By VeloNews Interactive, Copyright AFP2001
The story of Italy’s most famous and most tortured cyclist Marco Pantani might take another unexpected turn in the not-so-distant future as his team considers putting its top rider into mountain-bike races next year.
In a report in Sunday’s Corriere dello Sport Felice Gimondi, the president of Pantani’s Mercatone Uno team was quoted as saying that the “Pirate” might even compete in next year’s world mountain-bike championships.
Gimondi, himself a former cycling great, said he believed that the future of the sport lay in mountain biking and said the team was actively considering deploying their controversial spearhead Pantani, who is an accomplished climber in mountain stages, in that that discipline.
“The idea is there,” said Gimondi. “There was a time when road-race specialists could also lay down the law in mountain biking but now it has become an extreme discipline – the events are very different. “
But Gimondi said that if the commitment is there, Pantani could come to dominate the event. “We could do it with Marco maybe at next year’s World Championships.” Gimondi’s comments come soon after the recent accident in Spain that resulted in the death of Kelme’s Ricardo Otxoa and the serious injury of his twin brother and teammate Javier. Gimondi said he would advise youngsters to consider mountain biking rather than road-racing, saying: “Road-racing gave me so much, I can not deny it. But if I had a son today I would not put him on the roads, cycling has become too dangerous.”
Pantani is currently enmeshed in a series of legal cases relating to alleged doping offences, problems that have damaged his career ever since he was ejected from the Giro d’Italia in 1999 for failing a blood test.
Ironically, Pantani was viewed as a sort of “savior” of the sport as he quietly rode to victory in the scandal-plagued 1998 Tour de France, after also winning the Giro that year.