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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

Cycling News Flash for February 15, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones & Tim Maloney

Pantani dead at 34

Marco Pantani
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 this afternoon.

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 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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