Winning and losing in sport is often portrayed sensationally as a matter of life and death. In the case of Italian cyclist Marco Pantani he lost, and sport arguably took his life. Casting aside the rumours, the conjecture, the very Italian polemic surrounding the passing of one the country’s great sons, his death remains a great lost to the sport of cycling. James Erskine’s Accidental Death of a Cyclist provides a more generalist view of Pantani’s story and is worse for it. Pantani and Italy, so intertwined so passionate and yet the film understates this symbiotic relationship.
Based on Matt Rendell’s widely acclaimed book The Death of Marco Pantani, the film is bolstered by fantastically chosen archive footage and interviews with key players in his story but unfortunately weakened by laughable reconstructions. Covering all the major bases, the film provides a good overview of Pantani’s rise through the ranks, his early successes before a career threatening crash, the high point of his Giro-Tour double of 1998 and his subsequent decline with all the entrails between.
The grainy films of a nervous, young Marco are real insight into the man behind the ‘Il Pirata’ mask. A man whose eyes Greg Lemond looked into and saw, ‘those of a kid.’ One particular clip that springs to mind is Pantani getting back on his bike after his career threatening crash at Milan-Torino. A childish grin spreads across his face as he nurses his bike around a garage in a full Carrera team tracksuit. “Well, I can still ride a bike,” he quips. In another a younger Pantani, arms folded is effectively asked if he is a good climber. “Yes, I am not bad on the climbs,” he shrugs with huge understatement.
The re-enactments meanwhile add little to the story. Pantani played by an actor is often pictured climbing on the hoods of his bike rather than the drops which was his trademark – an elementary mistake. These clips add little to the otherwise expert insight from Matt Rendell himself, journalist Richard Williams, Tonina Pantani and Greg LeMond amongst others.
Pantani provided all of his adoring Tifosi the chance to escape with him and that is just why they loved him so. Roving escapes at the bottom of mountain climbs, breaking the shackles of the metronomic Armstrong or Indurain, you can see how easy it must have been to be caught up the whirlwind that surrounded him. Reverberating Italian commentary accompanies some of Pantani’s best in race moments and these are the real pièce de résistance of the film, immediately making your hairs stand on end. Just how much he resonated with the Italian public is clear to see in the aftermath of his death with seas of people, stunned, weeping; bandana’s tied round their arms in remembrance. “Cycling has lost its number one,” is one comment.
What’s strange in this new epoch of cycling is how past riders are remembered. Somehow, Pantani despite the allegations and his positive test is still revered. Idolised as ‘the best climber the sport has ever seen’ or a ‘rider whose like has never been since’, yet somehow he escapes the criticism levelled at most riders of his generation. Arguably it was his sad death that elevated him above the riders who cheated but never paid the ultimate price, riders like Lance Armstrong who is painted as the chief villain of the EPO era and is widely criticised and chastised as a result.
Given the recent news that the police are to reopen the case into his death in light of recent evidence provided by his mother Tonina; the Marco Pantani story is set to run on and on. Certainly this says as much about Italians love for conspiracy and conjecture as it does about their idolisation of Pantani. Here’s hoping recent Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali can capture the heart and minds of the ever passionate Tifosi once again.
I, like many of you I am sure, were brought into the sport of cycling due to the seductive story of Lance Armstrong. A man returning from his deathbed to win the hardest endurance event in the world – WOW what a story. Arguably there is little that can be added to the monster of a story that it was and still is.
