Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist
A new documentary is due to be released about the tarnished world of cycling, and yet it is not about Lance Armstrong, or specifically about the issue of doping. Rather, the film is about the great Italian cyclist – Marco Pantani – the man considered one of the greatest cyclists in the sport’s history, and who achieved the rare feat of winning both the Tour De France and Giro D’Italia in the same year. Pantani, nicknamed Il Pirata (the Pirate) due to his shaved head and bandana, had a short-build and indefatigable stamina, and was known for his rapid climbs on the ascent.
However, Pantani was a controversial figure and, like Armstrong, was accused and found guilty of doping. Hounded by the authorities, this led to his rapid and tragic demise; he was found dead and alone in a cheap hotel room, dying from acute cocaine poisoning in 2004. The film itself is not a journalistic exposé and does not intend to polarise opinion. Instead it is more about Pantani: the man and his experience.
It is a sad story that retraces a young boy’s love for cycling that verges on obsession, on addiction. The young Marco fine-tuning his bike in his mum’s garage during the middle of the night to make it lighter. The invigorating mountain climbs when competing as a teenager that left his opponents in his wake; the exuberant joy of winning. Pantani was fast-tracked, and cycling quickly became his life. However, as his mother recalls, when he turned professional he said: “I am quitting cycling, it is like a Mafia”, and she didn’t quite understand such a reaction at the time. She thought sport was about health and good company.
The film compellingly covers the many facets of professional sport: from the politics behind the scenes to the individual emotions, from the dedication required on behalf of athletes to the worshipping of the fans, and then the subsequent public humiliation. Pantani the hero to Pantani the disgraced drug cheat. Whispers of conspiracy form the backdrop to Pantani’s case – was his dominance harming the sport? The recent revelations from the Armstrong case point to a complicit ring involving the sport’s governing body – the UCI – team doctors and the cyclists themselves. The film skirts around these issues but never delves into great depths, leaving questions hanging in the air. This is both the film’s strength and weakness as it successfully paints a picture of the athlete as the dispensable cog in a bigger and more sinister machine – the “mafia” culture of professional cycling – as the sport for far too many years has wheeled along in self-denial under a blanket of obscurity.
As the title plainly describes Pantani’s death as “accidental”, the film questions whether this is true, and whether responsibility is actually in the hands of everyone involved in the sport. The film leaves us to ponder a deeper question: what do people consider sport in its professional guise to be? Surely it should not cease to be enjoyable, and it definitely should not, as in Pantani’s case, lead to the so-called accidental death of a cyclist.
Pantani: The Accidental Death of Cyclist is released nationwide on 16th May 2014.
Watch the trailer for Pantani: The Accidental Death of Cyclist here: