Investigators on Sunday ordered an autopsy to determine the cause of death of former Tour de France champion Marco Pantani who was found in a hotel room in central Italy with sedatives near his bed.
The cause of death of the 34-year-old rider was not immediately known but investigators ruled out violence.
Magistrate Paolo Gengarelli told reporters on Sunday that there were no illegal drugs in the room but tranquillizers were found near the body and in the kitchen section.
Pantani, who had been suffering from depression, was found dead in a hotel in the Adriatic coastal resort city of Rimini late on Saturday.
Gengarelli also said Pantani had written what he called “some thoughts” on hotel stationery but it was not a farewell note.
He said the rider had effectively secluded himself in the room for five days, leaving it only for breakfast.
Pantani, nicknamed ‘The Pirate’ because of his trademark shaved head and bandana, won the Giro d’Italia and the Tour in 1998 but his career was later blighted by doping accusations.
His death shocked the cycling world. The headline in the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport said it all: “Lost Hero, We Adored You”.
Spain’s five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain described Pantani as a “tragic genius”.
“Apart from his undeniable quality as a rider, he got people hooked on the sport,” Indurain said of the specialist climber in the Spanish sports daily Marca. “There may be riders who have achieved more than him, but they never succeeded in drawing in the fans like he did.”
Pantani made his name in 1995 by daring to attack Indurain in the mountain stages of the Giro and the Tour.
“What I liked about him was his explosive power in the mountains — he knew how to attack, but also had the ability to sustain his form,” Indurain said. “I also admired his reserved character, his way of behaving during the race — it was something that made him different to the rest.”
The Spaniard said that Pantani’s career had been scarred by the controversy surrounding the 1999 Giro d’Italia when he was thrown out of the race for failing a test for hematocrit — an indicator, though not proof of the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
“When he had the test for hematocrit he was eventually only banned for 15 days, but it ended up complicating his whole life and he was never able to get over it. He was never the same again,” Indurain said.
Pantani was also banned in 2002 for using insulin during the previous year’s Giro.
He rode in the 2003 Giro, finishing 14th, an impressive performance given that he had crashed on the 11th stage and then fought back to finish. Nonetheless, the performance was far below his own expectations and Pantani stopped competing. He was later treated in a drugs and depression clinic.
Reuters contributed to this story
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