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The 1998 Tour de France winner, Marco Pantani, has returned home after spending two weeks in a clinic specializing in nervous disorders, drug addiction and alcoholism.
Romano Cenni, owner of Pantani’s Mercatone Uno team, said he was delighted by the progress made by the cyclist, who left the Villa Parco dei Tigli private hospital near Padova on Thursday night.
“They told me that he had left, that he was well and that he could soon start training on the bike. It seems to me like marvelous news,” Cenni told the Gazzetta dello Sport.
“They informed me that he has made great progress. He has overcome this crisis in a short period of time, and that is an important sign. I hope he can return before the end of the season.”
Pantani, who during the recent Tour of Italy showed glimpses of his former self, admitted himself into the clinic because he said he was suffering from stress.
Known as “The Pirate” for his colorful headscarves and golden earrings, Pantani is due in court on September 19 after high hematocrit levels were found in his blood during the 1999 Tour of Italy – an indicator but not proof that a rider may be using endurance-enhancing drugs.
He has already served a six-month ban for his failed drugs test but now faces prosecution charges, as doping in Italy is a criminal offense.
Pantani also hit the headlines when a syringe containing insulin was found in his bedroom during last year’s Tour of Italy.
For that offense he was initially banned for eight months in June 2002 by the Italian Cycling Federation, but later won an appeal due to an absence of proof.
Cycling’s world ruling body, the International Cycling Union (UCI), failed to persuade the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to reinstate the ban, allowing Pantani to get back on his bike in March of this year.
Pantani’s Mercatone Uno team has not been invited to take part in this year’s Tour de France. –Copyright 2003/AFP