Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist ***Dir: James Erskine. With: Conan Sweeny, Matt Rendell, Richard Williams. 90 mins. Cert: 15
After Lance Armstrong, the Italian climber Marco Pantani was the highest-profile casualty of cycling’s millennial EPO crisis: in life, as in the mountains, his graft to the top preceded a precipitous descent, concluding with his death on Valentine’s Day 2004, alone in a hotel room liberally clouded with cocaine. James Erskine’s documentary account assumes less prior knowledge than Alex Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie, while boasting similar rhetorical strengths: race footage that grips, thrills and horrifies, typically shrewd analysis from Matt Rendell and Richard Williams, revealing interviews with Pantani’s loved ones. Only around the doping allegations does it flag. Erskine isn’t as probing as Gibney, and he can’t quite put on screen the smoking gun – or bloodied syringe – which conclusively proves his subject’s interest in drugs went beyond the recreational; mutterings of conspiracy must suffice. Still, the tragedy of a premature death persists, and Erskine puts in enough legwork to keep the rest competitive.
Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist opens in selected cinemas from today.