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Wednesday’s mail bag: The Pantani letters continue

May he finally find peaceEditors,Today is truly a sad day in cycling. We are putting to rest one of the greatest cyclist and climbers the sport has seen. Not only was Marco a truly amazing cyclist. He came across as a truly passionate person. Marco will live in our memories. God bless you! May you now rest in peace.Doug BladesBrampton, Ontario In Memoriam: Marco PantaniIt was just one of many slogans scrawled onto the homemade bannersthat floated above a sea of cheering tifosi gathered atop the PassoMortirolo. Its truth, however, rang though the chaos and sticks in my headtoday. It said,

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May he finally find peace
Today is truly a sad day in cycling. We are putting to rest one of the greatest cyclist and climbers the sport has seen. Not only was Marco a truly amazing cyclist. He came across as a truly passionate person. Marco will live in our memories.

God bless you! May you now rest in peace.
Doug Blades
Brampton, Ontario

In Memoriam: Marco Pantani
It was just one of many slogans scrawled onto the homemade bannersthat floated above a sea of cheering tifosi gathered atop the PassoMortirolo. Its truth, however, rang though the chaos and sticks in my headtoday. It said, Pirata-farci sognare… make us dream.

This is the precious gift of sports heroes. Marco did make us dream-hemade us dream about what humanity could be. He was a shy, elfin, bald guywho showed that ordinary men could fly. When Marco was in the raceand the road tilted upwards, even the cynical eyes of wrinkled Italianmen sparkled with joyous anticipation. He made anything, everything seempossible for all of us. It’s as if he was a god from Olympus, holding upsome magic mirror that reflected the potential in us all.

And so it seemed appropriate, a year or two ago, when I read that hewas training alone in those Olympian mountains of Greece. It was rightthat he escape to those lofty, dreamy, peaks-because the world below haddone nothing but drag him down.

A jeep strayed into his high-speed path on a supposedly closed race-course,mangled his leg and nearly took his life. But he rose from those ashes,first to sing poetry on the broadcast of a Giro he should have won butcouldn’t take part in, later to pedal perilously close to the heavens,winning the Giro and the Tour, resurrecting our dreams again.

Then a legal scandal pulled him down. Guilty or innocent, he was chosento bear the brunt of a massive backlash against the drugs that had infestedhis sport. For every would-be eagle inspired by his soaring, there seemedto be two vultures waiting to feed upon his wounds. And as the wounds multipliedso did the vultures-you could see them pecking at his soul in that last,valiant, return to the Giro.

Well, they, we, finally killed him off. Today Marco was found dead ina hotel. He didn’t die at the peak of his beauty; the modern sports machinehad been sucking the life from him for years. Maybe he decided to takethe last part himself.

I’d like to imagine that he’s really still in those hills, escaped fromthe world of big-time sport, soaring among the peaks of Olympian gods.You may say that’s just a dream, but dreams are one of the best thingswe have. And Marco made us dream.
Heather Reid
Larry Theobald
Sioux City, Iowa
You will believe a man can fly
It truly is sad to see him gone, just to watch him climb was pure joy.While some struggled, it seemed like Marco just was gliding up the mountain.It was said years ago,” that no one could win the Tour without help,” (drugsof some sort).

Maybe so, but you can’t tell me that Marco Pantani used drugs all thewhile he was racing. He will be missed, let him finally rest in peace.
Greg Kinzie
Pawleys Island South Carolina

Show some manners!
This is meant straight for you Mike Black (see Tuesday’smail bag).

Didn’t anyone ever tell you it is rude to speak ill of the dead? Yousay Pantani was a doper yet he never failed a drug test and every drugand sporting fraud trial that came to it’s end was decided in his favor.

Did you consider the fact that the prosecutors from Turin had an axeto grind with Pantani after he successfully sued them for contributingto his near career ending accident in the Milan-Turin race in ’95? Didyou ever consider the “evidence” they were trying to use to charge him,would never have been allowed in any court in our country, civil or criminal?Did you ever think before condemning him that he was charged for sportingfraud under a law that didn’t even exist when the alleged fraud took place?(Which by the way caused the charge to be dismissed, years too late tosave the tarnished reputation.)

