By VeloNews Interactive wire services, Copyright AFP2002
Italy’s 1998 Tour de France champion Marco Pantani on Saturday had his eight month suspension for drugs lifted by the Italian Cycling Federation after a successful appeal.
The 32-year-old, who also captured the 1998 Tour of Italy, had been sanctioned on June 17 by the Federation after allegedly using the banned substance insulin during the 2001 Giro d’Italia.
The commission said there was no real proof that the cyclist, better known as ‘Il Pirata’ for his shaven head, gold earring and colourful bandanas, had taken insulin despite police finding a syringe with traces of it in his hotel room.
Pantani has rarely hit the heights since his double triumph in 1998 and his last major triumph came when he won the stage to Courchevel in the 2000 Tour de France.
In the 1998 Tour de France he had been hailed as the saving grace of the race that had its credibility destroyed by a drugs scandal that saw it dubbed ‘the Tour de Farce.”
Sadly Pantani’s angelic image did not last. Already implicated in one doping affair relating to the Milan-Turin race of 1995 Pantani tasted the other side of the coin in 1999. In 1999 he was wearing the leader’s pink jersey and looking certain to successfully defend his title when before the start of the penultimate stage he was thrown out of the race having given a hematocrit reading above the legal threshold in cycling.
In the year 2000 Pantani took a back seat as his long-time lieutenant Stefano Garzelli won the Giro. Garzelli, who had done the spade work for Pantani in his glory years, now tasted victory for himself.
But in 2001 it was another controversy. Pantani was one of dozens of riders found to have illegal products in his room when anti-drugs police swooped at his hotel in Montecatini Terme, near San Remo.
Having initially denied it was his room he then changed tack and said it was indeed his but that someone planted the syringe which had traces of insulin.