Cycling News Flash for February 15, 2004
Edited by Jeff Jones & Tim Maloney
Pantani dead at 34
Photo ©: Sirotti
The body of 34 year old Marco Pantani has been found dead in a room in
Le Rose di Rimini apartments in the Italian Adriatic coastal city of Rimini
According to reports on La Gazzetta dello Sport, Pantani went
to Le Rose apartments in viale Regina Elena along the sea front in Rimini
a few days ago. The last time anyone saw him was Saturday afternoon. When
no-one saw him come down for dinner at 9:30pm, the desk clerk of the hotel
called the police. They knocked on the door of his room and found it locked
from the inside. They finally gained access and found Pantani's partially
clothed body on the floor next to his bed.
The cause of death is not yet known, although according to initial information
from the Rimini police, Pantani did not die a violent death. Italian newsagency
ANSA is reporting that possible pharmaceutical products (anti-depressants)
were found next to his body.
The coroner will come to examine the scene and there will be an autopsy
on Monday according to Italian law.
The news of Pantani's death has swept through the Italian cycling community
like lightning, and people are extremely upset to hear it. Italian national
coach Franco Ballerini was quoted by La Gazzetta dello Sport as
saying that, "This is huge, it doesn't seem real."
Italian TV commentator Davide Cassani, who was an old friend of Pantani's
told RAI-TV's Sport2 Sera program that, "I'd like to know what
happened...to find words to discribe this is impossible. Marco and I spent
a lot of time together, a lot of great moments, but he got into a mess.
The last time I spoke to him, in mid-January, he was deeply bitter...he'd
changed...he wasn't the same person I knew. But Pantani brought a lot
of new people into cycling and I was asking him when he would come back...but
Pantani wasn't the same anymore. He had become so bitter (towards cycling).
And I'm torn up."
"I'm destroyed...traumatized", said a shocked Felice Gimondi when he
heard the news of Pantani's death. "Marco paid a high price for all this...for
years he was in the eye of the hurricane after he was the number one cyclist
in the world. And then he was all alone and fragile."
At the Giro del Mediterraneo, Domina Vacanze's Mario Scirea and his
teammates were celebrating Mario Cipollini's win this evening when they
heard the news about Pantani. "We're all very upset", said Scirea. "It's
a terrible blow and news I would have never expected."
By Tim Maloney, European editor
Considered perhaps the greatest climber of his generation, Italian professional
cyclist Marco Pantani was born in Cesena, Italy on January 13, 1970. As
an amateur, he brilliantly won the 1992 Baby Giro d'Italia by his climbing
prowess. Pantani had 36 pro wins, among which were his first, at the 1994
Giro d'Italia in Merano and his last pro win at the Tour De France in
2000 at Courchevel. Pantani was third in the 1995 World Road Championships
in Duitama (Colombia).
Soon after his great ride in Colombia in 1995, Pantani crashed hard
in Milano-Torino on the descent of Pino Torinese and suffered a serious
compound fracture of his left leg. After a long and difficult rehabilitation,
Pantani started the 1997 Giro d'Italia but crashed out again on the stage
to Chiunzi and abandoned the race.
In 1998, Pantani came back to magnificently win the Giro-Tour double,
the first time an Italian had realized the "bis" since Fausto Coppi did
so (for the second time) in 1952. The miniscule climber inspired legions
of Italian tifosi in the late 1990's with his dynamic, attacking style,
who named the beloved Pantani "Il Pirata" (The Pirate), for his radical
look with a personalized bandana, shaved head and earring. In total, Pantani
won eight stages of the Giro and eight stages of the Tour. He wore the
Maillot Jaune 6 times and the Maglia Rosa 14 times in his career.
Wearing the maglia rosa and two days away from winning the 1999 Giro
d'Italia, Pantani was kicked out of the race for high haematocrit, thus
beginning his downward spiral that tragically concluded today in Rimini.
Pantani faced alleged sporting fraud charges in his career, but the climber
from Cesenatico was never found guilty of any real charges. In 2000, Pantani
did receive a three-month suspended prison sentence for high hematocrit
levels, but his conviction was then overturned on appeal. In 2002, Pantani
served a six month UCI ban after a syringe containing traces of insulin
was found in his hotel room in the San Remo "blitz" during the 2000 Giro.
Coming back from his suspension, Pantani had poor results in 2002, but
once again in 2003, Pantani made another comeback in the Giro d'Italia.
He had some respectable performances, eventually finishing 14th but was
then crushed by his non-selection for the Centenary Tour De France and
plunged into the abyss of deep depression. In late June, Pantani checked
into a psychiatric clinic near Padova to treat his depression.
Once out of the clinic late last year, Pantani told his local Rimini
newspaper that "You can forget about Pantani the athlete. I still ride
my bike, just to turn my legs," he said, "But cycling is the last thing
on my mind. I haven't been to the gym for months. I've gained 15 kilos
and I have the physique of a little bull."
Pantani was found dead in Rimini on February 14, 2004. He is survived
by his parents.
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