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realjimbob

REALJimBob

Fortysomething, photographer slacker, working in IT, living in Greenwich; failed polymath; drinks and eats too much, reads too little...

The Death of Marco Pantani: A Biography - Matt Rendell This book broke my heart. Twice. Pantani was one of my favourite cyclists to watch - not always sensible or successful, but when he attacked, he could be like poetry on a bike. Unfortunately, like Pantani, this book is inconsistent, and only 'good in parts'. Firstly, as others have pointed out, the first third of the book is a struggle to read. Rendell has obviously been meticulous in his research. Interviewing people, who I'm surprised would be willing to speak to a journalist. And that shows. But somehow that passion for the subject never quite translates onto the page. Instead what we get is a pretty disjointed list of facts and quotes. Interspersed in a way that makes a dry presentation just confusing. In his appendix, Rendell admits that that book was delivered under very tight deadlines and it certainly shows in the first third of the book. The notable redemption is the incredibly fair and balanced way Rendell treats each of his sources - quotes that are obviously coloured, biased, or frankly misleading are presented without disection. You never feel that he's using or looking down on his interviewees, they are all part of the story of Pantani, and all have their own reasons for wanting to remember things the way they do.

The middle section, where Rendell has Pantani moving from his amateur career into the professional peloton, undergoes a stark change of style. I wonder if this is the point where Matt is able to write from his own direct experiences, rather than relying on the interviews of the first third. Suddenly, the passion that Matt threatens to write in the first third appears here. We get the same detailed and balanced explanation of Pantani's career, but the confusing sections of quotations are significantly reduced, and there is a strong sense of being there as Pantani races to his wins and as he crashes and burns in the losses. Here we are introduced to the beginning of Pantani's downfall. The rumours of drug use, the pschological problems, the managers and support staff who seem more interested in keeping him racing than keeping him sane. Throughout it all, Rendell continues his same presentation of facts as a balanced account, not actively judging, but leaving the reader to decide for themselves. While the drugs and the psychological problems aren't really going to be a surprise to anybody even vaguely interested in Pantani, I was surprised during this section, to get the feeling that Rendell was hinting at a possible homosexual leaning for Pantani - although never actually stating it - a suggestion that he also returns to in the appendix where he says there were rumours at the time.

The final section broke my heart again. It describes, as best it can, Pantani's descent into the personal hell that led to his eventual death in that hotel room. The repeated missed opportunities to take action to help Pantani, completely ignored by those in position to help him. Each time preferring to ignore the problems, sweep them under the carpet, assume they'll just disappear if not really dealt with. Family, management, friends, colleagues. All of them fed his addictions, ignored his psychological problems and forced him to keep cycling even though he was in no condition to do so. Rendell may not judge them, but I found it hard not to after reading this book.