleil have a new co-sponsor in DCM, a belgian fertilizer company. Perhaps Ricco will be caught experimenting with that stuff next…thats if all those pills found in his safe don’t lead to his demise before then!

    http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/5921/Vacansoleil-presents-DCM-as-co-sponsor-for-three-years.aspx

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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?

  45. 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!

  46. @Deakus

    It’s winter down here!

  47. DAMN, man.  Best cycling interview responses into the life of pro cycling that I think that I have ever read.  Read this all the way through.  EXCELLENT insight.  Really, really worth it in my opinion.

    http://nyvelocity.com/content/interviews/2014/phil-gaimon-interview

  48. @brett

    @Deakus

    It’s winter down here!

    Good point….but you know what I mean….(insert suitably jovial emoticon)

  49. @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!!

  50. @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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