Interesting article about marco pantani

Discussion in 'Professional Cycling' started by limerickman, Mar 7, 2004.

  1. limerickman

    limerickman Moderator

    Jan 5, 2004
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    as posted at,6903,1161002,00.html

    The long, lonely road to oblivion

    Marco Pantani, adored by thousands when he won the Tour de France, died last month, alone in a hotel room and surrounded by drugs. Matt Rendell, who knew the Italian cyclist well, returned to Rimini to uncover the truth about his tragic last days

    Sunday March 7, 2004
    The Observer

    In summer, the seaside resort of Rimini on Italy's Adriatic Riviera bustles with holidaymakers. Out of season, the arcades and ice-cream parlours close, the cobbled streets are repaired, and the whole town waits for spring. Shortly after midday on Monday 9 February, former Tour de France winner Marco Pantani made an unseasonal visit to Viale Regina Elena, a one-way street stretching south. Checking into Hotel Residence 'Le Rose', his only luggage was a small bag. He made a call from his room and left for 20 minutes. It was the last time he stepped outside. After a few more brief calls, he withdrew into silence.
    Pantani extended his stay each day. He ate little. For four days, he opened his door when anyone stirred on the landing. Lorissa, the Ukrainian cleaner, worked around him. On the morning of Friday 13 February, he asked her, 'How do I look?' But Lorissa's Italian is mostly concrete nouns and infinitives, and she could only garble, 'I don't know you.' That afternoon, he called reception for an omelette. Oliver Laghi, the owner of the Rimini Key pizzeria, two blocks away, delivered it. Unlike Lorissa, Laghi, once a competitive amateur cyclist, knew exactly who Marco Pantani was, and was shocked to encounter a foul-smelling, emaciated form at the door. 'He smiled, but he seemed tired, depressed,' he told me. 'He was drawn, with bad breath. I told him dinner was on me. He patted me on the back, and I said, "I'll see you tomorrow, and we'll celebrate." But I didn't see him again.'

    The following morning, Pantani swore at Lorissa through the closed door and she left. A couple on the fifth floor say he opened the door, looked at them and muttered, 'I know who you are.' Later, Pietro Buccellato, a student working on reception, rang up repeatedly, but the telephone was always engaged. From street level, he could see no lights on in the flat. He tried the numbers Pantani had dialled on Monday, but no one answered. At 9pm, he took up two towels, turned the key and forced back the furniture piled behind the door.

    Medicine boxes were strewn around the apartment. Climbing the steps, Buccellato found Pantani on one side, face down, as if he'd fallen out of bed. His bald head was swollen and badly bruised. More medicines lay on the bedside table, over a dusting of fine white powder. Cocaine. The coroner estimated death had occurred at 5pm. Buccellato called the emergency services at 9.15pm. At 2am, the body was removed .

    Marco Pantani left the world a few miles from where he had entered it, up the coast in Cesenatico. From the day his grandfather Sotero put him on a racing bike, Pantani turned his back on the beaches and schooled his muscles in the gruelling metier of competitive cycling. After winning the amateur tour of Italy in 1992, he specialised in two of cycling's showpieces: the Giro d'Italia, held in late May and early June, and July's Tour de France.

    In 1994, his first Giro, Pantani won two mountain stages and finished second overall. A month later, he finished third in his first Tour. It wasn't just his results that attracted attention. Corporate sponsorship and an employers' market make cycling a highly conservative milieu. Modern champions are fine athletes, but also expert managers, directing drilled formations of domestiques - second-string team-mates - from their slipstream until the decisive moment. Cycling's world governing body, the UCI, even outlawed the exciting new frame designs that appeared in the early 1990s, years that were dominated by the relentless predictability of the superlative Miguel Induráin.

    Then Pantani, the great climber, appeared, full of subversive trickery, with his bent nose, ears which stuck out and bald head wrapped in a bandana that he would throw down before each Promethean acceleration. Articulate and charismatic, he was a fascinating interviewee. I met him several times: each was inspirational. 'We are all imprisoned by rules,' he told me. 'Everyone longs for freedom to behave in the way they see fit. I'm a non-conformist, and some feel inspired by the way I express freedom of thought. I've never been meticulous or calculating, on or off the bike. I ride instinctively, responding to the moment. There's chaos in everyday life, and I tune into that chaos.'

