IN PANTANI'S SHADOW
CYCLING WEEKLY|May 21, 2020
Sixteen years have passed since Marco Pantani’s death and more than 20 since he was in his pomp, but he still casts a shadow over Italian cycling, which has been in a state of steady decline
Peter Cossins

On one side of the door the light is golden and vibrant, the glow provided by Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, Felice Gimondi and so many other legends of Italian cycle sport, their exploits captured in grainy black and white images. On the other side, it’s much darker, the gloom heightened by the Nosferatu-shaped shadow cast by the figure in the doorway, elfin, a bandanna covering his bald pate, a large earring hanging from each ear, very much living up to his alter ego, ‘the Pirate’.

This is the picture that is generally painted when analysing the fortunes of Italian cycling following the death on Valentine’s Day in 2004 of Marco Pantani. When he was in his pomp in the mid-1990s, Italian cycling was still surfing a wave of popularity that had carried it from the first years of the 20th century. In 1998, when Pantani claimed the first leg of the Giro-Tour double, no fewer than 13 Italian teams lined up in the Corsa rosa, while half a dozen Italians representing six different squads finished in the top 10.

Fast forward 21 years to the Giro’s latest edition, and the comparison is stark: just three Italian teams on the start line, each of them present thanks to a wild-card invitation from the race organiser RCS, and just one Italian finisher in the top 10, almost inevitably Vincenzo Nibali, the nation’s unquestioned standard-bearer for the past decade. Yet, despite victories in all three Grand Tours as well as both Italian one-day Monuments, the Sicilian has failed to evoke the same interest and fervour as Pantani, who has become a mythical figure, one who has been lionised for feats that are remembered by memorials on the climbs where he shone brightest.

Godlike status

“We must ask ourselves why we still talk about him,” mused former La Gazzetta Dello Sport journalist Marco Pastonesi following the publication of his book Pantani era un Dio (Pantani was a God). “We still talk about him because he was the last to provide real emotions. There is still talk of him because he was physically ugly, small, hairless and clumsy on a bicycle and he won. Alone against everyone. There is still talk of him because during his career he had many injuries and accidents and he always came back, and as a winner. Until that moment when he finally failed to get back up.”

This analysis may seem overblown, but Pastonesi is one of the most astute observers of the Italian cycling scene, and it chimes with that of other journalists. “When you go to Italy and get into a taxi or go into a hotel and they ask you why you’re there, when you say you’re there for a bike race they quickly mention Pantani but don’t really have any knowledge beyond that. They’ll say, ‘Yes, I loved Pantani…’ For the lay public as far as cycling goes it’s almost as if the clock stopped on the sport with Pantani,” says writer and podcaster Daniel Friebe.

It is widely agreed that this stoppage occurred not on the occasion of Pantani’s death at the age of 34 on Valentine’s Day 2004, when he was found in a Rimini hotel room, a cocaine overdose causing pulmonary and cerebral oedema, but five years earlier when he was forced to leave the Giro following an elevated red blood cell count just two days from completing a successful defence of his title.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM CYCLING WEEKLYView All

Top-end turbo trainers

Stefan Abram goes in search of the ultimate indoor trainer

2 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
November 18, 2021

RideLondon returns in spring 2022

New date and new events unveiled after two years off the calendar

4 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
November 18, 2021

GOING VEGAN MYTH VS REALITY

Veganism divides opinion among cyclists, with fiery views on both sides. Sports nutritionist Anita Bean pours some cooling impartiality on the overheated debate

10+ mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
November 18, 2021

PEAK HOUR

It’s 25 years since Chris Boardman rode 56.375 kilometres in an hour – a distance that has never been surpassed. Paul Greasley charts the rise and fall of the technical innovations that produced cycling’s most spectacular record

7 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
November 18, 2021

Scottish Provident League 1990

British legend Malcolm Elliott leads the pack around a corner in the centre of Leeds.

1 min read
CYCLING WEEKLY
November 18, 2021

A WORK OF AERT

Wout van Aert truly announced himself as a master of all trades in 2021. CW speaks to the Belgian about his phenomenal year in the saddle

9 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
November 18, 2021

Cycling 22 April, 1908

Tour stars line up at the 13th Paris-Roubaix, while Herne Hill hosts the Good Friday meet

2 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
November 18, 2021

Bäckstedt triumphs in Tabor

A fruitful first CX World Cup round for Britain’s young crossers

3 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
November 18, 2021

How Olympic Track is Leading The Pack

The Tokyo Olympics was a carnival of exotic carbon, cutting-edge fabrics and rarefied parts. Some of that tech will be finding its way to you, the regular consumer, in some way in the future. We run down the most exciting developments we spotted and ask how they’ll apply to us

8 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
November 04, 2021

OBITUARY Mike Taylor 1935-2021

Mike Taylor was a stalwart of the British scene for decades and played a pivotal role in the development of many of British cycling’s biggest stars’ careers.

2 mins read
CYCLING WEEKLY
November 04, 2021
RELATED STORIES

Best Autumn And Winter Escapes Across The World

Whether you’d rather take to the slopes or relax by the pool, Holly Kirkwood has the pick of autumn and winter escapes across the world

3 mins read
Country Life UK
October 13, 2021

How to Be a Work Rebel

Got a contrarian streak in you? Harvard’s Francesca Gino shares the right way to be an unconventional leader

3 mins read
Newsweek
September 10, 2021

SHOCK & AWE

COMPANY OF HEROES 3 is coming to wake up the RTS genre.

10+ mins read
PC Gamer US Edition
October 2021

CITIZEN OF THE World

Congolese native Yannick Nzosa played for professional teams in Italy and Spain before he turned 17. Now that his name is moving up the 2022 pre-draft boards, the former soccer player has one thing front and center in his mind—succeeding for his family back home.

8 mins read
Slam
June - July 2021

Erin Gleeson Woodside, CA

After a cross-country move from New York to California, the now-bestselling cookbook author went from photographing lavish dishes in the city to simple recipes in the woods—an artistic pivot inspired by her new home, a charming cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Nearly a decade and four cookbooks later, The Forest Feast series is as fresh as ever.

1 min read
Taste of Home
August - September 2021

THE ITALIAN JOB

After 107 years, Di Pasquale’s finds a new home in Brewers Hill.

10+ mins read
Baltimore magazine
April 2021

AirVPN: Excellent service that power users will love

An excellent service with a known history, a solid network, and very good speeds.

7 mins read
Macworld
April 2021

A SMALL PEARL ON LAKE COMO | MONTE SAN PRIMO

In 2019 I was working on an art project in Bellagio, Italy. This small pearl on Lake Como is dominated by a mountain called Monte San Primo.

2 mins read
Lens Magazine
February 2021

Let's Get Physical

Having long marveled at the technology of the high-end workout equipment on the high seas, Porthole goes all in on putting together a home fitness center.

3 mins read
Porthole Cruise Magazine
March/April 2021

FREAKED-OUT CRUISE TAKES CONTROL!

Gets COVID-proof movie set after wild virus rant

1 min read
Globe
January 25, 2021