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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News for February 16, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones & Chris Henry

Pantani autopsy Monday in Bologna

Preliminary cause of death cardiac arrest

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Back to victory in 2000
Photo: © AFP
Click for larger image

Thirty four just last month, Marco Pantani had checked in to Le Rosé residence in Rimini, Italy, not far from his home in Sala di Cesenatico on Monday, February 9th. During his stay, Pantani had only emerged from room D5 for breakfast and otherwise was sequestered in his room.

Staff at Le Rosé told Italian news agency ANSA Pantani had checked in alone and had seemed "strange and not quite there". The last people to see Pantani alive were some foreign players of the Rimini professional basketball team, who were also staying at the hotel and said hello to him on the evening of Friday, 13 February.

Pantani's last contact with anyone else was a telephone call to the hotel porter at 10am on Saturday morning, while a hotel cleaning woman knocked on the door of his room soon thereafter, but no one answered. When Pantani didn't appear by that evening, the concerned porter raised an alarm at around 9:30pm. When police and hotel staff could finally gain access to the room, Pantani was found partially clothed, lying on his back on the floor. A note with "some thoughts" was found on a desk in the room, but the specific contents of the note have not been communicated at this time.

Rimini police spokesman Sabato Riccio said that investigators are currently analysing the contents of the anti-depression drugs, reportedly low dosages of Control, Surmontil, and Flunox. Police were not ruling out the possibility that Pantani may have taken an overdose over the last few days. At the conclusion of the initial investigation, prosecutor Paolo Gengarelli and Coroner Prof. Fortuna of the University of Bologna stated that Pantani's death occurred at 5pm on Saturday, February 14.

Pantani's sister Manola arrived at the hotel after midnight and Pantani's body left the hotel at 1:25am for Rimini Hospital's morgue. Marco's aunt identified the body today, while his parents are returning from Greece via ferry where they were traveling in their camper. Coroner Fortuna has determined that the preliminary cause of death was "cardio-circulatory arrest", and the toxicological analysis will determine the level of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs in his blood.

The cause of Pantani's death will not be known until an autopsy is carried out in Bologna on Monday, February 16, and a police investigation is also underway to determine the circumstances surrounding his death. According to his friend Enzo Vicennati of BiciSport, Pantani was to have departed at the end of February for a recovery clinic in Bolivia run by Father Don Gelmini to try and come to grips with his problems.

"Together with some friends," explained Vicennati, "including Mario Cipollini, we were trying to get Marco some help."

One of Pantani's most loyal team riders was Fabiano Fontanelli, who was with Il Pirata for six seasons. " As a leader, I liked him a lot," explained Fontanelli. "Pantani didn't talk a lot, but he made you understand what he wanted from you. He was always very nervous in the key moments and wanted his team riders to tell him what to do and when. In last year's Giro, he looked like he was coming back. He did some good things there and it seemed, at least partly, that his problems were resolved. We were wrong."

Speaking of Pantani's tragic slide into his deep depression, Fontanelli explained that he tried to get in touch with Pantani this summer, but didn't succeed. "I tried to help him out but he didn't want it and pushed me away... Then he disappeared. He decided to isolate himself from everyone."

Among the people who knew him well was Orlando Maini, who was his directeur sportif on the Emilia-Romagna team when Pantani won the Baby Giro d'Italia as an amateur in 1992 and worked with him as a DS at Mercatone Uno in 1998.

"Marco had a heart as big as the world... No one who ever worked with him will ever forget him." Pantani considered Maini kind of a good luck charm and hadn't heard from him since the Giro of last year, but poignantly evoked the feelings of many when he said that "Now what's important is to remember the great talent of a splendid athlete who gave us many unforgettable moments."

See also: a tribute to Pantani and reactions from the peloton

Nys guys finish last?

After losing the World Cup in the last round in Pijnacker to his trade (but not national) teammate Richard Groenendaal, Belgian Sven Nys expressed his anger at the rest of the Belgian camp. With double points on offer for the final round and with Groenendaal leading the race, Nys needed to finish in the top five to ensure victory in the overall classification. But despite looking in control for much of the race, Nys was swamped in the bunch sprint by four Belgians and a Swiss rider. His final placing was 7th, which meant that he fell 11 points short of winning the World Cup.