    As Lance Armstrong reflected: 'I always thought he was more of an artist than an athlete - an extravagant figure, a Salvador Dalì. That's why people were so fond of him.'

    Italy adored Pantani as England did Paul Gascoigne, and as with Gazza, that affection evolved over the years: initially, he dazzled with his sporting talent; later, he surprised with his vulnerability; finally, he appalled with his transgressions.

    As with Gazza, injury shaped Pantani's career. Accidents ruled him out of three Giros and a Tour between 1995 and 1998. The worst crash occurred during the Milan to Turin race on 18 October 1995, when a Jeep entered the route and met the riders head on, leaving Pantani with multiple compound fractures to the left tibia and fibula. On his arrival at Turin's Centro Traumatologico Ortopedico at 3.20pm, doctors were startled to discover blood values that were abnormal, almost bizarre: his haematocrit, or red cell count, was 60 per cent (50 per cent is high); his haemoglobin was 20.8g per 100ml (18g is noteworthy). These values then plummeted: on 25 October, with 15.9 per cent haematocrit and 5.8g haemoglobin, it took a transfusion to save his life.

    After which the anaemia miraculously cleared. Someone, it seemed, had injected Pantani with the genetically engineered blood-booster erythropoietin, known in sport as the doping agent EPO. At the age of just 25, Pantani's body had grown so dependent on these injections that it could no longer produce red blood cells. Pictures showing Pantani in physiotherapy with a weight around his neck encapsulated the rest of his existence.

    By 1998, no one had attempted the Giro-Tour double since Induráin failed in 1994. It was believed you couldn't win the Giro and stand a chance in the Tour in the same season. Pantani, an Italian rider with an Italian sponsor, couldn't miss the Giro. But he rode to rules of his own; in 1998, he won both. Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc publicly thanked Pantani for saving the Tour after the Festina doping scandal - not knowing Pantani's redemptive flamboyance was EPO-fuelled.

    The dominance continued into 1999. On 30 May, during the Giro, his chain slipped off at the foot of the climb up to Oropa. He stopped, fixed the problem, then attacked with such impetus that Laurent Jalabert said: 'If I hadn't got out of the way, he'd have ridden right over me.' When Nicola Miceli tried to follow: 'It was like trying to hang on to an aircraft's wing.'

    On 5 June, with two days to go, Pantani's 5 minute 38 second aggregate lead was insuperable. That morning, at the sanctuary of Madonna di Campiglio, UCI health inspectors were due. Lacking direct tests for blood-doping or EPO, riders had agreed in 1997 to health checks. If a blood sample showed haematocrit above 50 per cent, four more tests followed. A percentage point was subtracted from the average, and if the value was still over 50 per cent, the rider was declared unfit and sus pended for two weeks - a health measure, not a doping conviction.

    The controls were easily circumvented. After becoming world mountain bike champion, in 1998, the French rider Jérôme Chiotti passed the same checks, despite - as he later confessed - doping himself with EPO, human growth hormone, testosterone, corticoids, bronchodilators and vasodilators. So when Pantani's haematocrit was given at 52 per cent, there was disbelief. Irrespective of his innocence or guilt, Pantani's test result was incomprehensible.

    He protested his innocence, reasoning that if no other doper had been publicly humiliated, neither should he be. His bitterness took five years to kill him, but destroyed his judgment overnight. He believed urban myths: that the day before his expulsion, a Neapolitan punter had placed a million-dollar bet that Pantani wouldn't win; that Italian industrialists had engineered his humiliation for fronting a Citroen advertising campaign; that jealous teams had sabotaged his centrifuge or injected him in his sleep. His great error was to demand DNA analysis and involve the Public Prosecutor at nearby Tione. The readings were confirmed two days later; the investigations dogged him for years.

