By Andrew Hood
Marco Pantani celebrated his 34th birthday Tuesday without much hope of returning to cycling’s elite level. The former Giro d’Italia and Tour de France is 15 kilos overweight and isn’t expected to race this year, according to a report in La Gazzetta dello Sport.
While Pantani won’t officially say he’s retired, his father, Ferdinando, says it’s not likely ‘The Pirate’ will roam cycling’s peloton this season.
“Between 1 and 10 for him to comeback to cycling, I see it as a chance of 1,” the paper quoted the racer’s father. “Marco is a sensitive man and all this has been too much for him.”
Pantani has struggled with form, nagging doping allegations and a lack of motivation since his forced departure in the 1999 Giro d’Italia with elevated blood levels. His hyped comeback last season fell flat when Pantani couldn’t rediscover his winning formula and finished 14th overall in the Giro, his last race of the season.
“Marco has never said he would quit cycling, but it’s likely he won’t race this year,” Pantani’s agent said. “He’s looking for the motivation to continue.”
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Cofidis probe expands
French police have arrested two former riders and one of the team’s soigneur as the “Cofidis Affaire” gains steam in France. Acting on a tip, police reportedly found stocks of amphetamines, steroids and the endurance-enhancer EPO at the home of the 2001 world track champion and former Cofidis rider Robert Sassone when he was detained, AFP reported. Polish cyclist Marek Rutkiewicz, who also left Cofidis at the end of the year, was arrested at Charles de Gaulle airport on Monday when he returned from Warsaw.Also being held is Bogdan Madejak, the Polish soigneur of Cofidis suspected of supplying riders with banned substances. French officers acted after listening to Rutkiewicz’s mobile phone calls from Poland. “We’re investigating a network dealing in EPO and steroids,” a police source told AFP. On Monday, police searched the headquarters of Cofidis in northern France and the office of one of their doctors as part of a doping inquiry, the manager of the cycling team said.
“The police arrived at 1600 (1500 GMT) on Monday and left our headquarters at 2130 (2030 GMT),” Alain Bondue told Reuters. “They told me they were investigating a case of doping similar to the Festina affair (…) They did not find any banned products but seized the medical files of some our riders in the office of doctor Jean-Jacques Menuet.”
Bondue added that Cofidis had nothing to worry about.
“We haven’t done anything wrong,” he said.
Bondue said the Cofidis riders, which British time trial world champion David Millar, world road champion Igor Astarloa and Australian sprinter Stuart O’Grady, were not interviewed because they were training near Valencia, Spain.
PVP likes Athens
Classics strong man Peter Van Petegem likes what he saw during a recent reconnaissance trip to Athens. The Belgian, who pulled off the impressive Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix last season, said the Summer Games will be his top goal of the 2004 season.”The course suits me perfectly,” the Lotto-Domo rider told L’Equipe. While the road course isn’t completely finalized, a tough climb near the final stretch will prove decisive. The Aug. 14 race is expected to include 17 to 18 laps on a 12km circuit. “A sprint finish is possible, but not with the entire peloton still intact. It’s my last ride at the Olympics and therefore one of the main objectives of my season,” Van Petegem said.