MARCOIt’s Valentine’s Day, and this Valentine’s Day, like every Valentine’s Day for the past ten years, every cycling website pounds Marco Pantani over your head.

And they should. 

Pantani’s story is one that needs to be told, if not for the contrast to the debacle of an Oprah confession and a Twitter account. It’s just as dark, just as ugly, just as uncomfortable. But there is soul in it, some intangible, something truly emotive. It is a story people can relate to, which is unsettling.

This is my favorite article of all time. Not my favorite cycling article. My favorite piece of writing shorter than a novella. Of all-time. I had this issue of Bicycling in my glove box for almost six years. I have no idea how many times I’ve read it. I remember reading it before track meets in high school, avoiding people and trying to get something in my head about suffering, about hurting. Marco Pantani’s life became a study of it.

Too much was brought on himself. The raw talent, the massive ego crammed into the impish Italian came with strings firmly attached. It came with a paranoia, a layer of insult, and something always tragic, even when times were good. The 1998 Giro-Tour double was the highest of highs; the 1999 positive was just the start of a long slide down to the bottom.

But watch him ride a bicycle! Watch him, like a prima donna, stand a little nearer the edge of the stage, catch the spotlight, attack a mountain too early. Watch him deflate when dropped, throw a fit, throw his bandana down. But watch him climb, perhaps the greatest climber of all-time, from man to legend to an ugly sort of martyr.

The lines to remember are these: “He died as a drug addict. He died because he was a drug addict.”

Enjoy this piece from Bicycling Magazine, written by Steve Friedman.