Am I on track?

Am I on track?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Book Review: "The Death of Marco Pantani" by Matt Rendell

During my 8 month's off the bike (and thus no cycle-commuting), I have the joys of a 90min each-way bus commute every day. Not fun - but on the upside, I've done a lot more reading in this 8 months compared to usual... 

My latest read has been "The Death of Marco Pantani" by Matt Rendell. 

At its most basic level, its a biography of one of my favourite all-time cyclists. When I ordered it from the library, I was looking forward to reading about the enigmatic Pantani, his fantastic swashbuckling riding style, and what made him tick.  Instead, what I ended up reading was a tragedy - the chronicling of a man's sad descent into drug dependency and hopelessness...

Matt Rendell did a terrific, throrough job of what must have been a difficult book to research. He seems to have interviewed a huge number of the key people in Pantani's life - including his parents, agents, team-mates, doctors and medical staff. It is very comprehensive.

The comprehensive nature of the book is probably, for me, its only downfall in terms of 'readability'. Personally, I found it getting bogged down a number of times in very exacting detail - either of interviews, or exacting minute-by-minute recounts of different events. If Matt Rendell was aiming to make this a reference book, then perfect - he nailed it. But as a casual reader, I found these parts difficult to get through, and wished he'd shown a little more brevity.

That said, I am very glad I read this book. I am a huge fan of professional cycling, but must confess my knowledge of cycling history pre-the Armstrong Era is pretty weak. Rendell's book really illuminated me on cycling of that era, and gave me a sense of perspective and context of many of the historical names of that time.

This book was also, in an emtional context, tough reading. As a lover of pro cycling, some of what I read was straight-up depressing - my initial feeling was of how corrupt and dirty cycling was, and how could it ever emerge from such depths. And as a psychology graduate, I was stunned and appalled at how Pantani - who was clearly in severe mental and emotional distress over many years - could be allowed to reach such a terrible state. Did no-one see the warning signs? Were they that oblivious?

Looking at what I've written so far - it looks like I'm saying "don't read this book".  But in fact, I think the opposite - its a must-read. As a modern cycling fan, it gives you a huge understanding of how far cycling has come by understanding where its come from. More importantly, its given me a much greater sense of the pro cyclist as a 'person', and not just a pedalling machine that turns up ready-made in lycra at the start of each race.

Definitely buy it (or borrow it from the library, as I did). Don't expect a rollicking, easy read - but do expect a read that will leave you with a greater knowledge and perspective of both Pantani and cycling in general.

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