Today’s stage was scheduled to finish at the summit of Oropa, or, more emotionally, ‘Pantani Mountain’. With that in mind, I knew the sprit of il Pirata would be alive in the tifosi on stage 14. After two relatively uneventful stages, things were about to get interesting.
It didn’t take me long to find Marco’s numero uno fan, Mr P himself. We had met on numerous occasions and he seemed genuinely happy to see me, even remembering my name. Stuntman Mike and myself soon had beers thrust into our hands as Mr P showed me his wood carvings and asked about expanding his market into Australia. A swashbuckler indeed, we made sure to get a photo together.
Superheroes and Sambuca
“Beardy!” yelled a young man from a balcony overlooking the climb. I waved back, so he headed down and introduced himself, most appropriately on Pantani day, as Marco. He explained how he was a big fan and then pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket with a sketch on it. “I drew this in case I saw you today” he said proudly. It was a line drawing of one of yesterday’s caravan images of me crouching, taking a photo.
“Come upstairs, the owner of the house is making coffee and you can get a great view of the climb” Marco offered. Sitting down at the living room table the Stuntman and I couldn’t believe our luck; a great photo location and coffees that turned into Sambuca shots with the family and some other random guests - including a Colombian guy dressed as a superhero.
Then the stories started to flow from the 1999 Giro, when they had gathered on that very balcony and watched the great Marco Pantani come back from a mechanical to win the stage. I even noticed a little moisture around a couple of eyes - he was truly beloved by his fellow countrymen and women. He still his.
The TV was on and, as the conversation and hand gestures continued to grow wilder, I had to make a mental note to keep an eye on the riders’ progress so we didn’t miss them between the shots of coffee and Sambuca.