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Memories from… Oropa, 1999: Pantani, from champion to legend


Attention, Pantani has punctured. Or it might be chain jump“. This is the translation of what was said, or perhaps shouted, by the Italian commentators of the 1999 edition of the Giro d’Italia. Their voices echo through cycling history.

Marco Pantani is in the Maglia Rosa, he regained it the previous day on the finish line of Borgo San Dalmazzo thanks to the struggles of Laurent Jalabert, and now leads the general classification with 53″ over Paolo Savoldelli and 1’21” over Ivan Gotti. The Racconigi-Santuario di Oropa is therefore a delicate stage for anyone still hoping to counter the ‘Pirate’. The final climb is not particularly difficult, as it measures 11.7 km and has an average gradient of 6.2%, but the race suddenly ignites on the very first slopes towards Oropa: the Maglia Rosa has a mechanical problem! Pantani gets off his bike, it is a chain jump. With the help of a Shimano mechanic, he manages to quickly get going again, losing only 45″ from the peloton.

Further up the climb, however, the rivals realise that Pantani isn’t there and decide to seize the moment. The Mercatone Uno squad wait for their captain, who remains extraordinarily lucid. He lets his team-mates help him regain some ground and then launches himself in pursuit of his rivals giving a maestro demonstration of climbing. Within about 6 kilometres, he catches and storms past 49 riders, including Gotti, Savoldelli, Simoni and Jalabert, alone in the lead. Pantani wins, in the Maglia Rosa, but does not raise his arms to the sky: “I didn’t think I had caught them all…” he would state after the stage.

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