The Week That Was...
The return of Ian...
Today?s my first day back on the job. It?s been six months since I last wrote for roadcycling.com and I was quite looking forward to easing back into it with a brief rundown of who?s doing what, when and how in Europe. Instead I?m sat here at my desk trying to find the words to write about the tragic news that the body of 34-year-old Italian Marco Pantani has been found dead in a room in Le Rose di Rimini apartments in the Italian Adriatic coastal city of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>
Originally bursting onto the cycling scene in 1992 with victory in Baby Giro d'Italia, Pantani won 36 professional races, including his first, at the 1994 Giro d'Italia in Merano and his last at the Tour De France in 2000 at Courchevel. The highlight undoubtedly however was his 1998 Giro-Tour double, only the second Italian to do so after Fausto Coppi in 1952. In total, Pantani won eight stages of the Giro and eight stages of the Tour, wearing the Maillot Jaune 6 times and the Maglia Rosa 14 times in his turbulent career.
It was whilst in the leaders maglia rosa and being just two days away from winning the 1999 Giro d'Italia, Pantani was kicked out of the race for recording an hematocrit reading of over 50% - an indicator that the performance enhancing drug EPO had been used but not solid proof. Although continually suspected of sporting fraud, he was never convicted of any real offence. He did receive a three-month suspended prison sentence for high hematocrit levels in 2000, but this was rapidly overturned through an appeal. Two years later in 2002, Pantani served a six month UCI ban after a syringe containing a substance later identified as insulin was found in his hotel room in the San Remo "blitz" during the 2000 Giro d Italia.
A string of erratic and poor results followed before things finally appeared to be getting back on track for the diminutive climber known as ?Il Pirata? at the 2003 Tour of Italy where he had some respectable performances throughout the three week race and eventually finished 14 th overall. This change of fortunes was short lived however as Pantani and his team were refused entry into the Centenary Tour de France, a race the Italian believed he could still win. By late June, Pantani had checked into a psychiatric clinic near Padova to treat his depression caused in part by this turn of events.
"You can forget about Pantani the athlete. I still ride my bike, just to turn my legs," said Pantani to a local
Reports in La Gazzetta