There must be, there should be, flyers for this show in the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative up on Bruntsfield Links. There are two bikes on stage; there’s commentary from the Tour de France, and it tells the story of one of the greatest duels in cycle racing history. OK, duels are more murderous than co-operative, but the metaphor still fits – because Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani probably hated the sight of each other.
They ride side by side again in the Demonstration Room at Summerhall. The semi-circular tiered seating is tight around the performance space, and the white wall facing the audience provides the projection screen for hard-won footage of the climb up Mont Ventoux. 2Magpies Theatre shot it themselves, while cycling up its 1912 metres last year, and there’s an average gradient of 7.5% – so applause is due before we even notice the ‘Go Lance’ and ‘Allez Marco’ chalked on the floor.
If you know your yellow from your pink jerseys, then you’re likely to appreciate that the fastest ascent to date of Mount Ventoux is 55 minutes 51 seconds. That’s the target for sinewy Tom Barnes as Pantani – complete with ‘Il Pirata’s’ bandana – and toned Andy Routledge as Armstrong. This is a lot more punishing than a keen Spinning class; you won’t smell the sweat, but you’ll see it. And in a less heroic echo of cycling’s recent past, you’ll notice the mound of white powder downstage.
The rivalry between the two men is created as much by their different personalities as by their split times up the mountain. Armstrong is so controlled that, when off his bike, he’s almost wooden; his voice gives nothing away. Sometimes it sounds obviously scripted, but that's because it is obviously scripted, taken verbatim from articles in Cycling News. They manage to make the hollow and the sincere indistinguishable, and ‘Live Strong’ wristbands and hindsight do the rest. With Pantani it is very different: he’s the troubled one, not exactly explosive (as Armstrong characterised him), but slow-burn sensitive.
The filmed footage looked washed-out, I felt; but then the grey upper stretches of Ventoux resemble the moon, and the ‘screen’ is breeze-block. What I liked most were the simpler devices – the swift, inventive use of three cool boxes and two racing bikes – and what really interested me was the on-going face-off between two protagonists, who in real life could barely speak to each other. That probably explains an oddly neutered intensity, as if their history was somehow freewheeling down the road.
However, if you don’t know what happened between the two men on Mount Ventoux in 2000, go see the show. And if you don’t know much about Marco Pantani, you must see this show. Once you do, you’ll shift an emotional gear or two – or three.