Simon Usborne: If nothing else, Pantani: the Accidental Death of a Cyclist will leave you with an urge to ride up a big hill


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The Independent Online

It's grand tour season, with the Giro d'Italia due to end tomorrow, three bruising weeks after it rolled out of Belfast. Next stop: Yorkshire and the Tour de France. In the meantime, my desk creaks like Boris Johnson's bike under well-timed cycling books and films.

The biggest cultural event in the sport has been Pantani: the Accidental Death of a Cyclist, a documentary about a legend whose reputation still veers between villain and hero, 10 years after he died from cocaine poisoning in a hotel room.

Marco 'Il Pirata' Pantani was the bald guy with a bandana whose thrilling facility for climbing brought drama to a sport that had been getting old. He won the tours of Italy and France in 1998, a year before Lance Armstrong wrapped his hands around cycling and refused to let go.

The film, which premiered earlier this month, stops just short of hagiography, setting stunning footage of a man who appeared to defy gravity against the story of his painful fall from grace (he got done for doping, retired, and became a tragic figure).

Armstrong features and, inevitably, comes across as a dick. Yet many argue we should view Pantani's achievements in the same light. The film shows it's not as simple as that, partly painting the Italian as a victim of the system (Armstrong became the system). Make up your own mind. If nothing else, it will leave you with an urge to ride up a big hill.