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Pantani back in the saddle

As the Tour de France climbs into the Alps for three mountain stages, Marco Pantani – one of the greatest climbers in the history of cycling and winner of the 1998 Tour de France – is back on his bike for the first time since he left a drug and depression clinic. Pantani, who spent the second half of June in the clinic near Venice, looked well as he rode his bike for an hour and half near his home in Cesenatico on Friday. He refused to speak as he headed home from his ride, but La Gazzetta dello Sport suggested he could be training ready to make a return to racing at the Tour of Spain in

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By Reuters

As the Tour de France climbs into the Alps for three mountain stages, Marco Pantani – one of the greatest climbers in the history of cycling and winner of the 1998 Tour de France – is back on his bike for the first time since he left a drug and depression clinic.

Pantani, who spent the second half of June in the clinic near Venice, looked well as he rode his bike for an hour and half near his home in Cesenatico on Friday.

He refused to speak as he headed home from his ride, but La Gazzetta dello Sport suggested he could be training ready to make a return to racing at the Tour of Spain in September.

He finished 14th in the Giro d’Italia in June.

The president of the Mercatone Uno company, Romano Cenni, has promised to sponsor Pantani for as long as he wants to race, and both the Bianchi and Vini Caldirola teams are said to be interested in having Mercatone Uno as a co-sponsor.

Vittorio Savino, unofficial president of the Pantani fan club, told La Gazzetta: “Marco probably needs some real friends, but at the moment he prefers to stay on his own. Sometimes he wants to destroy the world and other times he goes into a deep depression.

“It’s the most difficult moment of his life, an uphill battle, much harder the climbs of the Mortirolo or the Gavia he once flew over when he won the Giro d’Italia.”

Pantani won both the Giro and Tour de France in 1998 but was disqualified while leading the 1999 Giro after failing a blood test.

He has not been competitive since and is currently on trial in Italy for sporting fraud as a result of the events of 1999.