On 14 February 2004 Marco Pantani was found dead in a hotel room in Rimini. The 34-year-old climbing specialist, nicknamed 'The Pirate', was a Tour de France and Giro d'Italia champion, but his career was blighted by doping allegations after he was thrown out of the 1999 Giro d'Italia for failing a blood test. In the last months of his life he kept extensive notes for a book that would have told his story. Pantani was the first Italian to win the Tour de France, cycling's premier race, since Felice Gimondi in 1965. He was the last man to win the Tour before Lance Armstrong embarked on a record-equalling five straight victories. But Pantani's career went into free-fall when he was ejected from the 1999 Giro while in the lead after failing a test for haematocrit - an indicator - though not proof - of the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Scandal followed Pantani, and during the 2001 Giro a syringe containing traces of insulin was found in his hotel room in a police raid. Pantani insisted the syringe had been planted and that he did not stay in the room on the night in question.
A court dismissed his claim for lack of proof, and he was suspended for six months but later acquitted of sporting fraud in October 2003. Thanks to her close rapport with Pantini's family, Manuela Ronchi has been able to tie together the loose ends of his story to loyally reconstruct the life of the champion. From his childhood discovery of cycling to the triumphs, losses and scandal that accompanied one of the few sporting personalities capable inspiring in his fans a passion for cycling, here, for the first time, is the full, intimate, authentic and personal story of Pantani's remarkable career.
Manuela Ronchi was Pantani's manager, friend and confidente for five years. Gianfranco Josti is a sports journalist on Italy's 'Corriere della Sera'