Il Pirata – the little climber who taught us to suffer

The Tour de France is the world’s most beautiful bike race. Its exceptional length and all stages covered in the colorful and flower-rich province should make it the most grandiose contest, regardless of sport. Magnificent for the eye as the athletes make their way through the 20 distances on their way to the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Considered the toughest and most prestigious are the mountain distances, which have their routes through the Alps and the Pyrenees. During the three weeks in July, many great men has celebrated triumphs from the saddle but on the hills high above sea level also well-trained athletes have had to give up because of the lack of oxygen. The up hills on the way to the peaks of Alpe d’Huez, Col de la Madeleine, Col du Galibier and the Col du Tourmalet, are crucial. It was in these distances that Marco Pantani, the little climber from Cesena, took his opponents out. When others slowed down to get through the steepest climbs, Marco speeded up the pace and left the others behind. He is still the only cyclist ever to win the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia the same year.

Marco Pantani died in a hotel room in the Italian seaside resort of Rimini. Deeply depressed and addicted to cocaine, he died of an overdose. A tragic fate, but he left behind a legacy that today is to be considered relatively rare. In a society where rapid rewards and multitasking is getting more and more frequent in the computer world, there is less room for the will to suffer for the road to success. Pantani not only loved the suffering but made it his own art form as he always gave his utmost. Although cycling is soiled by doping suspensions, the professional cyclist must still go through a lot of pain to achieve his goals and Pantini was always willing to push himself to the limit. In my work, where I meet many young men who have devoted much time to the digitized reality, I can only notice how the desire to appreciate the path to success as much as the success itself is becoming increasingly rare.In the sport of cycling, before a major competition, one has to spend a tremendous amount of time on the so-called “base mile”. That means many hours in solitude on the road, with no feedback or confirmation that you are on the right path. Pantani loved those moments more than he loved to compete. Many of today’s young men are not even up on the saddle before they give up. They are not prepared to put in the work required, and if they get up on the saddle they get of before the tough ascents have begun. If it’s sports, school work or the road to the dream job, the behavior is the same. Our increasingly digitized world, with fast rewards and multitasking gives an unfocused behavior without fighting spirit. It is easy to stop trying and instead end up in the waiting room to life outside the computer world that the politicians call alienation.

The little climber from Cesena placed himself in this room at the end of his life. Lonely and depressed, he gave the cocaine the same space as many young men give data gambling. In the same way that the premiums tick at a furious pace in a game, the drug was necessary for him to be able to take the next breath. In the end the rewards, whether it’s about cocaine or computer game, becomes essential to life and it takes more and more to achieve the same effect. When the boundaries are reached for what the human body and psyche can handle, it is often too late to do anything.  At his funeral Marco Pantani was mourned by over 20,000 Italians. Not for the doping allegations against him, but because he stood for something all blue and white hearts aims for: fighting spirit, love of their activity and the ability to accept suffering under the toughest ascents, whether it is on the way up towards Alpe d ‘Huez or another uphill battle in the race of life.

Niklas Liiv 23rd of august 2015