I don’t wanna belabor this Pantani thing, because there’s something a little bit unseemly about a 45-year-old man even having sports heroes, let alone one as questionable as Pantani became. But back in 1998, when I was first learning seriously about cycling, it was Pantani I admired.
And in particular, it was this day, the 16th stage of the 1998 Tour, over the Col de la Madeleine.
This was before OLN, so I followed the day-to-day stuff with Steve Wood’s daily dispatches for Velonews.
Jan Ullrich was the defending champion, and was riding well until the 15th stage, a mountain stage, when he cracked and Pantani put big time on him. Unwilling to cede anything to the Italian, Ullrich came out hard the next day, the 16th stage, attacking at the bottom of the day’s final climb. It was futile but noble – there was no way Ullrich could make up the time he’d lost.
Pantani went with him, just marking his wheel. No one else could follow. And they rode together, old champion and new, banging away for nearly two hours, by themselves.
That fall, when I inherited my “new” bike, I had it painted celeste. And as soon as I could, I started riding it in the mountains.