Virenque: The media .. attacked a depressed man
By Staff and wire reports
The cycling world is spending much of Sunday struggling to come to grips with Italian champion Marco Pantani’s sudden death in a hotel room late Saturday.
Jan Ullrich, who finished second to Pantani in the 1998 Tour de France, heard the news at a training camp in Toscana.
“You are always shocked when you hear about the death of a fellow sportsman,” Germany’s Olympic road race champion said. “Personally I can not say anything about it because I only know what I have heard in the media. For the past three years I was not in contact with Pantani.”
While a post-mortem will be held to determine the precise cause of death, the presence of barbiturates and a note have led police to seriously consider the possibility of suicide. Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx pointed the finger of blame at an overly enthusiastic Italian justice system.
“After his success in the Tour of Italy and Tour de France in the same year Pantani certainly made mistakes – but he was targeted by Italian justice whonever let him go,” the five-time Tour winner said Sunday. “I believe it was that that destroyed him.”
Merckx also suggested the solitary nature of the sport Pantani had chosen had played a part in the tragedy.
“Once your career is finished it’s inevitable that you’re forgotten,” Merckx noted. “It’s a case of every man for himself and God for all.”
France’s Richard Virenque, who has had his share of run-ins with the authorities over drugs, believed the media should shoulder its share of the blame.
“I’m disgusted. I knew Marco was depressed – the media have something to answer for – they attacked a depressed man,” Virenque said. “That can lead to dreadful things.”
”It’s dramatic, he fell from grace in Italy just like I did in France,” Virenque continued. “If you’ve got a family around to help you, you can get over the situation, if not you can end up doing inexplicable things. Marco suffered from depression. And he’s dead. There’s nothing more to say.”
Pantani, who last summer was admitted to a clinic specializing in the treatment of psychological and substance abuse issues, died in the east coast Italian seaside resort of Rimini on Saturday night at the age of 34.
The death of Pantani sent shockwaves through Europe’s cycling community. There was universal shock and dismay at the news. Here are some more reactions from some who knew Pantani:
Lance Armstrong: “This is terrible and shocking news. My thoughts and condolences go out to his family, friends, and fans. Regardless of our battles on/off the bike, I had a deep respect for Marco. Cycling has indeed lost a great champion and a great personality.”
Manolo Saiz, Liberty Seguros: “He was the best climber I ever knew. He was a brave racer, and we have to keep with us the moments how he attacked Indurain.”
Mario Cipollini, Domina Vacanze: “We’re all destroyed about what happened. It’s a surprise, and it will be difficult to carry on with this news.”
Fernando Escartin, Tour de France stage winner: “I am very sad and the only thing that comes to mind is the same thing with Chava (Jose Maria Jimenez), assuming they were similar circumstances. It’s a very abrupt change, and you have to have the head very firm, you have to be mentally strong, because you find yourself without having the public to support you. Cycling is very hard, and you pass a lot of time away from home alone and when you retire, you life changes in major ways.”
Claudio Chiappucci, ex-pro: “There’s not a lot to say. Marco has gone away. The only thing that I don’t like is now that his death will be sensationalized. A few hours ago, lots of people were pointing their fingers against him, now everybody is saying he was a great cyclist. Pantani could have used more friends when he was alive.”
Vicente Belda, sport director Generalitat Valenciana-Kelme: “El Chava and Pantani had parallel lives the past few years. Drugs are causing terrible pain in society. At least this serves as a notice to people that taking drugs is not good. I remember his bandana and his bald head, protected by Dani Clavero, who was his bodyguard. He wasn’t a chatty rider, he always went his own way, especially the past few years. He lived in a closed world, he wasn’t very open. We have lost two champions and now we’ll only be able to see them in posters and pictures.”
Alessandro Petacchi, Fassa Bortolo: “It’s not easy to comment on news of this kind. I am very surprised. There couldn’t have been worse news for his family, his friends and all the people who knew him. It’s a drama that will leave a scar. Now we all should reflect.”