I first became interested in bike racing back in the nineties, we were living in Dublin, Ireland and just the year before we arrived the Tour had literally passed in front of what would become our house - months later the neighborhood continued to vibrate. It was a big deal. In Ireland, like I assume in much of Europe, television coverage of the Tour de France is prime time, the daily standings are the subject of casual grocery store conversations; it was as if the Super Bowl were played over the course of three weeks.
During those early years two riders really caught my attention: Mario Cipollini and Marco Pantani. Cipollini was quintessentially Itallian: handsome, brash, outspoken, he was what we in the U.S. would call a "character." Best of all, in a sprint finish he could deliver the goods. Pantani, one the other hand, was an introvert, kind of gnomish, a little guy with something to prove. And prove it he did.
When I describe Marco Pantani to non-cyclists I tell them that he rode as if someone had kidnapped his mother and told him that they'd kill her if he didn't win. The guy seemed to have no tactics, no grand plan or scheme, he just rode like he was being chased by fire breathing demons. I loved that.
Throughout the early to mid nineties Miguel Indurain dominated the Tour. He woke up in the morning, got on his bike won and then went back to bed, the guy was boring as toast. After Pantani there was Armstrong, a guy who thought it was okay to be an asshole just because he admitted to being an asshole. Sorry you're still just an asshole. Pantani did have an interesting rivalry with a big goofy German named Jan Ulrich, but to me Jan had all the talent and all the strength but he just couldn't seem to put it all together when it counted.
In the mountain stages Pantani was awesome. He rode for pride. He seemed to take losing as a personal attack. He seemed to hate his opponents. I mean really despise them. Yeah yeah yeah he was a doper, who wasn't; I didn't watch him for the dope, I don't care how many watts he was pushing, I watched him for the passion, whether going up or dropping down the guy rode the mountains without any regard for tomorrow. Today - what's happening here and now - that's all the mattered.
I see that there is movie - Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist - out in the world. I hope it finds it's way to Seattle soon.