The discourse has been mounting higher and higher through the early years of Armstrong’s dominance, the rumours and his subsequent decline. However, this Mount Ventoux of a narrative has recently been capped by the release of The Armstrong Lie. This documentary without doubt slaps more layers of intrigue, controversy and questions to the ever expanding bounty of media available. One thing is clear though, the documentary shows how Armstrong tricked millions into entering his web of deceit. Road cycling literature is becoming more and more prevalent in the English/American market, but beyond A Sunday in Hell film and documentary’s are conspicuous by their absence. Step forward Alex Gibney. The project began after Armstrong controversially announced his intention to come out of retirement to promote awareness of his Cancer charity Livestrong. Gibney agreed with Armstrong to make the documentary allowing the film maker unbridled access. However, as Armstrong began his fall from grace so the documentary changed, taking a radically different tact. It begins with an overview of the early years, the Americanisation of the European pro-peloton by ‘Le Texan’ and his merry band of US Postal brothers. In tune with this, the cinematography of is undeniably from across the pond. Talking heads, Reed Albergotti, Jonathan Vaughters, George Hincapie, Daniel Coyle and Frankie Andreu amongst others, although sometimes full of cheesy soundbites do provide interesting comment. Meanwhile, there is some fantastic archive footage, Armstrong continually maintaining his innocence one on one with Gibney, suggesting he has never tested positive, a bespectacled Michele Ferrari, team briefs on the Astana bus during the 2009 Tour de France and quite sensationally Armstrong entertaining both the UCI and USADA doping testers at his home. During the documentary Armstrong insinuates that his admission on the Oprah show was “too much for the general public and not enough for cycling fans.” This is true of the documentary as a whole. I was crying out for more details, more tidbits, more admissions, yet all that emerged was the usual stories. The administration of drugs on the floor of the team bus during the tour, the hospital room ‘admission’ same old, same old. But, one aspect the documentary does explore, one which is well discussed in the written media is the character of Armstrong. Bullying, harassing, controlling the narrative. It is fascinating to see this on film. He stills performs ‘the look’ into the camera denying Betsey Andreu’s accusation that he admitted taking performance enhancing drugs in that hospital room as he lay riddled with cancer. He also still denies taking drugs or blood transfusions during his 2009/2010 comeback. For me this clearly suggested that despite his admission, Armstrong himself has not changed one iota. However, one thing has changed for sure – I doubt there are many people that still believe him. Gibney suggests in his narrative that he was no ‘fanboy’ of Armstrong’s, however the unbridled access he got during that Tour meant his peers felt he was becoming one. The documentary does have whiffs of positivity for Armstrong but in the end does portray him in the negative light he deserves. The sport of procycling has come a long way since the first and second retirements of Armstrong in 2005 and 2010. It may be too early to say but here Gibney has closed the chapter and what was tumultuous period in the sport. Maybe now is the time to leave the ghosts of the past behind and promote today’s new generation of riders. Cycling Shorts rating: 76%
The Pain and the Glory
The official team sky diary of the Giro campaign and Tour victory
Introduction by… Sir Dave Brailsford & Chris Froome
Words by Sarah Edworthy, Photography by Scott Mitchell
Cast your mind back to Team Sky’s annus mirabilis. Its 2012 and the halcyon day’s of Wiggo’s dominance in the stage races cumulating in victory in the Tour de France and yet another Olympic gold, this time in the time trial. Every pedal stroke of which, you’ll recall, was chronicled in the rather good ’21 Day’s to Glory’.
Now comes this 2013 Grand Tour journal charting the ups, downs, plan A’s, plan B’s, the tragedies, the triumphs and inner working’s of Team Sky.
The Pain and the Glory delves deep into Team Sky’s attempt to win the double: the 2013 Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. This is a book in two-parts and is generally chronological.
It opens with a well written introduction from Sir Dave and quickly leaps straight into the Giro and Sky’s charge for victory through Bradley Wiggins – remember all the talk, Nibali or Wiggins – and their eventual re-structuring and plan-B second place in GC with Rigoberto Uran. The ‘second half’ of the book covers the Tour and Chris Froome’s gradual deconstruction of the other main GC contenders. Geraint Thomas’ epic ride through of pain will long live in the memory – a legend tales root.
