Mortirolo and Pantani

Friday, 28 May 2010

Weather permitting, the Giro’s going up the Mortirolo pass today. Just the name is bad, morte means death in Italian, the name seems derived from sinister meaning. It’s a very difficult climb, the Passo del Mortirolo has sections at 22%.

The Giro only went over the climb for the first time in 1990. In 1994, the first rider over the top was a young Marco Pantani and there is now a memorial of il Pirata on the climb. His best time was 42 minutes.

Pantani had a troubled life and if you are interested, Matt Rendell has a good account of his tragic life, “The Death of Marco Pantani” is well worth a read, even if the subject matter is pessimistic.

On a more positive note, in life Pantani was a generous character, often recruiting unemployed riders from his home region and he offered Lance Armstrong a place on his team when the Texan found his contract with Cofidis ripped up. He certainly made me dream, to this day I can recall the moment he attacked on the Galibier to ride to victory in the Tour de France, it was 15:52 in the afternoon.

Back to the Giro and Pantani made a name for himself on the Mortirolo and his attack instantly made him a darling of the cycling media and in time, a national hero in Italy. In time, Pantani was caught by a haematocrit count check that saw him ejected from the 1999 Giro, on the very same morning when 200,000 fans were camped on the Mortirolo in anticipation of his passage up the climb whilst wearing the pink jersey, in the last mountain stage. What should have been a procession marked the beginning of his descent into addiction and ultimately death.

The first rider over the summit each time now receives a prize, the Cima Pantani (literally “the Pantani summit” prize).

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