This year marks a couple of anniversaries in the story of Marco Pantani and the Giro d’Italia. If 1999, when he was expelled from the race after failing a hematocrit test, was his downfall, then 1994 and the Passo del Mortirolo was perhaps the birth of Il Pirata. A quarter of a century on, and with the Mortirolo set to feature on stage 16 of this year's Corsa Rosa, we've put together a selection of images, shot by Emanuele Sirotti, to look back on that famous day.
Pantani had already won his first Giro stage the previous day, but it was on stage 15, from Merano to Aprica, that Pantani first took flight in that inimitable style of his.
He wouldn't win that year's Giro, but it was clear a star had been born, as he put Miguel Indurain, winner of the two previous editions of the Giro and the three previous editions of the Tours de France, to the sword.
The 195km stage took in the mighty Stelvio pass, at nearly 3000m, and the final climb was the Santa Cristina, but it was on the Mortiolo where Pantani took off. As a measure of the legend of his attack there, a memorial to him can be found half-way up.
Indurain had been the dominant force in Grand Tour racing, his victories built largely on huge gains in the time trials. While the Spaniard could more than hold his own in the mountains, he tended to grind his way up, whereas Pantani pedalled with almost effortless grace. The contrast was laid bare as he skipped up the Mortirolo, an 12.8km climb that averages more than 10 per cent. Indurain, along with the race leader Evgeni Berzin, fell away.
Indurain dropped Berzin on the descent, and Pantani, alone in the valley, opted to wait for the Spaniard in order to try and inflict more damage on the maglia rosa. They worked as a trio with Nelson Rodriguez, as Berzin frantically led a chase group, including Pantani's more established teammate Claudio Chiappucci, behind.
Pantani used Indurain to take him to the foot of the final climb, the Santa Cristina, where he attacked once again and soared clear. Indurain, normally so consistent, exploded. He was passed by Chiapucci and Wladimir Belli from the Berzin group, and rolled across the line some 3:30 down on Pantani. Berzin was next across the line at 4:06.
Pantani would have to wait four years to win the Giro, but that day made his name, and ignited a flame that burned brightly but all too briefly.
Click or swipe through the gallery above to relive it all.
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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