I remember 1998 well, when every afternoon millions of Italians as they were tuned to the TV to watch the amazing year of Marco Pantani who with his Bianchi bike won the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France, leaving the spectators amazed at the willpower but above all at the desire to win.
Marco Pantani, nicknamed for him his bandana and earring, proved to be king of the two wheels and won the trophies and medals in an exemplary way. His stature of 1.70 and weight of 57 kg, he had a small build, was light, very light, especially on the climbs of the Italian and French Alps. His aerodynamic body made him go very fast uphill, his legs became driving and when he decided to leave, his opponents could hardly keep up with him.
The '98 Tour de France was memorable, after the first seven stages, Marco was 5 minutes away from the yellow jersey Jan Ullrich, who had instead prepared himself in a much more systematic way. Marco came from a heavy Giro d'Italia and his legs seemed not to have the strength necessary to reduce the disadvantage. Then the Alps arrived and Marco found an unexpected energy, he managed to remount Ulrich reducing the distance and then the magnificent stage of Grenoble in Les Deux Alpes, the turning point took place: the Pirate went to the attack from afar on the Col du Galibier, about 50 km from the finish, despite the difficult atmospheric conditions of rain and freezing cold . Pantani reached the final finish alone, while Ullrich - ill nourished and exhausted by the bitter cold - went into irreversible crisis, paying almost nine minutes of disadvantage on arrival.
On that day, Pantani not only won the stage, but also won the first yellow jersey of his career. Ilrich was spaced and kept under control by Marco also in the following stages until the finish line of the final stage. Surely 1998 was the best year ever for Marco and which established him as one of the strongest mountain cyclists of all time, with great cross-country and recovery skills as well as a sprinter and also a decent downhill skier.
1999 was the year of his decline: he was excluded from the Giro d'Italia for a high hematocrit value, the effect of a probable use of doping substances but the story has always had unclear circumstances. He suffered a severe blow especially at the media level, raging aggressively against Marco, as if he were the worst man in the world. Marco lived on the cheering of the people and in that circumstance he felt he had disappointed all his supporters.
The following years were not better, his return to cycling never made him recover his best physical shape and Marco entered a depressive phase that led him to the use of antidepressant drugs whose abuse seems to have been the cause. of his death on February 14, 2004, in a hotel room in Rimini, alone and without the people who loved him. An inglorious end for a man of his caliber and his death is still considered by many to be an unsolved mystery.