Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist Review

©Bettini

©Bettini

Marco Pantani was like many other cyclists: he loved cycling, he was passionate, fearless and more than anything, he wanted to win. But, he was also like no other cyclist, putting the combination of passion and determination into practice to make him the only winner of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year, something not even Lance Armstrong attempted. But, on Valentines Day 2004 he was found dead, alone in a hotel room in Italy. Aged 34, Pantani had overdosed on cocaine after a period of depression and addiction.

With his distinctive bandana and gold earrings earning him the nickname of ‘il Pirata’ (the Pirate), Pantani’s aggressive riding as an attacking climber projected him to fame in the 1990s, with 36 professional wins, the Maillot Jaune 6 times and the Maglia Rosa 14 times in his career.

“YOU CAN’T WIN THE TOUR DE FRANCE ON MINERAL WATER”

As we’ve all come to learn, cycling in this era was, what can only be described as, a dirty sport. The Festina Affair of 1998 shone light on the behind-the-scenes activities and the depth a team would go to to make sure they were the best. The following year, Pantani was disqualified from the 1999 Giro d’Italia for a hematocrit reading of 52%, 2% above the upper limit set by the UCI to determine EPO usage, which lead to persistent allegations of doping throughout the rest of his career, leading to his subsequent mental health issues. However, Pantani was never actually found guilty of doping during his living years* and evidence as laid out in the film, suggests that his positive tests were  a result of coup within the governing bodies of the Giro d’Italia in a bid to allow other teams some glory.

“I AM QUITTING CYCLING, IT’S LIKE A MAFIA”

Having recently finished Tyler Hamilton’s ‘The Secret Race’ and part way through David Millar’s ‘Racing Through The Dark(yes, I’m a few years behind!), it’s clear that doping was the blood of the sport for many years. If you wanted to be ‘in’ with the A team and any chance of winning, you had to dope. Bradley Wiggins highlights this, stating “If you were going to survive and if you wanted to win or make a living you had to do what you were told to do.”

Fundamentally, there was a deep psychological want and need to be accepted in the peloton. Joining a pro team at the ripe age of 22 having won the ‘Girobio, the amateur version of the Giro d’Italia; I can’t help but think Pantani was coerced into believing that what he (and his team) was doing, was just part of the job. And so, when the public turned on him following doping allegations, calling him a cheat, he could feel nothing but shame. “I’ve been pressured, I’ve been humiliated” he states in a post ban interview. “Today I don’t associate cycling with winning. I associate it with terrible, terrible things that have happened to me and people close to me.” He had been let down.

This film however, isn’t about an exploration of doping in Pantani’s era, but the story of a cyclist. Interviews with his family, close friends and fellow cyclists of the peloton, depict Pantani as a humble man who loved his family and his sport.

“Marco Pantani was not a saint. Even Pantani would probably not have believed that Pantani was a saint.” Ned Boulting

Clean or not, Pantani is still today hailed a hero by many. The King of the Mountains. An intriguing story, The Accidental Death of a Cyclist provides a unique, but sad and tragic insight into a heroic cyclist and the sport of his era.

PANTANI: THE ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF A CYCLIST IN CINEMAS FROM MAY 16TH

*It’s only in 2013 that samples of Pantani’s samples were retested from the 1998 Tour de France and found positive for EPO.

Hayley Davies

Hayley Davies

Writer

Riding since Feb 2011 Hayley is a 30 year old female who loves adventures. If she’s not on one of her many bikes or in the water on a bodyboard/surfboard, then Hayley is probably out looking for something new to keep the adrenaline pumping!
Website: www.hjdonline.co.uk

The Physiology of Pro Cyclists – Massive Lungs

As an asthma sufferer, albeit one who hasn’t had many problems in the last 8 years or so, I recently had a routine check up at the local GP practice. Taking a peak expiratory flow test, I recorded a breath volume – essentially a derivative of lung capacity – about 1/3 below that of the average 18 year old of my height.

A peak expiratory flow (PEF) test is undertaken on a peak flow meter, with a sliding dial which moves further up the measurement tab the harder you blow. I remember from reading It’s Not About the Bike that Lance Armstrong went off the scale in a PEF test, blowing the dial to the very end of the meter despite having just finished his first session of chemo. Now I know what you’re all thinking, but however you look at it and whatever you think of the guy, Lance’s athletic credentials can’t be disputed. For reference, I got the dial up to about halfway.

Lance is by no means the only cyclist with extraordinary lungs. Miguel Indurain, for example, had a lung capacity measuring 8 litres, which is 30% larger than that of the average man. 30%! Larger lungs means you can simply breathe in more oxygen. More oxygen means more oxygenated blood, which in turn means more red blood cells. More red blood cells means a higher aerobic threshold. Any cyclist with a basic knowledge of a ramp test or a time trial knows what this means. Simply, you can ride faster for longer. Other methods of obtaining more red blood cells include altitude training, or taking performance enhancing drugs such as the red blood cell booster EPO, showing the natural advantage possessed by riders with enormous lungs. It’s hardly surprising that Big Mig was such a dominant rider.

This suggests that in the same way as Usain Bolt has an incredibly rich supply of fast twitch muscle fibres and Jenson Button has reaction and reflex times dwarfing those of standard people, the best cyclists are physiologically perfectly matched to the sport we love. The one downside to this discovery is that I now realise that my poor lung capacity renders me as unsuited to flying up mountains with Froome & co. as Dawn French is physically unsuited to the High Jump. Okay, maybe not quite that unsuited, but the point still stands. Whilst it is impossible to ignore that dedication and application are of fundamental importance in obtaining athletic success, that genetics play a massive part in selecting our sporting champions is also undisputable.

Ned Boulting – Talks Doping and Team Sky

Ned Boulting ©Rob (AKA Your Funny Uncle)

Click play button to listen.

Interview with Ned Boulting at Revolution Oct 27th at Manchester Velodrome. An very honest and open interview.

Related links:
Ned Boulting Signed Book Competition
Ned Boulting “How I Won The Yellow Jumper” Cycling Shorts Book Review
Willy Voets ‘Braking The Chain” Cycling Shorts Book Review
Cycling Shorts Revolution 37 Report
Cycling Shorts Revolution Series website
Follow Ned on Twitter @nedboulting

 

 

 

 

 

 

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