    Pantani was suspended, but his invitation to July's Tour de France was never rescinded. He could have ridden the Tour - or confessed, as Alex Zülle, the Festina rider, did in 1998, before finishing second in 1999. Or he could have walked away: between 1997 and 1999 he is said to have earned 30 billion lire (about £10m) mostly from Mercatone Uno, the supermarket chain that sponsored him, doubling its turnover in the process.

    Then, three weeks after Madonna di Campiglio, Pantani was struck another blow. He had idolised his grandfather, Sotero, who died in 1992. He later transferred those emotions to Luciano Pezzi, the Mercatone Uno team President. But on 26 June 1999, Pezzi died. According to Romano Cenni, the owner of Mercatone Uno, only Pezzi could get through to Pantani. 'They understood each other. If Luciano hadn't died - if he'd been able to be near Marco for a few more years - things would have turned out differently. Instead, I've lost two friends.'

    In autumn 1999, with his reputation destroyed, Pantani turned to cocaine, perhaps partly to replace the sensations of well-being and the euphoria of winning that EPO allowed. A brittleness emerged in his personality. At the 2000 Tour, Lance Armstrong allowed him to win the stage to Mont Ventoux, and said so in public. Pantani accused Armstrong of disrespect. The Texan retorted by calling Pantani 'Elefantino' - Dumbo - a nickname Pantani despised. In late 2002, his self-perception perhaps altered by drug abuse, he had plastic surgery to straighten his nose and pin back his ears. He became a poor look-alike of himself. But perhaps his actions betrayed the depth of his hurt.

    The loss of his Danish girlfriend, Christine Johansonn, removed another pillar of Pantani's identity. They had met on 14 February 1996. In Spring 2003, Christine rejected Pantani's attempts to rekindle their relationship. Rumours circulated of violence between Pantani and his father. A bachelor who loved fast cars, Harley Davidsons and nightclubs, Pantani shared his villa with his parents, despite increasing tensions.

    Surprisingly, journalists did much to protect Pantani: neither the cocaine, nor the violence, nor even the outlandish car accidents (in one, Pantani sped the wrong way along a one-way street, destroying eight cars) were widely reported. But for his former classmate Mario Pugliese, now the chief Cesenatico reporter on the regional daily La Voce di Romagna, Pantani's was a death foretold. Pugliese drafted Pantani's obituary a week before he died. 'It was a surprise to the public, but not to those who knew him,' he told me. 'I'd even spoken to my editor about publishing a page entitled "Silence is killing Pantani". But it was too late.'

    Pugliese was one of several true friends who never abandoned the cyclist. Others included his agent, Manuela Ronchi, and a nightclub manager, Michael Mengozzi who, Pugliese told me, did more than anyone to save Pantani.

    In June 2003, Pantani finished fourteenth in the Giro. Then, snubbed again by the Tour, he checked into a Padua clinic for drug-related personality disorders. On 21 July, he left for his agent's Milan home, before moving into Mengozzi's farmhouse at Trivella di Predappio, south of Forlì. There, he made friends and discussed a new home with estate agents.

    At the end of November, he visited Cuba with Mengozzi. By December, Pantani was rejecting even his closest friends. Instead of going to Argentina for pre-season training, he vanished, surfacing back in Havana, alone. There, eating only papaya and anti-depressants, he gave his bike and watch to local kids, and made rambling calls on his mobile phone.

    One report has Pantani at Rimini from 26 to 28 December, cavorting in a hotel corridor with a naked woman. On 13 January, Mengozzi hosted Pantani's birthday party at Trivella. Often incoherent, Pantani told his closest friends: 'I don't know who to trust any more.' He took cocaine in the bathroom, and left. It was the last time Mengozzi saw him.

    In Cesenatico, Pantani withdrew €12,000 (£8,000) and drove back to Milan. He had attended the birth of his agent Ronchi's first child, Filippo, in September; she hoped her family home would give him some stability. Ten days later, Ronchi phoned Pantani's parents to tell them that he was safe. His father set off for Milan. When Pantani found out, he packed but, on his way out, he met his father on the stairs. Pantani's suitcase and mobile phone went flying down the stairwell. He fled with nothing but the clothes he was wearing and a money belt. On Monday 9 February, he phoned Ronchi to tell her he was at the Hotel Jolly Touring in Milan. By the time she had arrived, he had disappeared yet again.

