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on 20 November 2007
Just because I gave a less than stellar review to Matt's more recent book on the Tour de France, I thought it only fair to contribute my thoughts on this one as well - because it's superb.
Meticulously researched, beautifully written, detailed, moving and horrifying by turns, this book is both a grisly account of the disintegration of a personality, and the story of one of the greatest cycling talents ever. Marco Pantani, Il Pirata as he is known from the piratical headscarf he sometimes wore, was a doper, a cheater and an addict - and one of the most amazing cycling mountain-climbers of all time; a mass of contradictions who still provokes awe and deprecation in equal amounts. Matt Rendell brings out the many sides of this complex personality in his disturbing and sometimes cold-bloodedly factual account.
If anyone should dispute the figures Matt quotes, by the way, there's one small but telling piece of evidence of their authenticity: namely the writer's puzzlement at the .wdb suffix to the filenames of the doping records. Apparently this unfamiliar format made them very difficult to recover! However any old-skool PC user will recognise this as the suffix of an antiquated MS Works Database format, for the simple-minded cut-down database which was supplied with the (surprisingly useful IMO :) ) MS Works suite for pre Win '98 versions of Windows. That Matt was genuinely puzzled by this says volumes for his integrity if you think about it. You couldn't make it up!
But seriously: this is a biography of Il Pirata, from his earliest involvement in cycling to his ignominious death from cocaine overdose in Hotel Residence le Rose, Rimini, in 2004. But the book's title is The *Death* of Marco Pantani; not 'The Life'. If you read this book, you will understand why; Marco, as Matt says, 'had been dying a long time'. This book is immensely sad; it is also a must read for any cycling fan. Highest possible recommendation.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 22 November 2007
I'm a big cycling fan (well to be more precise, Tour de France fan) and Pantani was always one of those characters who fascinated me, more so than the more successful but colourless Indurain, Armstrong et al. For the football fans amongst you, think Maradonna compared with Shearer.

Flawed genius, fallen hero...pick your cliche for the little man with the big grudge - against life, cycling, his team, himself...just about everything. This book is very well written, extremely detailed, and while Matt Rendell writes in a detached, factual style, this does not make Pantani's sad and inevitable cocaine-fuelled demise any less harrowing. Rendell delivers the facts with authority and great attention to detail. This is not feel-good stuff and can be difficult but so was the Pirate's too short time on this planet.
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on 1 May 2012
A good insight into the great man although if you consider a drug using cheat "great" is a matter for personal opinion. Obviously deeply troubled and nuerotic individual who had real talent but let the downside of his success take him to a darker world that money and fame give you access to. Yes this book gives you a great insight into him and his life but i did find it a challenging read with basically boring passages interspersed with the interesting bits. condense this book down to about a third of its length and i would have built as good a picture of the man and enjoyed doing so at the same time
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on 15 February 2012
Matt Rendell was an academic and it shows.
Yes, the research is painstaking, and he cannot be faulted for effort, but the narrative reads more like a phD thesis - too detailed, too intense and too complex.
To be fair, the first half of the book zips along nicely, but like Pantani's career, the second half falls into an abyss of drug tests, cocaine and blood results. At times it feels more like an A-Level Biology text book.
This is not to say that biographies shouldn't be expertly researched. They should. But the skill of the biographer is use the information to create a compelling narrative that makes the pages turn. Rendell doesn't possess that particular gift.
Robert Moore (In Search of Robert Millar), William Fotheringham (Fallen Angel), David Walsh (Kelly) and Daniel Coyle (Lance Armstrong)earned their stripes in journalism and it shows in their writing. For great books that are meticulously researched with narratives that rips along like a peloton with a tailwind, I would recommend the aforementioned books.
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on 30 July 2007
A fantastic exploration of the this amazing cyclist, the allegations of doping, the court battles and his last few days in the hotel room where he was eventually found dead. Rendell has a unique insight to the case, from his interviews and knowledge of this sport and his writing is thrilling, especially as he describes Pantani's various victories. He draws some interesting conclusions concerning whether or not Pantani had a mental illness (I believe as someone suggested that he was bipolar), and asks questions about his ultimate downfall. Highly recommended if you are into cycling or even just want an excellent sports biography.
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on 30 July 2007
I have a framed picture of Marco Pantani hanging in my stairwell. This obviouse admiration has been badly soured by Matt Rendell's book. It was not the revelation of drug taking, like most cycling fans I knew that already, it was Rendell's cliam that Marco was little without the drugs. Rendell's central point is that Pantani was unique more for the way his body fed of EPO, it was this that made him great- he was the best at benefitting from this cheating. Drug use did not create a level playing field of abuse but simply allowed those with access to the most systematic programmes to cheat. The glory of the great climbers is their ability to suffer, it is this that I admired and still do, not their physiological metabolism of EPO.

