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The Natural: Marco Pantani film review

30 Sep 2022

A troubled tribute to a troubled man with some genuinely touching moments

Cyclist Rating: 
Touching, Insightful
Overarching claims Pantani was clean are uncomfortable

The Natural: Marco Pantani is a new documentary film, released online and on DVD by Dazzler Media at the beginning of September, it attempts to get a look behind the headlines of one of cycling's icons.

Marco Pantani died in February 2004. The first bike race I remember watching was the 2005 Tour de France. For most of my life he was an historical figure mentioned on the TV who felt like part of the distant past.

Over time, I became more aware of Pantani but struggled to get to grips with the what the general consensus was, with so much adoration of his cycling ability still surviving beyond the doping allegations that ruined his career and ultimately his life.

Growing up through the Armstrong mess, it was apparent there was something different about Pantani for him not to be shunned in the way so many other riders accused of doping have been over the last 20 years.

'The Natural' uses interviews with family and friends, journalists, and Pantani himself to get first-hand insight into who he was on and off the bike. According to the makers, Pantani's mother called it the 'first real film about Marco'.

It touches on two sides of Pantani: the rider and the man. For those, likely the majority, who look back on that era of cycling and its riders uncomfortably, 'The Natural' will produce a level of distaste, as you may be able to tell from the title of the film, the belief that Pantani never took performance enhancing drugs is not only a theme throughout but is the overarching message.

That does make it somewhat of a hard watch at times with familiar claims of 'he never failed a test' bandied around, however I don't see it as a conspiracy – although it definitely could be seen that way – but more a show of just how much Pantani meant to his family, friends and fans.

The claims that he was clean come from pure emotion, and that sentiment, combined with the more personal focus of the film, makes for some truly insightful and touching moments including old clips of Il Pirata getting his face painted, singing and fishing.

Without giving away the contents of the film, over the approx 1hr 40 run time it blends that emotion and tragedy with endless appreciation for Pantani the man, one like no other on or off the bike.

Yes, there is a sense of denial that makes it uncomfortable to watch in large parts, but the joy that Marco Pantani brought was cruelly taken away, both in the downfall of his career and the tragedy of his personal life, and denial is a natural reaction to that.

Whatever your opinion of Pantani's status as a cyclist, the film offers a way for everyone to come out of it with an appreciation for the man and his talents.

'The Natural' is an homage to a hero, maybe not your hero, but a hero to a heck of a lot of people, and is a touching tribute to the best parts of Marco Pantani's legacy and the love for him that lives on.

'The Natural: Marco Pantani' is available on DVD at HMV for £11.99. You can also buy or rent it online on YouTube

From £3.49 on YouTube; from £11.99 on DVD

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