    Leaving his car in Milan, Pantani had taken a taxi to Rimini and walked the 300 metres to the Le Rose hotel, an unlikely destination for a multi-millionaire sports star. Pantani had invested heavily in property and was still receiving royalties from Mercatone Uno; despite his profligacy, he was extremely rich.

    At Le Rose, Pantani unwittingly became a neighbour of an old rival, the last pure climber to beat him at the height of his form. Piotr Ugrumov, a Russian-speaking Latvian, second in the 1994 Tour de France - just behind Induráin, just ahead of Pantani - lives with his wife, Anna, on the fifth floor of the building facing the window of Pantani's hotel room.

    At 9pm on Saturday 14 February, Ugrumov went to collect a pizza from Oliver Laghi, the restaurateur who had taken Pantani his final meal. 'Oliver told me he'd seen Pantani. He said he seemed depressed and vacant. I said, "I'll go and see him tomorrow." At home, the phone went. It was another Russian rider who lives in Rimini. He said, "Piotr, put the television on. Pantani's dead." I went out to the balcony, and saw crowds of people in the street. I didn't sleep that night. I knew Marco, we had mutual friends. But no one could get close to him. He felt attacked and isolated. He needed more help than I could give him.'

    The autopsy found that death was due to cerebral and pulmonary oedema. The condition may have been brought on by the tranquillisers, antidepressants and sedatives found in his room, against a background of prolonged cocaine abuse, and the malnourishment of his final weeks. Or, as Mario Pugliese told me: 'It may have been an overdose. But the cause of death is a tiny detail. Cocaine can kill you in many ways.'

    Nothing was left of the €12 000. Perhaps the last of it went on cocaine during his only excursion outside. The wider causes of Marco Pantani's death, however, have a different chemistry. Pantani depended on the adulation that came with sporting success. Unscrupulous suppliers of effective, undetectable and easily available doping products allowed him to achieve success not to mention great financial rewards for himself, his entourage and his sponsors, by breaching sporting ethics.

    Yet, whatever his sins, Pantani didn't deserve five years of legal hounding. It took eight months for DNA tests to confirm that the Madonna di Campiglio blood sample was Pantani's. The trial began in April 2003, nearly four years after the alleged offence. Six months later, Pantani was acquitted on the most elementary legal grounds: his supposed crimes were not illegal at the time they took place. Another trial, relating to the October 1995 accident, reached the same conclusion. When he died, Pantani was awaiting the decision of yet another process relating to a syringe containing traces of insulin found in his hotel room during the 2001 Giro d'Italia. Seven different magistrates conducted investigations involving Marco Pantani.

    The last time I spoke to Pantani was in October 2002, at the presentation of the 2003 Tour de France. As always, he was in Manuela Ronchi's protective presence. I shook his hand and wished him well, but he seemed withdrawn. He had facial tics, and frequently crumpled his face into the gurning expression of a derelict. He looked lost, defeated.

    During his second visit to Cuba, Pantani scrawled revealing notes in his passport, then tore out the pages. His friend Mengozzi travelled to Cuba to bring him home and recovered the missing pages from the bin. Ronchi read them out at his funeral. 'I've been humiliated for nothing,' he wrote, in reference to his legal struggles. 'For four years I've been in every court. Rules, yes, but the same for everyone.'

    Deprived of his privacy, debilitated by the loss of his emotional bulwarks - his grandfather, Luciano Pezzi, his girlfriend Christine - preyed on by cocaine pushers, Pantani rejected his friends and pursued self-destruction with horrifying single-mindedness. He died on 14 February, the anniversary of the day he met Christine. Valentine's Day. There is speculation that they once spent a romantic holiday in the Hotel Le Rose shortly after they met.

    The reaction of Richard Virenque, who, after the 1998 Festina doping scandal that rocked the Tour de France, experienced much of what Pantani went through, is instructive. 'I went through times when, if no one had been with me, I might have been in Pantani's position,' he told me. 'If he had had a family, a wife and children, he might have got through it.'

    In truth, perhaps not even love could have saved him.

