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Freeman Cebu Sports

Allez Jose Vicente 'JV' Araneta Remembering Il Pirata

The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines -  It’s been 10 Valentine’s Days since Marco Pantani passed away. Officially, the cause of death was acute cocaine poisoning, but if  I  have my say, he died not in 2004 but in 1999.

After the 1998 season, Il Pirata, as the bald, bandana-wearing Pantani was known, was at the top of the cycling world. He had just won the Girod’Italia-Tour de France double, one of the few greats to do so and was about to win his second Giro when his hematocrit read 52%. UCI rules in those days stated that any rider with an above 50% hematocrit must stop racing and rest for two weeks, with no further action taken. Most cyclists in Pantani’s shoes would have taken the disqualification and deny, deny, deny.

But not Marco. He had a complex personality. According to a close friend, Marco was honest, fragile and unlucky. But in the public though, he was passionate, arrogant and cocky and half of the time, spoke in the third person. Of course, the tifosis not only forgave him but loved him. Maybe his cockiness was just a façade for his sensitivity and insecurity. But whatever face he presented, the tifosis fell for it.

Back to that 1999 disqualification, he could have just trained for two weeks and came back strong for the Tour de France to challenge Lance Armstrong but he was too ashamed to face his adoring public. Just like Lance, he never tested positive during his career but the humiliation he felt drove him to depression, use of cocaine and eventually his death.

I have never seen a more exciting climber than the Pirate. Phil Liggett described him as “dancing” on his bike.  He could easily change the pace during the climb, attack or even drop back and not a lot of cyclists can do that at the elite level. He usually didn’t have any racestrategy, he simply followed where his heart and his strength would take him. He would rather quit the race than feel humiliated (by Lance in the 2000 Tour).

Last week, Lance made a recollection about his rivalry with Pantani and said that Marco was not just a star, but a rock star. But once out of  the limelight, he realized that he couldn’t find his way. He went deeper and deeper into cocaine. In 2003, he was admitted at a clinic that specialized in nervous disorders, drug addiction and alcoholism.

It’s very difficult to find another Marco, he was the last Italian to win the Tour in almost 50 years. Maybe our praise for the diminutive Italian should be tempered with the era that he raced, the era of  PED’s. But remember that he came into the sport with the doping system already in place with everyone taking advantage of it. In spite of that, he still won the greatest races. Il Pirata is not someone easy to forget.

Finally, the 2014 racing has just started with the peloton battling it out in the deserts of  Dubai and Qatar. Marcel Kittel dominated Mark Cavendish just as Tom Boonen has shown that he has forgotten 2013 by winning two stages so far in Qatar. With the spring classics just around the corner, it will be back to longer nights watching the racing via live streaming on the net……This is the place to be: www.steephill.tv. (FREEMAN)

DUBAI AND QATAR

IL PIRATA

LANCE ARMSTRONG

MARCEL KITTEL

MARCO PANTANI

MARK CAVENDISH

PANTANI

PHIL LIGGETT

TOM BOONEN

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