February 14, St Valentine's Day, marks the anniversary of the death of Marco Pantani, one of cycling’s most flamboyant characters who was found dead in a Rimini hotel room in 2004. His fantastic successes at a time of the sport’s greatest excesses have produced a vibrant yet tarnished legacy.
Pantani turned professional with the Carrera jeans team in the summer of 1992 and took his first professional victory with the team in 1994, with back to back victories in the mountains of the 1994 Giro d'Italia. He went on to finish second behind Evgeni Berzin and ahead of Miguel Indurain.
The Mercatone Uno team was created around Pantani in 1997 and he would remain with the Italian chain-store through the remainder of his professional cycling career which came to a conclusion following the 2003 Giro d'Italia, the Italian's final race where he finished 14th overall.
Pantani's stint with Mercatone Uno included both the pinnacle of his career - the 1998 Giro d'Italia/Tour de France double, the last time a rider has won both Grand Tours in a single season - and its nadir at the 1999 Giro d'Italia where Pantani would be expelled from the race with two stages remaining, while in the maglia rosa, due to an elevated haematocrit.
Pantani returned to racing the next year in 2000, winning two stages at the Tour de France including a head-to-head duel with Lance Armstrong on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, but he was never the same again.
Italian photographer Emanuele Sirotti lived just a few kilometres from Pantani and captured some iconic images of Pantani in his early years. Tim De Waele captured many of Pantani's exploits on the bike during the Italian's Mercatone Uno years from 1997 through 2003.
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