Time has a way of warping stories. While Marco Pantani was certainly considered a contender going into the 1998 Giro d’Italia, he was not the favorite—despite what Wikipedia would like one to believe. Nevertheless, Pantani’s spectacular riding in the second half of the race was a thing of legend. Swiss rider Alex Zülle, who had switched from Spanish squad ONCE to French team Festina, was tipped as the favorite to wear the maglia rosa into Milan. Zülle did not disappoint his fans and came out of the blocks fast, powering to victory in the prologue and donning the pink jersey. Perhaps he could repeat Eddy Merckx’s 1973 Giro feat of defending the jersey from start to finish? No such luck. While Zülle rode an extremely solid race and won/lost the maglia rosa three times, it was the in the Dolomites where Pantani was relentless. It took until stage 17 for the Italian climber to take the lead but when he did he kept it for the rest of the race. Tragically, after fighting drug addiction, Pantani passed away at age 34 on Valentines Day, 2004.
I was extremely fortunate to have met Marco at the 1997 Tour de France. My wife and I were guests of the Tour de France organizers and were staying at the same small hotel as Pantani’s Mercatone Uno team atop L’Alpe d’Huez the day Pantani won the fabled stage. The entire time we followed the race that year we were struck by how reserved and introverted he was off the bike.
This awesome jersey came to us via a fastidious collector in the U.K. who obtained it directly from the Pantani family. What makes it particularly special is the fact that the numbers are still attached, albeit with now rusting safety pins.