"When we went into the last lap with a big group, everyone knew that I had to finish fifth," said the extremely annoyed Nys to Belgian Radio 1 after the race. "But apparently, some preferred a Dutchman to win than me. Supposedly I let Groenendaal win the World Championships in St Michielsgestel, and now they do the same to me. I've been alone for my whole career. If you win too many trophies, then that works against you. Thanks Vannoppen, thanks Van der Linden. That's last I've done for the Belgian team. In future I ride only for myself. Now it's war."

Belgian coach Rudy De Bie expressed his disappointment with the situation on Radio 1. "I don't find this pleasant at all," he said. "Couldn't they have arranged it to allow Nys the victory? We spoke about it beforehand at the hotel, but no-one reckoned with Groenendaal's win. The Belgians say that the atmosphere in the team is so good all season and now this..."

Tom Vannoppen, who finished second in Pijnacker and led the chase behind Groenendaal for much of the race, saw things a little differently. Vannoppen said of Nys: "He would not ride at the front with me when we were away a couple of times. That is the second time in his career that he's done that. It's give and take. We are here not only to ride for Sven. We are also riding a little bit for our own classification."

Sermon's death mystery deepens

The death of 21 year old Belgian rider Johan Sermon on Thursday night of apparent heart failure is still baffling people. Sermon was in peak condition and had a complete medical check up, including a cardiovascular examination, a few weeks ago, the results of which indicated that there were no problems. After his death, his hematocrit was reportedly measured at just under 40 percent (the "normal range" is considered to be between 40-52%), an indication that there was no artificial manipulation of his blood.

Sermon has unfortunately joined the list of cyclists who have died of mysterious heart failure: Denis Zanette, Fabrice Salanson, Jose Maria Jimenez and Marco Pantani, to name a few recent examples.

Zijlaard-Van Moorsel to Melbourne

Five time individual pursuit world champion Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel of the Netherlands will defend her title at the 2004 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Melbourne, Australia (May 26-30)

Zijlaard-Van Moorsel, 33, is the reigning Olympic champion and World and Olympic record holder. Her trip to Australia for the Track World's will be the first since she claimed three gold medals at the Olympic Games in Sydney.

"I'm looking forward to the World's, that's for sure," said Zijlaard-Van Moorsel. "But the main goal of the pursuit in Melbourne will be to secure qualification for the Athens Olympic Games. I only need to place in the top 12. That being said, I think back to the world championships in Berlin in 1999 where I just managed 12th and had a narrow escape, but I think a top 12 is something I can achieve in Melbourne."

Brian Holm diagnosed with cancer

Danish ex-professional Brian Holm has been diagnosed with intestinal cancer, after a routine check up on Wednesday followed by two days of tests in hospital. Currently he holds a position as assistant team manager with T-Mobile, where he rode for a couple of ears in the mid 90's helping Bjarne Riis to his victory in the Tour de France in 1996. Holm's top year as a rider was in 1991 when he won Paris-Camembert and Paris-Bruxelles.

After his career as a cyclist he has been a sports director for the Danish national Team as well as running a café in Frederiksberg. He is a popular speaker with an appreciated wit and sense of humour.

Holm wrote the following on his home page, vonholm.dk, "I am not experiencing the best days of my life right now but I am well, considering the situation. I don't know yet if I will feel like informing people further about my sickness on my home page right now. But I ask for peace to enable me to get through this with my family and closest friends."

Cardenas injured

Felix Cardenas, king of the mountains in the 2003 Vuelta a España, was injured while training with his Café Baque team in Spain. Cardenas and his teammates were on a group ride when a motorcycle rider ran a stop sign and collided with the group. The Colombian climber suffered a broken leg in the accident and will likely be out of action for at least six weeks.

Relax-Bodysol to Algarve

The Relax-Bodysol team will compete in the upcoming Volta ao Algarve (February 18-22) stage race in Portugal, a last minute change following the cancellation of the inaugural International Turkish Riviera Tour.

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