The Pain and the glory has a real fly-on-the-wall feel to it. Although it does leave one or two crucial question unasked – as you’d expect from an internally employed team of professional journalists. The book rally excels in the unusual layers of detail about each and every stage. All supplemented beautifully by the Scott Mitchell’s sublime photography and enriched by input from the all the main protagonists – Wiggin’s, Froome, Uran, Thomas (he of the fractured pelvis in stage 1… This man is one tough dude!), Stannard, et al. It also allows an insight into to the oft hidden, but absolutely vital, work of the mechanics, medical staff, cooks and families.
This is the very official account of a tumultuous yet ultimately successful year in the life of one of the leading professional road cycling teams. Kudos to Sarah Edwards for generating such a flowing narrative.
Marginal gains on the road… Massive gains in reader experience: the book is accompanied by a fascinating commentary from the team players, photographers and writers. Just download the free Livebooks App from The App store or Google Play, scan the photo’s with the livebook symbol and sit back and listen. This really works and is highly effective in enriching and enlightening. I found the chats about photography, framing and choice, artistic and highly educational.
CyclingShorts Star Rating: 80/100 (9 if Team Sky ran a women’s team!)
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The Pain and the Glory: the official team sky diary of the Giro campaign and Tour victory
Exclusive – with accompanying Team Sky podcast Apps
Harper Collins – Non Fiction on 17th October 2013
Available in Hardback & eBook
RRP £20.00 (Hardback) RRP £13.39 (Digital)
Racing Weight Cookbook
Lean, Light Recipes for Athletes
by Matt Fitzgerald & Georgie Fear
Matt Fitzgerald and Georgie Fear have come together to produce ‘The Racing Weight Cookbook for Athletes’. This book is aimed at endurance athletes, giving you the tools and knowledge to improve your diet, to fuel performance for training and racing. It’s all about obtaining your optimal racing weight through healthy eating, within the requirements of your bodies needs. It explains that conventional diets are no good for endurance athletes.
I’ve read the pre cursor to this book ‘Racing Weight: How to get lean for peak performance’ so was really interested to see what this book had to offer.
The book is also very cleverly aimed at different kinds of cooks. Those that can’t cook, those that can cook a little and those of us who love cooking. So even if you love cooking but don’t have time, you can use the ‘can’t cook’ section.
As both a coach and an athlete I was very interested to see if the cookbook would enhance what the first book delivered and it certainly does that.
There is a brief outline about the first book, but there is enough information for you not to need to read it. It’s easy to follow and won’t take you long to get started, a definite plus!
This book is really good for those of us who have never managed to stick to a diet for longer than a few weeks, that’s because it is not a diet book. It gives you lots of tips and tricks to get the energy you need without overeating, tips for swapping foods and best of all, lots of recipes. It looks at how many carbohydrates your body needs, dependant on your weight and the amount of hours you are training for. There is also a handy table that can help you score the quality of the food you are currently eating. It’s very easy to follow, which was great for me as I do tend to get bored very quickly.
I have to say the recipes are amazing and the pictures make the recipes look appetising. I particularly liked the chocolate peanut butter banana shake as a post workout meal. Eating post workout is something I struggle with, but this was a great recipe, easy to make and super quick to drink. Plus and I always think this the seller… it tastes great!! Really, it does!
I’ve also had a go at one of their Granola recipes, wow, honestly I have been bowled over by every recipe I’ve tried.
One thing about recipe books though, which I do dislike, besides the American measures, is the need to buy things that most people don’t have in their store cupboard. So essentially it’s all about planning and shopping.
I pondered over whether a club cyclist would buy a book like this or whether it was specifically aimed at competing athletes. On reflection, everybody who spends quite a lot of time on their bikes would benefit from this book, you don’t need to be competing, just putting the miles in, so maybe the title ‘Racing Weight’ will marginalise sales of this book.
Would I buy it? As a coach? Yes I would, as an athlete? Yes definitely. Would I recommend this book? Without a doubt.
The Racing Weight Cookbook gets a Cycling Shorts Star Buy Rating!
Author: Matt Fitzgerald and Georgie Fear
Published by VeloPress
Available in Paperback
Price: RRP £16.95 or $24.95