On this day in 2004 "Il Pirata" Marco Pantani was found dead, alone in a hotel room. Americans and English-speakers in general don't seem to understand what The Pirate meant to Italians. I asked a few during this past week and for many the day they learned of his death was one of those "where were you when you heard?" moments, like when a president was assassinated or planes hijacked by terrorists flew into buildings in New York City.
To most English-speaking cycling fans Pantani was little more than a thorn-in-the-side of BigTex and when Tex was finally disgraced Pantani's legacy went with it. But Pantani is remembered here in Italy in a way similar to Fausto Coppi, another cycling hero who left us at a young age, another one who will never get old.
English-speakers dismiss Pantani as nothing but a doper, as if all of his performances came out of a syringe. Perhaps they don't know, since to them he was little more than a foil for BigTex, how many times The Pirate climbed out of a hospital bed after a crash that was not his fault to return to the top levels of cycling. That drive, passion and courage to try again does not come out of a syringe. While Coppi was physically fragile due to early years of malnourishment, perhaps Pantani was (like many gifted climbers) mentally fragile, since when his world collapsed around him in 1999 he took solace in cocaine. Even after this he came back to the top of his sport. Drug use doesn't erase the things he did or the dreams he created. For this reason he's still revered here in Italy, in ways some can not, or will not, understand.
This monument is on the climb to Passo Mortirolo. The plaque reads:
You cyclists!!! To everyone who passes by!!! I ask only a small gesture, a small greeting, a little thought to this great man who liked us to dream, we pay tribute to the PIRATE! And remember this is his climb, his summit, his way to make us feel emotions, real emotions, emotions we felt only as children, YOU’LL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN!!!
This memorial (above) is atop the Colle Fauniera, another scene of Il Pirata's exploits,
This treasured image (above) was created by our friend Marc Reynolds.
If you'd like to know more, we suggest reading BOTH of the books listed below, as we believe the true story is somewhere in the middle.