By Andrew Hood
It’s been a year since Marco Pantani was found dead in room 5-D of the Hotel Le Rose in Rimini, Italy. The autopsy later confirmed the iconic Italian cycling hero had died of a cocaine overdose.
A year later, Italy continues to mourn his tragic death and is still trying to come to grips with the loss of Italy’s most successful grand tour racer of his generation.
Pantani’s life slowly unraveled after being kicked out of the 1999 Giro d’Italia just a few days short of winning a second consecutive title. The UCI’s “vampires” discovered his red blood cell count too high and Pantani left the race in disgrace.
While he could come back to win two stages in the 2000 Tour de France, Pantani was never the same. Nicknamed the Pirate for his flamboyant bandanas and ear-rings, Pantani felt demonized by the press, haunted by his past and eventually succumbed to the temptation of cocaine.
Italy will be mourning its fallen champion on the year anniversary of his death with a special mass at the San Pietro Pescatore in his hometown Cesenatico. Fans will make a pilgrimage to his tomb as well as unveil a new statue in his honor. As part of other acts to pay homage to Pantani, Italian singer Gianni Scribano will present his new song, “La Bandana,” in honor of the Pirate.
Pantani’s career highlights
Teams:Turned pro in 1992; Carrera (1992-96), Mercatone Uno (1997-2004)
Tour de France: 1st – 1998; 3rd – 1994, 1997; Eight stage victories – 2 in 1995, 2 in 1997, 2 in 1998 and 2 in 2000
Giro d`Italia: 1st – 1998; 2nd in 1994; Eight stage victories – 2 in 1994, 2 in 1998 and 4 in 1999
World championships: 3rd in 1995
To mark the anniversary of his death, VeloPress ispublishing MARCOPANTANI: The Legend of a Tragic Champion, which chronicles the highsand lows of the Italian cyclist’s charismatic career and ill-fated life.
Pereiro eyes Tour podium
Oscar Pereiro – the Spanish rider who quietly finished 10th in last year’s Tour de France – believes he can finish on the Tour podium this year. The Spanish rider will share leadership duties with Floyd Landis at Phonak, but believes that won’t be a problem.
“I don’t see any conflict working for another rider, but I have told Juan Fernandez (Phonak’s sport director) that he can have confidence in me,” Pereiro said in an interview with the Spanish daily AS. “We both can have freedom to ride in the Tour, Floyd and me.”
Last year, Pereiro enjoyed a solid season, winning the Classique des Alpes and finished seventh at Paris-Nice and ninth in the Dauphiné Libéré. The Tour is the race that capture’s Pereiro’s imagination, however.
“I hope to shine in the Tour. Last year I was 10th. If I can be stronger this year and with the added experience, I don’t see why I won’t be able to aim for the podium,” Pereiro said.
Ochoa decision expected next month
A Spanish court is expected to give its final ruling next month in the court case involving the 2001 death of Spanish racer Ricardo Ochoa. According to a report on the Spanish wires, the decision is expected during the week of March 14.
Ricardo and his fellow professional cyclist brother Xavier were struck by a car while out on a training ride on Feb. 15, 2001. Ricardo was killed while Xavier was injured so badly he spent six months in a hospital and returned to cycling last year as a disabled athlete.
Simoni to race Laigueglia
Two-time Giro d’Italia champion Gilberto Simoni will lead Lampre-Caffita in Tuesday’s Trofeo Laigueglia in Italy. After making his season debut at the Tour Down Under, Simoni has been training hard to get ready for the Giro, his top goal for the 2005 season. Lampre-Caffita will start the Giro with Simoni and defending champion Damiano Cunego sharing team leadership duties. “Gilberto is decidedly ahead in terms of condition to where he was last year,” Simoni said.
The Ruta del Sol continues Monday with the 165.7km second stage from Antequera to the summit finish atop the Cat. 1 Alto de Cumbres Verdes. Carlos García Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana) and teammate Francisco Cabello stand one-two atop the overall GC after figuring in the winning breakaway in Sunday’s first stage.