with the release of tyler hamilton's secret race last year, lance armstrong's somewhat theatrical admission of guilt on oprah and currently the publication of michael barry's shadows on the road, the drugs culture once implicit in the career path of a top level professional cyclist endures well past its supposed sell-by date. however, claims that it's all different nowadays are probably well-founded; there are far more riders crossing the line in a bedraggled state at the end of a race that once was a rare sight.
it's very easy to pass judgment on those who chose, voluntarily or otherwise, to take the unfortunately abbreviated performance enhancing drugs (peds) during their careers. with many individuals signing single year contracts, renewal of which depended principally on race results or the ability to aid their nominated leaders, an inability to perform against others who may well have been on a regimented drug regime could conceivably involve an early curtailment of a promising career. few of us have ever been or will ever be in a similar position, something we might do well to remember before commenting.
at times, it can be a double-edged sword; we're happy to enthuse over the creativity of musicians and writers whose works have depended on taking mind-altering drugs, yet regard it as cheating when our sportsmen indulge in similar (yet markedly different) principles. i'm not daft enough to mistake one for the other, but imagine my dismay if i discovered that some other cycling blogger received a tonne more web hits than the post with writings fueled by artificial stimulants. if i can't beat them, ought i to join?
however, generally i would refrain from discussing such matters because i truly am not qualified to make comment, and there's nothing i could say or write that will make things any clearer or solve the difficulties.
that's someone else's job.
but at the risk of over-using robert millar's quote "never forget it's all entertainment" the knowledge after the fact that marco pantani's short-lived career was almost entirely fueled by performance enhancing drugs doesn't entirely undermine the entertainment that many of us gained from watching him ride. unlike one or two others who simply achieved their ill-gotten gains by mundanely exercising their illegal super powers when the finish line was close enough, pantani rode with what rapha's simon mottram has described as panache.
those who failed to see the excitement generated by the diminutive italian will doubtless disagree, and in the light of subsequent revelations, their opinion could be said to hold the moral high ground. but watching for the umpteenth time, pantani's giro battle with mapei's pavel tonkov never fails to elicit the same level of excitement. even if i know now that which i didn't know then. i can still recall returning home in 1999 to discover that marco had been disqualified from the giro at madonna de campiglio; how could that possibly have happened? pantani was leading by around five minutes and was pretty much assured of a second consecutive victory, so why on earth would he take anything that would show up in testing?
yes, i was and to a certain extent still am, naive in such matters.
film director and producer james erskine is surely of a similar persuasion to yours truly in matters concerning il pirata, for on 13 may the premiere of his film pantani: the accidental death of a cyclist permieres in london. 200 publicly available tickets are being made available at a cost of £25 each for the showing, including a question and answer session between the producer and ned boulting. three days later, the movie gains national release across 20 cities and on 26 may, the film will be available on dvd and blu-ray.
while the latter can already be pre-ordered from amazon, if you'd like to attend the premiere at haymarket's cineworld, click the link below to order tickets while they're still available. whatever your opinion of pantani, it may be worth your while to either confirm or challenge your assumptions of marco pantani.
photo credits from top: sven simon/dpa/press association images; michael steele/empics sport; christophe ena/ap/press association images; michael steele/empics sport
wednesday 7 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................