My tragic Tour de France warm-up

pantaniThis weekend I did my pre-Tour de France warm-up. I can’t say that this is some kind of ritual, because I’ve never done it before, but who knows, rituals start with one small action, and this might just be it. Of course, I won’t actually be riding the Tour, or even following it on the road. Rather, apart from one brief live appearance as the Tour finishes Stage 3 in London, I’ll be be spending three weeks glued to the television, suffering every climb, swooping along every downhill, celebrating every stage victory through that dark shimmering window in my living room.
So, what kind of televisual warm-up does it take to prepare for the Tour? I settled on a gritty, 90-minute-long work-out that left me breathless, a little dazed, and not completely sure that I wanted to go on.
Of course, I’m referring to the documentary, Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist.
The Tour de France is a constantly evolving spectacle, a soap opera whose characters come and go, sweating and sprinting to the forefront of our consciousness, only to be be overtaken and brushed aside by pushy young upstarts. Just look at the (Sir) Brad Wiggins and (not Sir) Chris Froome episode – a tragi-comedy that has still to play to an end. Just look at the Lance (no surname needed) farrago, one of the more enduring but less endearing episodes to have coloured the peloton. Some characters have stayed the course for several years, while others have been no more than a flash in the pan – blink, and you’ve missed them, just like the peloton passing on a provincial high street.
Marco Pantani could have been one such flash. His climb to the top was meteoric – just like the way he flew up mountains, leaving his rivals fallen by the wayside. His success was brief, but his climbing prowess was so phenomenal that it made him a legend. We remember him, Icarus-like, as he flew too high, too fast, too close to the sun, and we watched his fall, which was both swift and brutal – and fatal. It was both specacular and very much a public spectacle, which was what made it so tragic.
In his own rather strange way, Pantani seems to have been a very principled person, and the subsequent shame heaped on his frail shoulders weighed so heavily that he was unable to bear the loed.
So next week, as you watch our present posse of mere mortals toiling up Holmes Firth, or Hautecam, or the Col du Tourmalet, just think of the flawed man who, bedecked in pink, flew up those slopes on the wings of angels. We will not see his like again.

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