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While the National Institutes of Health estimates as many as 19 million Americans suffer from depression in any given year, a 2001 poll by the National Mental Health Association revealed fully 31 percent of those polled viewed depression as a mental state that one could simply "snap out of." The insinuation is that depression, and mental illness, are not real conditions, but symptoms of a weak mind. And yet, how could you call Pantani weak?

Like most sports, cycling's not immune to mental illness, particularly depression. Luis Ocana committed suicide, and some wonder if he suffered from it. Jose Maria Jimenez battled depression for years, before finally succumbing earlier this year to heart failure, while at a psychiatric hospital for treatment. And then there are the living: men like Graeme Obree, who tried several times to commit suicide. And Filip Meirhaeghe, whose own battle with depression never reached those depths, but who nevertheless came face to face with an opponent his legs could not defeat.

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In eulogy, friends and family of Pantani, famous cyclists, journalists and tifosi have blamed the Italian court system and the media for contributing to his death. The former, by virtue of a protracted witch hunt for drug use and the latter for publicizing it. And there is undoubtedly truth there. But there is also truth to the larger notion that we as a society, as a planet, still do not understand or accept mental illness.

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There was this strange sense of d vu on Saturday, with the news that Marco Pantani had been found dead in a hotel room in the seaside resort of Rimini. Hotel staff discovered his body; they were curious and no doubt a bit apprehensive about what was going on with Italy's best Air Force 1 Nike Cheap

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known cyclist.

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Armstrong himself forgot to eat, bonked on the final hors categorie climb up the Col de Joux Plane and nearly put his race lead in jeopardy. And all for what? Pantani dropped a total of 13:44 on the stage and didn't start the next day. He'd been in sixth Nike Air Force Cheap Price

Pantani had been battling depression and other mental health problems. He'd checked into a clinic for depression last year after his astounding return to form in the Giro d'Italia, where we again saw glimpses of the Pantani of 1998 and 2000, the stylish fighter who cared as much about making a statement as taking a win, and wasn't afraid to sacrifice his chances to make the point.

In the wake of his death, people will continue to point fingers. It's the courts' fault. The media's fault. Cycling's fault. And all of these things will be true and not true at the same time. The finger pointing is a common human reaction. As is the fact that a week ago you could've Nike Air Force 1 Elite Trainer

If we do not somehow move past that, nothing will change. Gold Air Force 1 If we do not acknowledge that Pantani was at once a brilliant and troubled man; that he was like most of us a bundle of contradictions and complications; that depression is not a simple disease; that anything that could drive a man to push away his most trusted friends and to claim that his family had left him alone is something so complex that we must constantly be on guard against it, then nothing changes. And the deaths, the thousands of lawyers and artists and salesmen and homeless people who suffer depression and may even die of it, will continue.

overall coming in, with two stage wins and an eye to a possible podium finish, as he was climbing better than just about anyone and had that monstrous Courchevel Morzine stage with which to destroy other riders. He sacrificed it all to send a message, quit the race and went home, and Italy loved him for it. No, Pantani was not weak.

They rode the way they rode because they wanted to it was their style, and damn if you or anyone else didn't like it. That was precisely Pantani's point when he committed in the 2000 Tour an act of deliberate self sabotage, attacking on the first climb of the 196km 16th stage, to Morzine via five categorized climbs. Postal team chased hard to keep the time gap down and, reportedly, Armstrong was even moved to patch in via cellular phone Dr. Michele Ferrari from Italy to ask whether Pantani's effort was sustainable.

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But nonetheless, we've been here before. Italy certainly has it was 1927 when Ottavio Bottechia was found bleeding from the head in a vineyard, his perfectly untouched bike propped up nearby. Whether politically motivated or simply the result of an enraged grape farmer with a brick, the mystery of his death was never solved. And then Fausto Coppi, retired but not for long, died mysteriously of malaria after a trip to Africa. There are still mutterings of poisoned bananas. And last, Fabio Casartelli, Olympic champion, killed in 1995 on a descent in the Pyrenees during the Tour de France. Italy has certainly been here before, as its champions are ripped from life during their prime, or at least not long past it.

told a Pantani joke and gotten a laugh, while today all anyone remembers are the good things and we say simplistic, unprovable things like he was the finest climber ever, and the Italian police destroyed him. But these are less for him and more for us, for our grief. Because while any and all of it may be true, it is not even a start to understanding what went wrong.

But he was alone, then and when he died. Or rather, he felt he was alone. He had many friends. His family and confidantes tried to help, but according to some he simply pushed them away. It's emblematic of depression that sufferers tend not to seek help. It's part of the insidious evil of the disease that those who fight it often feel helplessly alone when they are not. Pantani even wrote in his notes, found in the room, that "no one has been able to understand me, not even in cycling, not even in my family. I've ended up alone." Dozens of friends, thousands of countrymen, and not a one understood him, he felt.

Did Marco Pantani commit suicide? We may never know. But in the end, the clinical manner of his death hardly matters. What matters is what the living do now.

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He was a rider from cycling's past, from the hard driving days of Anquetil, or Pelissier or Vervaecke men who wined, dined, smoked cigarettes and still got up and ripped the legs off the competition.

And cycling has been here, too.

Marco Pantani Found Dead

That's all from Boulder this Tuesday. I have more, but it doesn't seem right to include it directly after an obituary. I'll be back next week with other news.

Pantani had checked into the hotel earlier in the week and was reportedly a bit out of it. He'd been seen only at some meals and otherwise closeted himself in the room. By all accounts, he was alone during his brief stay. Then his half clothed body was found in a disheveled room by hotel staff.

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