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Pantani’s troubles continue

The tangled legal affairs of Italy's most famous cyclist, Marco Pantani, were further complicated on Thursday by two new developments. Forli Judge Luisa Del Bianco, who presided over the case that ended with the 1998 Tour de France and Tour of Italy winner being convicted and sentenced to a three-month suspended prison term on doping-related charges in December, reopened that inquiry because of the disappearance of the cyclist's medical records. In a separate development investigators from Florence, working under the instruction of Ferrara prosecutor Pierguido Soprani, seized files

Case against him reopened

By VeloNews Interactive

Problems mounting: Pantani is facing several legal battles.

Problems mounting: Pantani is facing several legal battles.

Photo: Charles Pelkey

The tangled legal affairs of Italy’s most famous cyclist, Marco Pantani, were further complicated on Thursday by two new developments.

Forli Judge Luisa Del Bianco, who presided over the case that ended with the 1998 Tour de France and Tour of Italy winner being convicted and sentenced to a three-month suspended prison term on doping-related charges in December, reopened that inquiry because of the disappearance of the cyclist’s medical records.

In a separate development investigators from Florence, working under the instruction of Ferrara prosecutor Pierguido Soprani, seized files from the headquarters of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) in Rome that refer to the period before Pantani competed in last year’s Sydney Olympics.

Pantani has already appealed against the verdict in the Forli case and Del Bianco’s decision to reopen that affair is related to the missing records.

The cyclist, dubbed “il pirata” for his trademark bald head, earrings and bandana, had given a reading for 60.1 percent levels of haematocrite in his blood when admitted to hospital after crashing in the Milan-Turin Classic in 1995.

That is way in excess of the figure of 50 percent that is seen as an indicator -— although not proof — that a rider has taken banned substance EPO.

Judicial sources indicate that Del Bianco is concerned that Pantani’s records went missing and also that he may have been administered a dangerous substance without his knowledge.

The action of the Soprani team, meanwhile, focuses on records held by CONI before the controversial decision to allow Pantani to race at Sydney. It is understood that the investigators are trying to establish whether Pantani was allowed to risk his health by racing in Sydney.

Under cycling rules a rider is prevented from racing for a month after giving a haematocrite reading above 50 percent because he or she runs an increased risk of heart attack.

Pantani is known to have undergone two tests before Sydney on August 1 and September 5.

Pantani is embroiled in other cases, too. Last month he was charged by Trento magistrates in relation to his expulsion from the 1999 Tour of Italy before the start of the penultimate stage at Madonna di Campiglio, again for giving a reading above 50 percent.

He was wearing the leader’s pink jersey at the time and looking certain to retain his title before being thrown out. The rider from Cesenatico is also one of 60 top-level athletes named in court documents as alleged clients of Ferrara Professor Francesco Conconi, suspected of being at the center of a vast doping ring.

Soprani is leading that inquiry, and on May 21 he will ask for Conconi to be committed for trial. Pantani and the other athletes implicated are not considered as suspects in that case but “offended parties” — legal parlance for victims.

AFP Copyright 2001