    Matt Rendell is the author of 'Kings of the Mountains: how Colombia's cycling heroes changed their nation's history' (Aurum Press) and 'A Significant Other: Riding the Centenary Tour de France with Lance Armstrong' (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, available in June 2004).

  2. jstraw

    jstraw New Member

    Jan 16, 2004
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    That's a very sad tale. Perhaps when the UCI decides to get serious about ridding the sport of doping all together this will seem like an impossibility...

    I'm of the opinion that the UCI needs to deal with this in a unique manner that takes no notice of what's "good enough" for other sports...

    We don't need to see another fragile, amazing, flamboyant, eccentric ego like Pantani's suffer through such a mess again.
  3. hemplands

    hemplands New Member

    Aug 16, 2003
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    Reading this article really upset me, its heartbreaking. I'd never really looked into the drugs issue quite so deeply, I had an opinion and voiced it loudly on occasions but this tragedy has brought it home.

    Its also made me ashamed of the human race that we can allow something like this to happen.

    I've been reading everything I can about this issue, burning the midnight oil in fact, and the thing that has made me so angry is that the UCI is acting like the ostrich and burying its head in the sand. It spouts malevolent epithets but does sweet f.a. about it, in fact it sits on things for so long they never get resolved.

    I hadn't realised that in 2002 when Pantani had his ban lifted, they tried to get it re-instated four weeks later. I post the article here
    Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
    UCI wants Pantani ban re-instated

    Marco Pantani's future hangs in the balance

    The International Cycling Union (UCI) has urged the Court of Arbitration for Sport to reverse a decision to lift an eight-month ban on Italian cyclist Marco Pantani.
    The former Tour de France winner was originally suspended for using the prohibited substance insulin during last year's Tour of Italy.

    A disciplinary commission of the Italian Cycling Federation had imposed the punishment on 1 July, but its appeals panel later lifted the ban.

    Pantani career highs and lows
    1992: Makes professional cycling debut
    1995: Wins bronze at world championships
    1998: Wins Giro d'Italia and Tour de France
    1999: Disqualified while leading the Giro after failing drugs test
    2000: Wins two stages of Tour De France
    Later banned for six months for drugs use
    2002, June: Banned for eight months for using insulin
    2002, July: Wins appeal against suspension
    President of the commission, Luigi Renga, said at the time: "There was no certain evidence against Pantani, only assumptions."

    However, the UCI is unhappy with that assessment and has lodged a protest to repeal the 13 July decision.

    Pantani was investigated after an insulin-filled syringe was found in his hotel room, although he maintained that the insulin was not his.

    Insulin, commonly used by diabetics, also aids the circulation of growth hormones, which can build muscle mass and increase endurance.

    The 32-year-old Pantani - nicknamed the Pirate for his shaven head, bandana and hooped earrings - won both the Giro and Tour in 1998.

    But he was ejected from the Giro in 1999 after failing a random blood test.

    His last major win came in the stage to French ski resort Courchevel in the 2000 Tour de France

    He quit this year's Giro and his Mercatone Uno team was not invited to compete in the Tour.


    The buck stops with the UCI. It has to grow up and take a very long hard look at itself and admit that it has to do a lot more in all aspects of its business. Hopefully when HV retires a new broom will sweep clean the organisation, but I doubt it very much.
    ambal likes this.
  4. el Ingles

    el Ingles New Member

    Oct 3, 2003
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    Re the blood data after the crash : you will be dehydrated after a long hot climb at racing speed , rehydration usually occuring on the descent but then there´s the accident ..... now his injuries could have killed him or left him without legs , ie serious with loss of blood , now start adding a saline drip / plasma to a man bleeding badly and you will not be suprised to find the blood thining :- a low red cell count or a falling count usually indicating a bleeder some where , stop that and a transfusion will stablise the condition but these figures don´t prove anything ( an unusual quantity of immature blood cells being the best guide for EPO and similar drugs ,and the Dr didn´t notice that or if he did he didn´t tell the courts about it )

    as usual inuendo and hocum not facts . remember up to 55% is not abnormal according to my cardiologist , my last test was 53,7% and I´m not on EPO .