Ale Federico over at Pez uses today's fourth anniversary of Marco Pantani's cocaine-induced suicide to recall the beginning of the end, that day in 1999 when Pantani was spirited away from the Madonna di Campiglio in civvies after being kicked out of the Giro. For Italy, this is a tragedy many people seem unwilling to forget, but for me this serves as a reminder that perhaps I am Italian in name and occasional hand-gestures only.
I get that his ascension in the sport was a beauty to behold, not merely because he won but that he did so aggressively... sort of Bettini with mad, mad climbing skills. The places where he won made his accomplishments all the more majestic: Alpe d'Huez, Mont Ventoux, everywhere he wanted in the Giro, etc. I also get that, regardless of how you view his cycling career, his life is the tragic tale of a person incapable of managing depression and drug addiction.
But while the latter rings real, the former does not. EPO almost certainly fueled his entire career, as evidenced by the Giro exclusion and a 1995 blood sample which showed his hematocrit over 60. Had longitudinal testing existed then, his career would have been short and dark. Of course, so too would perhaps all of his chief rivals, and in that era the clean rider was an almost inexplicable exception. But the tragedy of doping is that we'll never really know how great Marco Pantani the Cyclist was. And in light of all we now know, this entire era of Cycling has almost no meaning. So if people want to use every Valentine's Day to say goodbye to Pantani the person, I understand, but I'm done saying goodbye to Pantani the Cyclist.