20 years ago, on the evening of 14th February 2004 (St Valentine’s Day), Marco Pantani was found dead at a hotel in Rimini, Italy.

Pantani was an Italian Road Racing Cyclist, who was regarded as the greatest climber in the history of professional cycling.

He was a pure climber. Standing at only 1.72mts (5ft 6”) tall and weighing only 57kg (9st) he had the classic build of the out and out climber. His cycling career spanned the years 1989 – 2003.

His nickname was Il Pirata, because of his shaven head, bandana and earrings.

Although Pantani never tested positive for drugs during his career, he was beset with doping allegations.

He was expelled from the 1999 Giro d’Italia due to irregular blood values (Health Reasons). More allegations followed, and he went into a severe depression from which he never fully recovered, leading, ultimately, to his death in 2004.

Pantani was born on the 13th January 1970 in Cesena, Romagna Italy.

He was interested in cycling from an early age, joining the local Fausto Coppi Cycling Club aged 11 (1981).

As an amateur, he won the 1992 Girobio, the amateur version of the Giro d’Italia. He had first entered the race in 1990 (aged 20) finishing in third place and coming second in 1991.

Pantani finally turned professional in 1992 with the Carrera Jeans-Vagabond team.

By 1993 he had been picked for the Giro d’Italia team to help his team leader Claudio Chiappucci. Unfortunately, he had to abandon on Stage 18 with tendinitis

During the 1994 Giro he won two mountain stages earning his first victories as a professional, and he eventually finished second overall. Pantani also made his debut appearance in that year’s Tour de France. He came third and won the Young Rider classification.

He competed in the 1995 Tour de France despite having been hit by a car, while out training, an injury that had prevented him from riding the ’95 Giro.

In early 1996 Pantani collided head on with a car during the Milan-Torino Race, he was badly injured and was forced to miss most of the 1996 season.

The cycling team Mercatone-Uno was formed in 1997 with Marco Pantani as Team Leader. Injured again, he had a poor 1997 season, however, he managed to win 2 stages of that year’s Tour de France and finished third overall.

Pantani still holds the record for the fastest climb for the L ’Alpe d’Huez of 36mins 50secs.

By 1998 he was considered the favourite for that year’s Giro d’Italia, which he went on to win by over 1½ mins over Pavel Tonhou. During the Tour that year he again finished in first place beating Jan Ullrich by 6mins.

1998 was, by far, Pantani’s most successful season.

The 1999 season started well, with Pantani winning a number of races. However, he was expelled after Stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia for high levels of haematocrit in his blood. So called, Blood Doping. He didn’t race for the rest of the year.

2000, Pantani was back, but was very much off the pace. A lack-lustre Giro, and a single stage win at the Tour were his last major races. He withdrew from the Tour with stomach cramps.

Pantani raced sporadically in 2001 and 2002, totally demoralised with the doping allegations that were following him.

During the 2001 Giro, the Police raided the bedrooms of riders from over 20 teams. A syringe containing Insulin was found in Pantani’s bedroom and he was banned for 8 months by the Italian Cycling Federation.

In 2003 he staged another comeback in the Giro, finishing 14th overall. It was to be his last professional cycle race.

With a number of court cases hanging over him and more allegations of doping Pantani was admitted to a psychiatric clinic.

By the end of 2003, he had sunk into a deep depression and isolated himself from friends and family and stayed locked in his hotel bedroom.

His body was found on the 14th February 2004. The autopsy said ‘death by cerebral edema and heart failure, induced by acute cocaine poisoning’.

Pantani is buried in his home town of Cesena.

“There may be riders who have achieved more than him, but they never succeeded in drawing the crowds like he did”.

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