Marco Pantani is regarded as one of the best climbers in the history of cycling. He used to toy with the field before leaving everyone in his dust on the toughest mountain climbs. Last night I watched Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist, and the absurdity of cycling really hit home.
The Tour de France is the hardest sporting event in the world.* I know some will argue the Red Bull Electric-Fence-Mud-Climb or something equally “extreme,” but the reality of hammering a bike 100 miles a day for 3 weeks is enough to make me slit my wrists.
I mean, cycling is tough. I laugh when people say, “I could never do the Ironman swim or run, but I could do the bike.” Yeah, right!
I would love to see them churn out 112 miles at even 18 miles an hour and see how the next few days make their legs, ass and brain feel.
Riding a bike is fun! Racing a bike . . . not so much. No wonder these guys are drawn to doping.
Since the 1990s, participants in the Tour de France have worn heart rate monitors, enabling researchers to examine their level of exertion (which can then be expressed as a percentage of the VO2 max). Over the long, flat stages, the monitors suggest that riders hover between 50 and 70 percent of their VO2 max. That may sound like a light workout, but keep in mind that when a Tour de France rider is “resting” at 60 percent of his maximum capacity, he’s working about as hard as an average person at full exertion.
The time trials and mountain stages are entirely different. The long time trials last more than an hour, during which the cyclists remain above 90 percent of VO2 max. (As a crude comparison, for the average person that would be like sprinting for an entire hour.)
The film is about a love affair gone wrong. Pantani was a kid who loved to ride his bike, but once he went professional he referred to the world of cycling as the mafia. The pressure was immense, especially after he won the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in 1998. Everyone was gunning for him and, while he never technically tested positive, he was disqualified from Giro in 1999 for irregular blood levels. He believed the world of cycling had plotted against him.
This from Pantani’s Wikipedia page:
Although Pantani never tested positive during his career, his career was beset by doping allegations. In the 1999 Giro d’Italia, he was expelled due to his irregular blood values. Although he was disqualified for “health reasons”, it was implied that Pantani’s high haematocrit was the product of EPO use.
It all went downhill from there, and ironically, Lance Armstrong was emerging as the new king of the hill.
Following later accusations, Pantani went into a depression from which he never fully recovered. He died of acute cocaine poisoning in 2004.
The sport he loved, eventually killed him, and that is some fucked up shit.
* Some will argue that Giro d’Italia or Vuelta a España are technically tougher cycling events.
One side note from the film. I have no understanding of the science, but when these guys were doping one of the things they would do is wear a heart rate monitor to bed and when it got too low an alarm would go off. They’d then get out of bed in the middle of the night and start riding a trainer to get the heart rate up again. They’d do this while the tour was going on. I mean . . . really?