By Gregor Brown
Fifteen years on from the death of Marco Pantani on February 14, 2004, the cycling world comes together each Valentine's Day to mourn the death of 'Il Pirata'.
Cycling Weekly takes a look back at the highs and lows of the Italian's career.
1992 Baby Giro:
Twenty-two-year-old Pantani won two stages and the overall of the amateur Giro d'Italia and signalled what many had hoped for, the arrival of a new ‘campione’.
He signed his first professional contract and turned professional that August.
Pantani won two mountain stages and placed second overall in the Giro d'Italia in 1994.
Due to various incidents he did not return until 1997, when he abandoned early due to a crashed caused by a cat.
All that was put behind, however, when in 1998 he dominated the Alpe di Pampeago and Plan di Montecampione mountain stages to seal the overall win – his first grand tour victory.
Tour de France:
'Il Pirata' filled his palmarès with four mountain stages at the Tour de France, including the Alpe d'Huez summit finish twice, while waiting to get his chance at the Giro d'Italia.
With the 1998 Giro title in the bank, he pushed ahead to France. With a sour taste from the Festina Affair lingering with fans, he attacked and dropped race leader Jan Ullrich on the Col du Galibier and rode into the yellow jersey.
He never let the jersey go, becoming the first Giro/Tour double winner since Miguel Indurain five years earlier in 1993
As his career declined and problems with cocaine rose, Pantani crashed cars. In the 1999/2000 period, he had four incidents.
The one in November 2000 usually comes to mind, where a photograph captured Pantani shaking a policeman's hnad with his silver Mercedes SUV "parked" on a red car in the background. He hit eight cars in one hour and came to a stop down a narrow one-way street.
In the 1995 Milano-Torino, Pantani hit a car head-on and fractured bones in his left leg, which wrote off most of his 1996 season. The accident also created other problems for Pantani. Four years later, the Turin public prosecutor looked into the medical files left behind at the hospital to find that doctors treating Pantani recorded a 60.1% hematocrit reading hours after his crash.
Madonna di Campiglio:
With four stage wins, a hefty 5-38 minute lead and only one mountain stage left in the 1999 Giro d'Italia, a blood test at the Madonna di Campiglio ski resort revealed Pantani with a 52% hematocrit level.
At the time, the UCI had a 50% limit and a rule that forced cyclists to take a two-week break if they went over, which ended Pantani's Giro immediately.
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