I don’t know if he took dope or not, but apparently you do, based onsome things you’ve read which might be true, or might not. You know enoughto say he deserved to die for what he did. I think you are displaying thesame lack of humanity and common sense the jackals in the press did whenthey hounded him to his death. You show poor taste to air such opinionsin public when his family, friends, and fans are trying to remember notthe frailty he displayed but the courage. I’d like to know what it is you’vedone in your life that allows you to judge a man who rose higher than youever will in his life, and even at his lowest failed to sink to your level.
Steve Farris
Silver City, New Mexico

A matter of personal responsibility
There is one responsible party in Pantani’s death, and that is thecyclist himself. His death was tragic, he was a talented cyclist. I rememberthe first time I ever saw him climb; there was none better in the peloton.
Both Eddy Merckx and Pantani’s mother are blaming doping investigationsand “the system” on his death. But what about the cyclist? He failed thedrug tests (just a single hematocrit test at the 1999 Giro d’Italia.The test, according to the UCI’s euphemistic definition, is a “health check”and not an actual dope test – Editor). And while doping wasnever proven de facto, Pantani seemed to act more guilty than innocent.If he did cheat, shame on him. If he didn’t, shame on the courts.
Notes found with his body indicated that he felt persecuted. He was blaming the system. Initial indications point to his self-destructivebehavior as contributing to his death, whether intentional or accidental(and we may never know for sure), but he made the choice to engagein that behavior. If he was addicted to cocaine as all indications seemto suggest, a judge didn’t put that in his body, nor did the media. Hedid.

There has to be some acknowledgement of personal responsibility here.And if he wasn’t guilty of doping, why not train harder, compete, testclean, and prove everyone wrong — he certainly had the talent to do that (unless, ofcourse, it was chemically enhanced from the get-go). He took the easy wayout, by blaming everyone but himself.
If there is a victim in all of this, it’s the sport of cycling. Yetagain, performance enhancing drugs and their consequences cast a deepershadow on an otherwise beautiful and athletic sport.
I must reiterate, Pantani’s death is a tragedy and I feel only sympathyfor his family and friends; it’s a horrible loss.
Steve Ryan
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

Squandering talent
The news of Marco Pantani’s death came suddenly, and the cycling worldmourns his passing. He was a great rider and will ultimately be rememberedas such. My most vivid recollection of him was not a victory — it washis shake of the head when Lance disposed of him on the Hautacam in 2000.

I think professional cyclists in particular, and society at large canlearn a valuable lesson from his tragic demise. Yes, he had endured disappointments that no doubt plagued him and contributed to his depression. But what was really so bad? He was talented, wealthy and famous. A desire to maintain that status caused him to take chances with performance-enhancing substances, which were banned and illegal. He did that to himself, and, he could have won without those things.

When I think of my fellow Marines who have died over the past year inIraq, defending their country and separated from loved ones, I wonder whatthey any one of them would have given to have had the opportunities Pantanihad? He had incredible opportunity, and he squandered it by obsessing overthings that were not that serious relative to what many endure.

Did he need friends? Certainly. But he needed friends not to coddlehim or blame the media and the authorities; he needed friends to get inhis face, impress the importance of accountability and support him in doingso.

So, when I read comments from Merckx and Virenque blaming everyone butPantani, I say that unaccountable attitude contributed more to his deaththan anything else.
Stephen Kay
Arlington, Virginia

A sick sport
Like most who have posted messages in the mail bag the last coupleof days, I was greatly saddened to hear of Marco Pantani’s death.

At first, I was surprised to read that he had felt persecuted, especiallyconsidering his great success and the fact that his downfall was as muchhis fault as anyone’s. After trying to view things from Pantani’s perspective,though, I began to see the situation anew. It would be easy to feel persecutedif, like Pantani, I knew the full and ugly truth of professional cyclingand were being punished for my transgressions while others — simply becausethey had avoided detection — happily went about their careers.

Isn’t it entirely possible that many of cycling’s ‘golden ones’ havemaintained that status merely because they haven’t been caught? Isn’t italso entirely possible that most of cycling’s recent victories and records are just as tainted as Barry Bonds’ presumably steroid-assisted home run record?

I sincerely wish that the answer to both those questions could be aresounding no; however, I gave up being that naive about sports a longtime ago. Pantani was a hair’s breadth away from leaving cycling as oneof the ‘golden ones,’ a champion without an ominous asterisk. But thenhe got nailed, even though he certainly knew of many others who flew justunder the banned substances radar. Who wouldn’t be bitter about that? Whowouldn’t feel persecuted in his shoes? The same giant hammer of law thatcame down so forcefully on Marco Pantani should come down equally hardon everyone involved in cycling’s drug culture.

