I can remember perfectly where I was when Marco Pantani died; sitting in my living room in Dysart.
The flash came over Eurosport News and I rang Viktor to tell him; ‘hardly surprising’ was the reply.
I knew what he meant, the little Italian’s life had been on a self destructive spiral for a some time – rehab or disaster were the only two possible destinations.
It was the Spartan philosophers who first coined the expression, ‘never speak ill of the dead.’
And whilst it’s always dreadfully sad to see a young life wasted, I’m puzzled by the current revisionist accounts of his life which are doing the rounds on the 10th anniversary of his death.
I keep hearing that he’s the best climber who ever lived – based on what?
King of the mountains wins in Grand Tours, mountain stage wins, points for crossing the most passes in top spot?
I’ve seen no homework to back the claim.
Whilst brilliant on his day – but we’ll talk about that in a moment – he was hardly consistent and there are specialist climbers like Charly Gaul, Lucien Van Impe, Frederico Bahamontes and GC greats Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx who enjoyed much more success against gravity than the Italian.
As for his brilliance, he was a serial doper, every bit as bad as Lance and all the rest of that generation.
Blood transfusion, Cocaine, Darbepoetin (NESP), Erythropoietin (EPO), Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), Human Growth Hormone (hGH), Insulin, Testosterone were all on his shopping list.
Whilst there’s little doubt that there’s more to his eviction from the 1999 Giro whilst in the maglia rosa than meets the eye there’s also little doubt that he was kitted to the max for much of his career.
If you’re a fan and think I’m out of line then have a read of Matt Rendell’s exhaustively researched ‘The Death of Marco Pantani.’
But prepare for a shock.
Mourn the man’s passing by all means but let’s not revise the past, embellish his accomplishments or make him out to be something he was not.
* * *
Qatar and the World Road Champs
I recently sat and trawled through a gallery of 97 pictures of past editions of the Tour of Qatar; all the echelons, nice bikes and ‘names’ were there, as was the spectacular skyline.
But conspicuous by their absence were the spectators, Qatar – venue for the 2016 Worlds – isn’t like Australia or Columbia with a strong history of cycle sport.
Cycling is being used as a PR exercise for the nation – and paying handsomely for that privilege.
The UCI’s role is to protect the sport, and yes, to expand it; but it strikes me that denying the biggest one day race on the calendar to ‘The Faithful’ from Belgium, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and Scandinavia – and giving it to a country with virtually zero interest in anything other than selling itself on the world market just isn’t right.
* * *
Cycling Independent Reform Commission
I ‘did the math’ on the cost of this venture, Swiss Francs 3,000,000 at the time I did the calculation converts to £2,030,610 Sterling.
As each day passes the interest in ‘who took what and when’ diminishes; we already know that the Commission has no deadline but may take a year to announce it’s findings.
Whilst there will always be a Di Luca or Ricco, it’s apparent that there’s been a huge sea change in the attitude of riders and teams to doping.
And most obviously the shape of Grand Tours has changed with most of what we witness believable in terms of power outputs and recovery.
I just can’t help but think that the two mil. would be much better spent with in other ways.
That sum of money would allow you to say to five or six federations in Europe; ‘set up a Continental squad for your young riders who are just below the highest level, give them a programme and see how they develop…
These squads would attract sponsors and encourage the riders who need a ‘leg up’ to stick with it and provided the management was sound couldn’t really go wrong.
Still, it gives us something to look forward to in 2015 – and while I think about it, how are those Change Cycling Now boys getting on?
They’re going to make a big difference…
* * *
Raleigh’s Famous Jersey
One of the all time great teams, winning just about everything there was to win – and the undisputed TTT kings.
Immaculate, innovative, tough, the team was a watchword for all that was cool about 70’s cycle sport.
It’s good to see the Heron back in the air and it’ll be interesting to see how the likes of George Atkins and Joe Perrett perform.
You just know there’s a ‘but’ coming – that jersey, whilst ice cool 40 years ago it should have been left to rest in peace.
It was of it’s time and should be remembered on the backs of the likes of Raas, Kuiper, Schuiten, Bracke and all the rest.
And if it really had to come back then at least the bikes