January 13, 1970 - February 14, 2004
When I think of Marco Pantani, I first think of a photo from the French newspaper, L'Equipe. On Stage 12 of the Tour de France, along with the rest of the peloton, Marco sits in the middle of the road, his bike next to him. There is a sadness, a disappointment in his eyes, as he looks juuust a bit away from the camera lens. They sat down that day in protest, against the poor treatment of riders during the Festina drug affair.
Pantani won the Tour de France that year, a tarnished cup though it was. But his greatest win, and proudest moment, must have come a few months before - standing atop the podium, the winner of the Giro d'Italia.
He would later fight his own battles with drugs, and severe depression. And all of it under the watchful, sometimes scornful, eye of the public. Whether it was mental illness, or the result of drug use that led to his death at 34, is unclear. Only one thing is for certain: a great champion of cycling died alone, feeling misunderstood, unloved and ostracized, with only his thoughts on paper for company.
Expert climber, tragic soul, hero of the tifosi. I'm heartbroken.
Rest in peace, Marco. Addio.