Until that happens, professional cycling will be merely a ghostly shadowof what it should be.
Dave Rohlf
Lakewood, Colorado

Time to clean up
First, it’s simple: It plain sucks when someone dies like this, especiallywhen so many have a connection (emotional, personality, style, whatever)with him.

Whether he used drugs or not doesn’t really matter at this point.

Second, I believe drugs are still rampant in this sport, at all levels.The cheap stuff is so readily available, that people who never get tested,for example at the lower levels, will never get caught. At the higher levels, money buys the best designer drugs (THG for instance) and doctors that can’t yet be tested.

It would really be interesting to see who really is and is not using drugs at the pro level, especially within the big dogs.

Last, it sure would be nice if we really could see a 100-percent clean race. This means no drugs at all.

Just my two cents.
George Manousakis,
Salt Lake City, Utah

Remember what he did for all of us
Marco was one of the greatest climbers the sport has known, and I agreewith lets not blame anyone but who knows what might have been if he hadnot been excluded from last years Tour? It is a great lose to the sport notonly as a competitor but as a personality as the great Indurain said hebrought a lot of fans to cycling!

Rest in Peace now Marco.
Isle of Wight, UK

I was very sad to read of Pantani’s death and share the sentiments ofmany VeloNews readers who have expressed regret at the loss of a riderso obviously full of passion for the sport. Hopefully some good can come of this by drawing awareness to the all too common problem of depression. No doubt Marco spent years of his life with demons on his back, maybe it was those demons chasing him up the mountain that helped him to achieve what he did on the bike.

Unfortunately it looks like they caught him in the end. If you’re reading this and you think you don’t know anyone battling depression, think again. And when you get a chance to help, don’t pass it up. There’s no guarantee they will let you; many tried to help Marco and couldn’t. But you’ll regret it if you don’t.

Karl Etzel
San Jose

Love him or hate him. Pantani never failed a drug test.
Marty Robbins
Columbus, Indiana

Show some respect
Dear Editor,
It is shameful how poor taste and awful manners have taken place amongthe readers of your Journal. I suggest editors to be more sharp on publishingletters like those of Mr. Milam and Mr. Black. Now it is a time of sorrow,not of accusations. Marco Pantani is dead. We should give his family andfriends a rest from our sanctimonious who-did-what-when games for a while.

How nice it might be to remember the old adage about throwing the first stone.
Tomi-Pekka Tuomainen
Kuopio, Finland

What if?
I think Marco Pantani’s death is very tragic. I am a 36-year-old roadcyclist, and have been for about 15 years now. Marco Pantani was neverat the top of my list in terms of personal favorites, but I can not helpbut wonder if the sport, the media, and society could have reached outto him differently.

We all make our own beds, but we all are also supposedly born into “originalsin,” thus we are far from perfect.

I agree with one of the other commentators in that anyone who has wonthe Tour, ranked above a certain cut-off point, or is currently world champion,should be automatically included in the Tour de France. Other events shouldfunction similarly. Professional golf has a system where previous winnersautomatically qualify for an event for five or ten years – five years seemsfair to me.

Obviously, nobody here is to blame except for maybe Mr. Pantani himself.No matter what the situation or circumstances, we always have a choice.I realize some will disagree, but I stand firm here. Though we are allunique, and can not be compared, there are people who struggle to surviveon a daily basis, whether regarding the necessities, illness, or mentally.Nobody forced Marco Pantani to ride a bicycle for his profession, and nobodywas keeping him from doing anything else in life.

Sure, change is hard, but it is not impossible and most of the timeit is good for us. I am very saddened by his death and my sympathy goesout to his Mom and Dad, and to anyone else close to him. People forgetthat sports are just that – a competition. We as human beings always makethings out to be more than they actually are and put more pressure on ourselvesand others than necessary.

Rest in peace Marco Pantani.
John Thomas
Columbia, Maryland

Render unto Marco that which is…
Dear Editors,
I am reminded of the bard’s immortal words:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

Unfortunately, so shall it be with Pantani.

This huge talent, whose style, combativeness, aggression and panachewon over thousands of cyclists around the globe, died alone, overshadowedby drugs and accusations of cheating. Those who seek to devalue his life due tothese charges forget that he was a human being, caught up in a sport wherewinning is the only thing, and they insist on forgetting the good.

I don’t care whether he did things in life that are considered evil,I plan on not forgetting the excitement he brought to the sport and tome personally. I mourn his passing and will embrace his memory.

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Rest in peace Marco.
Burton Hathaway
Atlanta, Georgia

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