Road

The Pantani investigations going nowhere, says biographer Rendell

According to a biographer who wrote a book about Marco Pantani, the latest investigations simply erode the public's trust

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MILAN (VN) — Marco Pantani’s death and 1999 Giro d’Italia legal inquiries are baseless and creating mistrust in Italy’s institutions, according to biographer Matt Rendell.

“The 1999 Giro case is based on one rumor after another, voices going around prison cells,” the English journalist told VeloNews.

The murder case? All they have to do is to get people to talk about it, and it achieves its end. There won’t be another end because Pantani was clearly not murdered.”

The bald Italian climber won the 1998 Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, the last cyclist to win the double. From that high, his life quickly unravelled.

He went home from the 1999 Giro in tears after failing an anti-doping test. Following a comeback that included two Tour stage wins in 2000, he died of a cocaine overdose on February 14, 2004, at 34 years old.

Rendell moved to northern Italy’s Modena, a town famous for its Ferrari automobiles, to write “The Death of Marco Pantani” biography, published in 2007. With two on-going inquiries, it is gaining even more attention now.

Public prosecutors in nearby Rimini and Forlì opened cases this summer, the first based on the theory that Pantani was murdered and the second that he was unfairly excluded from the 1999 Giro.

“When you are passionate about someone like a sports star, it clouds your judgement,” Rendell continued.

“In Italy, there’s a mistrust of the institutions. The sad thing in this case is that the Rimini and Forlì investigations were exemplary pieces of police work, but they are now being made to look corrupt and rubbish.”

The lawyer for Pantani’s parents, Antonio De Rensis collected information that points to a voluntary homicide and convinced Rimini’s head prosecutor, Paolo Giovagnoli to reopen the case. According to De Rensis, men forced their way into the Le Rose hotel where Pantani was staying in Rimini, beat him and forced him to drink water that they diluted with lethal amounts of cocaine.

“De Rensis saw the water bottle in a film of the room [and] asked where it was in the evidence. But Pantani was not beaten over the head with the bottle. It was not a blunt instrument used for killing. The evidence from the medial staff [is] consistent that there was no sign of a struggle, and this was a case of cocaine overdose. There was cocaine on every surface,” Rendell said.

“The windows were locked, and the door was barricaded from the inside. Pantani would shut himself in rooms, turn up the heating and sate himself with cocaine. He overdosed four times in 2003, had it not been one of those times, or on February 14, 2004, then he would have killed himself in the months afterwards.”

In Forlì, 33 miles away in the same Emilia-Romagna region, Public Prosecutor Sergio Sottani opened a case to investigate claims that the mafia fixed Pantani’s 1999 Giro expulsion.

Pantani won the Madonna di Campiglio stage June 4 and was set to win the race two days later in Milan thanks to a healthy 5:38-minute lead over Savoldelli and 6:12 over Ivan Gotti. However, UCI testers checked his hematocrit level before he could leave the ski village the next morning in the pink jersey. His blood read 51.9 percent, which was above the 50 percent limit and an indication of EPO use.

In the years since, career criminal Renato Vallanzasca said that the mafia was involved and that during the Giro, others warned him against betting on Pantani’s win. Sottani already heard Vallanzasca in the ongoing case.

Romano Cenni, head of the Mercatone Uno company that sponsored Pantani’s 1999 team, recently called for the Giro win to be given to Pantani. Gotti, who won in Milan, explained that he would give the victory to “poor Marco.”

“Gotti can offer to be generous without any consequences because Pantani didn’t cross the finish line,” Rendell added.

“So they are accusing UCI anti-doping officials of being hand-in-hand with the mafia? These are the type of things that are said in every Italian investigation, that the mafia is involved.”

Since Pantani’s 1999 Giro case, Italy suffered from other doping cases, from Ivan Basso to Danilo Di Luca to Riccardo Riccò. In recent years, however, it appears to have the storm at its back.

This July, for the first time since Pantani, Italy celebrated a Tour de France winner with Astana’s Vincenco Nibali. Behind Nibali, several other stars are emerging including his teammate Fabio Aru and team Cannondale’s Davide Formolo. The Italian press, however, remain captivated by Pantani and the new cases.

“It’s the low-news season,” Rendell added, “but these cases are further eroding the public’s confidence in their institutions.”