News for January 10, 1997

Pantani will start racing in February

Italian cyclist Marco Pantani, out of action for all of last year after an horrific crash, said on Thursday he intended to return to racing next month.

The 26-year-old star hill specialist told La Stampa newspaper that he would race in the Laigueglia Trophy, a classic in northwest Italy that traditionally opens the Italian race season.

But he would not be drawn on whether he would race in the Giro d'Italia, which begins in May and includes six difficult mountain stages, or the Tour de France, which starts in July and also contains a high proportion of tough climbs.

``Let's see how I am in the spring,'' said Pantani, second in the Giro and third in the Tour in 1994. ``The Giro offers me half the number of kilometres in time trials than the Tour, it stimulates me more. In the Giro, a climber should do better.''

Pantani, who rides for the Carrera team, said it was a miracle he survived smashing into a car during a fast downhill stretch of the Milan-Turin race in October 1995.

He had an operation on his left leg but Pantani said he now felt very fit. ``I have no physical problems, the leg is working and training is going according to plan...But I don't want to mess up my return.''