Just a week before Vincenzo Nibali set out to become the first Italian Tour de France winner since Marco Pantani the long awaited docu-movie about Pantani’s life began showing at limited venues across the country.
It was 1998 when Pantani took Tour victory, a year in which he also won the Giro – a double which has not been achieved since then.
A few months back The Armstrong Lie hit venues across the world, and met with a very mixed reception, which is hardly surprising given the on-going saga that surrounds the Texan. Yet, despite his own doping skirmishes Marco Pantani the character, the rider, and the movie that documents his rise and tragic fall is likely to be greeted with a whole different bag of emotions to the Armstrong movie.
Pantani was something of an enigma, and a decade on from his tragic and lonely death his legend lives on, perhaps even stronger than it did during his fall from grace.
Most of us know the Pantani story; that of Il Pirata, the never-say-die climbing sensation that took on the world and won, or at least he did for a short time. Ultimately his ousting from the Giro d’Italia while leading the race, due to a suspicions blood value, was to plague and destroy him from the inside over the following years, and eventually led him into deep depression and drug addiction, which would ultimately take him to his untimely death.
The story of Marco Pantani is a tragic yet inspiring one, and stands as a lesson to those who chose the slippery path of using performance enhancing drugs – of which he was never actually convicted.
The movie documents much of the Pantani story; but does leave small darkly lit doors ajar, or even closed; which perhaps they should be. From his very first bike to his discovery of competitive cycling. Following his rise through the amateur ranks to his opening internal moral battle with the harsh demands of turning professional in an era when doping was rife, and right through his rise to super-stardom, and to his his career threatening accident, finding love, and ultimately his tragic fall from grace and its final foul toll - they’re all covered in touching and often enlightening detail.
There are lurid questions raised about that fateful Giro ousting, and they will probably never be answered. Was he a victim, drawn into a dark world of doping and deceit, or was he a player; that’s something you’ll need to decide for yourself, but however you look at it Pantani was a very different character to many of his piers, and he paid the ultimate price – with his life, and you can’t help but feel for him.
From family members through to former friends, teammates, adversaries, and with a healthy and respectful amount of thought and insight from the likes of Sir Bradley Wiggins, Greg Lemond and Evgeni Berzin amongst others, it’s clear that Pantani was a rider highly respected by not only his ever-avid followers, but by his piers too, which speaks volumes about him and the effect he had on a whole generation of riders and cycling fans.
It’s also great to see some seriously old footage of the young Pantani racing as an amateur, as well as touching glimpses into those final tortured chapters of his life. Marco Pantani was a hard man to dislike, and this is a great and informative movie, which perhaps warranted a more emotive title, and given the recent suspicions that he was in fact murdered there has never been a better time to catch up on the detail.