This is a must read for all cycling fans. Rendell's research is of academic level and integrity and he has to be congratulated for his diligence in getting some very complex biochemistry spot on. He has changed my view of drug use in cycling, they are not all at it and no mater how romantic the charecter Pantani may have been he was a cheat and like Tom Simpson before we should not admire this sort. We should admire those who fight and suffer clean, no matter what their level of success they are the true heros.
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on 21 December 2007
I am a life-long cyclist and an enthusiast for the Tour de France, mostly because that is the race that I can usually follow on the television in England. I knew that drug-taking was common in racing but I put it to the back of my mind when I watched the race.

This book has helped me to understand both the extent of the drug-taking and the reasons for it. I remember the commentators talking about Marco Pantani when he was at his height. They were giving us clues when they talked about the way his performance varied from day to day. In this book you will learn about Marco from a child and the drive to succeed that he had. You will read about his meteoric rise in the sport and the incredible physical feats of which he was capable.

However on the dark side the whole sorry tale of drugs is exposed. I now know what is taken and why. I know about the attempts, often half-hearted at best, to eradicate or control them. But above all I can now see why outstanding athletes like Pantani, whose abilities I find awe-inspiring, need to take dangerous chemicals to give them just that bit more performance or endurance.

This book has altered my view of the sport. I don't even know whether I will watch it again. What the author can't tell us is his knowledge or suspicion about who is still using drugs. He does hint when describing investigations, but in any case Pantani is the subject of the book. I am sure that like me you will finish this book with a sigh and wish that these incredible men could be released from the need to abuse their bodies and show us what they are genuinely capable of. It would be more than enough.
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on 24 May 2007
After a slow start this book becomes "can't put it down" material. Rendell's research is exceptionally detailed and you really get to understand how doping benefits cyclists. Delving into Pantani's personal life is where the book excels, rivets, and upsets though. Reading about his decline and cocaine problems was extremely moving, and even after putting the book down for an evening my mind would still be going over the content. Well worth reading, whether you're a cycling fan or not. The fine line between genius and madness is well revealed here, showing how the gifted Pantani slipped onto the wrong side of the line.
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on 28 May 2008
I must admit I'm not the most ardent cycling fan but had always been interested in hearing about 'Il Pirata' or 'Elefanto' as some people knew him. From the very start you get the feeling some awkward subjects are going to be addressed and they certainly are. Its hard to understand as a relative outsider why the corruption and drugs problem in cycling isn't addressed. Marco was a star and it would be a shame if his death had no lasting effects. After the shambles that have been the Tour de France for as many years as I can remember you might think that Marco and many other stories might spur someone to do something but as yet nobody has addressed the issue. If you liked this or are remotely interested in professional cycling buy a book by journalist Paul Kimmage called "Rough Ride", available on Amazon, it provides an excellent insight into a problem spanning many decades. Marco, you may be gone but you haven't been forgotten.
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on 16 August 2006
I am no cyclist, but found the book extremely interesting. I came to the subject with an open mind, but was convinced by the author's arguments - we are talking about doping in the milieu of cycling.

The book takes us from Marco Pantani's youth right up to his death, and beyond.

Unlike one of the previous critics, I do not consider the volume to be a hatchet job. All allegations are examined in detail, and medical concepts are explained very clearly - I know more about blood chemistry than I'll never need!

The evidence is overwhelming. Marco Pantani was doped, and probably from the beginning of his career. The evidence is the blood samples. The modes of defence are shown to make no medical sense, and the asides are also quite damning (why would cyclists want to set up bikes in their hotel room, during a Tour? it only makes any sense if their blood is thick and they need to get the heart pumping during the night. And it is thick because they take r-EPO).

I felt the book is very fair. It is certainly well researched and thorough. No hatchet job, this.
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