Retro pro bike: Marco Pantani’s 1998 Bianchi Mega Pro XL

An Italian masterpiece for one of Italy's cycling giants

Marco Pantani’s Mercatone Uno Bianchi Mega Pro XL Reparto Corse was tailor-made for the wispy climber’s attacking style and slight build and epitomises the cycling technology of the day.

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The custom-built bike was light, stiff enough and crafted to perfection, and ultimately carried ‘Il Pirata’ to the top step of the podium in both the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in 1998, earning a firm place in cycling history.

Bianchi’s Reparto Corse race shop built the custom frame to Pantani’s exact specifications, using a lightweight Dedacciai doubled-butted 7000-series shaped alloy tubeset, a very slightly sloping geometry and a relatively generous head tube to suit the Italian’s aggressive in-the-drops climbing style.

Convention was the rule back then, rather than the exception, with a standard threaded bottom bracket shell, non-integrated 1in head tube, telescoping 27.2mm seat tube, and well-proven tube shapes that ventured only slightly away from round in select areas. Aerodynamics was barely even a concern a decade ago outside of time trials.

Aluminium was the material of choice throughout for its predictable durability, from the beautifully polished Campagnolo Record drivetrain and dual-pivot brake calipers to the tubular ITM Big One stem and standard-diameter handlebar – and even the Campagnolo Electron tubular wheels.

The Campagnolo Electron wheels use box-section alloy rims for light weight and a smooth ride perfect characteristics for a wispy climber like Pantani.
Daniel Benson/BikeRadar

Looking shockingly minimal in comparison to currently fashionable deep-section carbon, the Electron’s box-section rims were ideally suited to a rider of Pantani’s nature: they had low inertia for rapid accelerations, they were comfortable over the long haul for such a light rider, and they were easily serviceable with grease injection ports front and rear, readily replaceable components and a tubular tyre bed that offered a more reliable bond than carbon.

A Time carbon fork is used up front.
Daniel Benson/BikeRadar

More exotic materials can still be found, though in limited quantities. Carbon fibre was used for the Time fork and nine-speed Record Ergopower levers – though this may have been a post-season change as most race photos from the time show alloy ones – the Time Equipe Pro pedals sported magnesium bodies, and titanium was used in the seatpost mast and rear cogs.

Though not super-stiff compared to today’s carbon fibre machines, Pantani’s bike was undeniably light, even by modern standards. Total weight was just 6.96kg (15.34lb), including bottle cage and pedals.

The 170mm-long Campagnolo Record cranks are fitted with enormous 44/54T chainrings.
Daniel Benson/BikeRadar

That light weight obviously helped Pantani up the mountain but somewhat surprising is the massive gearing he used to do so. The cassette spread is a fairly standard 11-23T but the chainrings measure a comparatively enormous 54/44T – something more commonly found on a time trial bike but assuming they’re period-correct, perhaps still appropriate to Pantani’s out-of-the-saddle climbing style.