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I thought long and hard about how to describe the great, yet fatally flawed Italian cyclist Marco Pantani.

In the end, a quote from writer and journalist Matt Rendell summed up everything I was trying to say:

“Italy adored Pantani as England did Paul Gascoigne, and as with Gazza, that affection evolved over the years: initially, he dazzled with his sporting talent; later, he surprised with his vulnerability; finally, he appalled with his transgressions.

“Pantani, the great climber, full of subversive trickery, with his bent nose, ears which stuck out and bald head wrapped in a bandana that he would throw down before each Promethean acceleration.”

That’s the Pantani I grew up adoring, even though I lived more than a thousand miles from his place of birth.

His nickname was ‘Il Pirata’ - the pirate. It was the perfect nom du guerre to match his romantic, almost quixotic style.

And it wasn’t just me. Pantani was the hero of a nation, an iconic figure in a sport full of bad morals and worse drugs.

Relentless in his ability to soar away from the peloton on the biggest stages of the greatest races, he was regarded as the only man capable of challenging the dominance of Lance Armstrong.

His solo ride to the top of Alpe d’Huez in the 1995 Tour De France remains one of the sports’ most remarkable feats, and his battle with Armstrong to the summit of Mont Ventoux five years later, although tarnished forever, pitted two remarkable pharmaceutical creations against one another, mano-a-mano. It is still incredible viewing.

In 1998 Pantani won both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour De France, something few cyclists ever attempt let alone succeed at. Fifteen years on from that incredible double win, as 5 live Sport gets set to broadcast the Giro for the very first time, we look back at his tragic career, at what he meant to Italy and how his legacy is viewed now in a sport whose landscape has changed so dramatically since his EPO fuelled achievements.

Marco Pantani died alone in a hotel room in Rimini in 2004 of acute cocaine poisoning. He had gone from a two wheeled legend to a lost, defeated shadow of the man who had charmed a sport and enthralled a nation.

Lance Armstrong once said: “I always thought he was more of an artist than an athlete - an extravagant figure, a Salvador Dalì.

“That's why people were so fond of him.”

We’ll talk to his mother, Tonina and his friend Enzo Vicennati, as well as Matt Rendell whose book The Death of Marco Pantani won the National Sporting Club Book of the Year as we try and define his standing in a sport as flawed as he was.

5 live Sport’s The End Of A Troubled Ride at 10pm on Wednesday 1st May. The programme will be available to download after broadcast here.

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by Paul Edwards

    on 3 May 2013 11:27

    I loved this guy - most exciting Tour rider I can remember. Very sad what happened to Marco.

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  • Comment number 10. Posted by Dcf

    on 2 May 2013 15:29

    Always a soft spot for Marco. I'm not inclined to gamble but out of curiosity I checked the odds on him winning the TDF. At 8 to 1, I proceeded to lay out the biggest each way bet in my life and he came up with the goods. It was the last bet I ever made. Quit while you are ahead.

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by Cheepinder

    on 2 May 2013 02:39

    I remember a Time Trial in which Pantani came in about 2nd or 3rd place result. It might be the Tour which either he or Barney Riis won, but I found it unbelievable that a grimpeur and a slight one at that could even begin to compete with the TT specialists unless there was some jiggery pokery afoot. I recall it was a sunny day.

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  • Comment number 8. Posted by TheLardMeister

    on 2 May 2013 00:24

    Tragic maybe -inspirational definitely. Can't get my head around how you ride that hard, pleased to see the sport is clean these days -- we know that clean riders are now winning - least I believe the Cav's and Wiggo's are

    The pirate -only man to make people want flappy ears!!!

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by Lionslionslions

    on 1 May 2013 22:41

    I find Pantani a fascinating individual. I read the Matt Rendel biographyof him which is excellent. Whilst he is a simbol to many of the state of cycling in the 1990s, I still can't help but admire his actions on the bike.

    Yes doped, yes he was a coke addict; but put him on a bike in the mountains and he would glide away from everyone - in an era when all the top riders were juiced. I don't excuse his actions in anyway at all; but there was something vulnerable and endearing about him.

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by tshabalala

    on 1 May 2013 18:51

    Without hearing the show, I'm slightly annoyed at 1) quoting rendells book and 2) his involvement.
    Pantani did no worse than any of his peers, yet was the scapegoat and fall guy for cycling. His peers Ulrich and Armstrong evaded the public humiliation while he was hung out to dry and his fellow pros watched and said nothing. While I get he had some character flaws like all of us, that is why we loved him. Undoubtedly would have won in 1999 and while we will never know -biology/history says that drug free he would have won the tour unlike armstrong. Which is contrary to rendells hatchet job of a book, which has a very one sided view on Marco.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by petermantu

    on 1 May 2013 06:35

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

  • Comment number 4. Posted by Qcumbor

    on 30 Apr 2013 11:53

    Amazing..
    Takes me back.
    As for the still constant clap trap about doping. Anyone who thinks they can take a bit of EPO and perform like Pantani, Ullrich & Armstrong etc is an idiot. Cycling is a brutal sport which is something you only really know when you take it seriously in the saddle yourself and work at your limits.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by CranleighEagle

    on 30 Apr 2013 11:41

    Pantani was exciting and really grabbed attention with his exploits. Loved hearing the TDF commentators "and here goes Pantani" he was inspriational. And that is where the issue lies with all cyclists from that era. No doubt he was a talented cyclist (as they all were) without the drugs. Cycling in my eyes os one of the cleaninst sports beacuase they actually catch offenders unlike football etc that have lax tests and poor drugs testing structure in comparison.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by Transition_Town_Man

    on 29 Apr 2013 21:24

    "...a sport full of bad morals and worse drugs."

    Come on, BBC; I'm used to the beeb's relentless coverage of drugs in cycle sport, but "bad morals" too?

    Drug abuse aside, cycle sport arguably remains one of the few sports where gentlemanly conduct, and a sense of fair play, still exist.

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