In the crucible of sport, there are many moments of high drama. In the cycling world, one of the most dramatic moments of any era came during the 2000 Tour de France on the slopes of the other-worldly and feared peak of Mount Ventoux. Lance Armstrong, the brash Texan who had beaten cancer to come back and win the 1999 Tour de France, was going head-to-head against the 1998 Tour winner Marco Pantani (who had missed the 1999 tour due to doping allegations). It was defending champ versus the previous year’s winner in a contest that would go a long way to determining who was the best cyclist in the world. What unfolded over the course of that gruelling climb up Ventoux will be etched in the memory of those who witnessed it forever.
Perhaps it was inevitable that such an iconic sporting moment that oozed tension, excitement and bravado, was brought to the stage. 2Magpies Theatre & Andy Routledge – the creators of Ventoux – had the vision and, to their credit, have done justice to this epic race. The script jumps back and forth in the intertwining lives and starkly contrasting fortunes of Armstrong and Pantani. The two sole actors in this show – Alexander Gatehouse as Armstrong and Matthew Seager as Pantani – really bring to life the characters of these two icons of the sport. Gatehouse’s Armstrong is as brash and arrogant as you would expect and Seager is adept at showing the pride yet vulnerability of the ill-fated Pantani.
The great rivalry between these two riders is demonstrated before the show actually even starts. As the crowd files into the auditorium, the two actors are on stage and cycling hell for leather on bikes set up on turbo trainers, in between performing the plank exercise opposite each other and swigging from what looks like a brandy bottle. This repetitive sequence of actions are sound tracked by the repetitive and compelling dance beats of Jon Hopkins’ Open Eye Signal until it is show time. It certainly sets the scene for an intense rivalry that plays out over the course of the next hour. As plays go, it is extremely physical with both actors cycling what must be the equivalent of several miles in front of a large screen showing footage of the Ventoux climb.
The play shows how Armstrong’s hubris led to his spectacular downfall from a great height and how Pantani’s sensitivity to the fall-out from his positive doping tests put him into a tailspin that ended with him dying alone in a hotel room at the tender age of 34 after overdosing on cocaine. Despite everything that happened after the 2000 Tour de France, these two men shared a moment that will live forever in the hearts and minds of sports fans. This production is a celebration of a moment of sporting history. The show also imparts valuable lessons about the dangers of arrogance, cheating and drug taking which makes it a show that is appealing to people who are not necessarily fans of cycling. Catch it while you can.
- Ventoux will be playing at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Thursday 22 November, Pontardawe Arts Centre on Friday, Maesteg Town Hall on Saturday and at Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon next Wednesday.