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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News for February 20, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry & Jeff Jones

Pantani's teammate confirms plot rumours

Zero proof on offer

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Although rumours have circulated ever since Marco Pantani was put out of the Giro d'Italia on June 5th, 1999, it took the tragic death of the Italian champion for people to come forward to confirm that what Pantani speculated all along may have some substance after all. One of Pantani's teammates on Mercatone Uno that year was Marco Velo, who spoke on Italian investigative chat show Porta a Porta Thursday evening.

"Already on the evening of June 4th rumours started to circulate that the next day, Marco would be kicked out for the Giro," Velo said. "I remember that evening we were all in the hotel in somebody's room and we were laughing and joking around and talking about how we were going to divide our prize money. Then things changed all of a sudden about 10 or 10:30pm, when people started to call and ask 'is it true that Pantani will be excluded from the Giro tomorrow'?"

Some further speculation is that Pantani may have angered some of the powers that be in cycling by his public protests against the longitudinal drug testing proposed by the Italian Cycling Federation at that time (as had Mario Cipollini), but until concrete proof is revealed, all remains rumour and innuendo.

Sources close to the episode told Cyclingnews that "At this time there is no proof of any plot against Pantani, but if you look closely at what happened, the analysis will show that something strange happened."

Pantani relative claims crack addiction

In an upcoming interview in Italian news weekly Panorama, one of Marco Pantani's relatives who is a doctor told the magazine that Pantani had become addicted to crack cocaine. Pantani's parents asked their relative for help in curing Marco's addiction but without success. To save their son from crack, Mr & Mrs Pantani tried to get Marco to check into rehab, but according to the Panorama interview, he refused.

In January, Marco Pantani and his father Fernando had an argument where the parents threatened to cut Pantani off from his money if he didn't get into a rehab program, specifically that of San Patrignano, one of Italy's best. But Marco didn't go for this, so instead, the Pantani family opted to propose a place in a halfway house in Trento. Once again, Marco Pantani decided to go his own way.

Although some outsiders have accused Pantani's family of abandoning him, according to his relative, nothing could be further from the truth. "You can't imagine the things his father and mother did to help him," the relative told Panorama. "They lived for him."

According to the upcoming interview in Panorama, Pantani suffered from insomnia for months. Problems with the wake-sleep cycle can be consequences of doping, according to expert testimony quoted in Panorama and Pantani's doctor-relative elaborated on this, saying "It's difficult to ignore that some substances could turn an athlete into a drug addict. Cocaine and other substances are only a step away."

Robin hits out

French professional Jean-Cyril Robin (FDJeux.com) has taken a shot at the international cycling community, declaring that a great difference exists between French and foreign professionals in that the majority of French cyclists do not resort to doping in competition. In an interview with France Soir, Robin explained his belief that a suspicion is aroused within the French peloton when riders from other countries put in "an incredible number" in a race.

"There are those that do not want to fall into the trap, because they understand the problem," Robin said, "and there are those that continue, creating two different levels [of competition]."

Robin went on to say that many French professionals limit their competition to races such as the Coupe de France series, where a greater percentage of French riders means a lower level of competition, implicitly because there is less doping.

Estimating that the recent doping affair surrounding the (current and former) Cofidis team members proves that the problem is worse now than when it appeared with the Festina affair of 1998. "I've begun to feel ashamed to be a rider," Robin said.

Robin, like others before him, places part of the blame on race organisers and team managers for mounting the pressure on riders for results. Finally, he insisted that if more people don't denounce the situation, "it's because they are scared of the retaliation."

Ljungskog to race the men

Double world champion Susanne Ljungskog may follow in the footsteps of countrywoman Annika S÷renstam and race against the elite men this year, that is if the UCI allows her to. á The cycling club of Vårgårda that arranges the 1.5 race Scandinavian Open on August 8th has asked the UCI for a special permission to let Susanne race with the male pros in the 197 kilometre event. Since it is very unusual for women to race with men, there are no rules supporting her participation in the race.

"We have had quite a positive discussion with the UCI already, and we are awaiting their final answer," said race manager Hans Jönsson, who believes that Susanne has already done wonders for the sport of cycling in Sweden. "She is currently our only cycling star, and it would feel very inspiring to see her at the start of Scandinavian Open." á The highest ranked race in Sweden this year runs only a mere week before the start of the Olympic Games in Athens, and Susanne Ljungskog will use Scandinavian Open as a preparation race for the bigger event to come. Although a favourite for Athens, she is realistic about her chances against the guys.

"The physical difference between a man and a woman is too great, so I have no hopes of challenging the guys for the win in Vårgårda, but I hope I can keep up with them. Apart from that, I think it will be very funny, and I also think it is good for the sport that a girl stands up against the guys," Susanne says.

Changes for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

The 57th Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, which takes place on February 29, will have a couple of new challenges this year. The organisers have included the C˘te de Trieu (climb 6, km 123) and the Nokereberg (climb 8, km 144) as part of the 188 kilometre parcours. On the other hand, the Kluisberg will not be included. The other climbs in the race are Edelareberg (km 29), La Houppe (km 91), Kanarieberg (km 98), Kruisberg (km 103), Oude Kwaremont (km 108) and Tiegemberg (km 134).

Trofeo Pantalica cancelled

The upcoming Trofeo Pantalica classic (March 7) has been cancelled, organisers announced Thursday afternoon. Inadequate financial contributions from public agencies in the Siracusano province were cited as the primary motivation for calling off this year's edition of the race. For RCS Sport, which runs the race along with other major events in Italy, the failure to obtain the necessary support for this year's Trofeo Pantalica could mean the end of the promoter's involvement with the race.

Cappelle out

Andy Cappelle (Chocolade Jacques) will miss the Belgian opening weekend on February 28-29. Cappelle is suffering from an inflamed tooth, and will not be fit in time for Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Planckaert nervous

The newest rider in the Planckaert generation to turn professional is Francesco Planckaert, who will ride his first race with Chocolade Jacques on Sunday, the Classic Haribo in France. "I hope that I can finish the Classic Haribo," he told Het Laatste Nieuws. "But it will be like the first time I had sex. Then I also didn't last long."

"I see a cruel finish. How fast the men ride, you don't think it's possible. But I must still believe in myself. In the first months I have to live with the fact that I'll be ridden off the wheels. But at the beginning of August I want to be up there. Preferably earlier."

Moncoutié to miss weekend

Although he did not suffer any fractures, David Moncoutié (Cofidis) has been sidelined by his injuries sustained in the Trofeo Laigueglia and will not take part in Saturday's Tour du Haut Var in France. Moncoutié plunged into a ravine after a rider in front of him misjudged a turn, and sustained cuts all over his body as the underbrush stopped his fall. Stitches on his knee should be removed early next week, and Moncoutié should be back in competition for the GP Chiasso in Switzerland the following weekend.

Thai government plans race

The government of Thailand has announced that it will pursue the creation of a new stage race as part of a renewed effort to promote cycling in the country. Former professional Daniel Bélier and his organisation Trans-Médias are planning an eight stage race beginning in 2005 which will finish in Bangkok. The race will be known as the Tour of Siam.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)