By Andrew Hood
Marco Pantani admits his best days could be behind him, in an interview in the French sports daily L’Equipe published Tuesday. Pantani, who won both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in 1998, said he’s hoping for a solid, but not spectacular 2003 season.
“I will probably never be the great Pantani again,” the 33-year-old Italian said. “But it’s irrelevant now. I’m looking to establish a new relationship with my job, to find new serenity.”
Pantani was on top of the cycling world when he was kicked out of the 1999 Giro while leading the race when tests revealed a high hematocrit level. Pantani was banned again for eight months last June for alleged use of insulin, a banned product. That ban was turned down by the Italian Cycling Federation, but now the UCI is challenging the ruling and the Court of Arbitration for Sport is expected to have a final ruling soon. At worse, Pantani could be allowed to return to racing in April, a move that could hamper his chances for a strong 2003 Giro.
Pantani, aka “Il Pirata,” stayed on with a scaled-down Mercatone Uno team despite rumors of joining up with world champion Mario Cipollini. Pantani hasn’t raced in cycling’s most important event, the Tour de France, since 2000, when he won two stages.“The months ahead will be decisive but I have to look forward to them without any particular stress, with the idea that I have some fuel left in me or at least some pride,” he said.
Cipo’s team back in Med tour
The UCI has ruled that Mario Cipollini’s Domina Vacanze team will be allowed to start in today’s Tour Mediterranean just a day after an angry race organizer kicked out the world champion’s team. According to reports in L’Equipe, the UCI has ruled that race organizer Lucien Aimar must honor a contract and allow Domina Vacanze to start, even though Cipollini said he won’t be at the start line.
Aimar was angered when he heard that Cipollini wouldn’t be starting the race and decided to remove his team from the lineup. Cipollini instead will make his season debut wearing the rainbow jersey at the Trofeo Luis Puig on Feb. 23 in Spain.
New ‘cotes’ for Flanders
The Tour of Flanders will features three new climbs to bring the total of cotes to 19 for the second stop of the 10-race World Cup series. New climbs include the “Foreest” of Horebeke, narrow and steep at the top, and the “Ladeuze” and “Nokereberg.” Two other climbs – the Boigneberg and Steenberg – will be back in this year’s edition set for April 6.
Route du Sud will unveil new climb
Route du Sud (June 21-24), the pre-Tour French race known for discovering new climbs in the Pyrenees, promises to deliver a new surprise for the 2003 edition. The course will tackle the Port de Bales, in the Hautes-Pyrenees region near Bagneres de Luchon. The 19-km climb features an average grade of 6.3 percent, but with sections as steep as 16 percent and an average grade of 9 percent over the final 5 kilometers. The race introduced the Plateau de Beille climb, now twice featured in the Tour de France.