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In 1998 Marco Pantani, the most flamboyant and popular cyclist of his era, won both the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, a titanic feat of physical and mental endurance that no rider has repeated since. He was a hero to millions, the saviour of cycling following the doping scandals which threatened to destroy the sport. However, less than six years later, aged just 34, he died alone, in a cheap hotel room, from acute cocaine poisoning. He had been an addict for five years. This is the story of the tragic battles fought by the most important Italian cyclist of his generation; man versus mountain, athlete versus addiction, Marco Pantani versus himself.Written by
Rise and fall sports documentary that could have been stronger
Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist tells the rise and fall story of one of the most celebrated cyclists of recent years. In 1998, Marco Pantani won the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. An achievement that has never been repeated since on account of the extreme endurance levels required to win both races. Unfortunately, doping allegations effectively ended his career and he went into a downward spiral ending in a cocaine related death in 2004.
Director James Erskine is no stranger to the sports documentary. Just last year I was fortunate enough to attend the premiere of Battle of the Sexes, his film about Billie Jean King's match with the chauvinistic Bobby Riggs. It was an excellent film, with drama, history and heart. It remains frustratingly little seen which is unbelievable. With 'Pantani' Erskine returns to similar territory but with less impressive results. The story certainly has potential but it's not always told in the most interesting manner. Pantani himself is shown to be an incredible athlete who had an extraordinary ability to climb and descend high gradients but he is never really someone who we ever truly connect with in this documentary. We don't get to learn much of his character; consequently his tragedy has less impact than it should. While the film does take quite a hazy view of the doping allegations that ultimately undid him which makes things unnecessarily unclear. His death also is only briefly covered. These negative story elements are crucial to the narrative and it would have been better if they had been covered more in depth, directly and objectively.
These considerations aside, this is still a well-made documentary. It takes the talking heads format but also has a lot of material from the time, with some good cycling footage. I personally had not even heard of Marco Pantani before seeing this and I only knew very general things about cycling as a sport. It was very educational on these fronts. One of the points it also makes is that professional athletes at the top of their sports are often merely just pawns in a big money machine; once they fall from their perch they can be disregarded because they are no longer of use to the business. Pantani seemed to be an example of this and it was directly responsible to his untimely death. It's a sad story for sure.
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