A high haematocrit anti-doping test excluded the late Italian cyclist while in the race leader’s pink jersey. The medics reject claims of foul play and told La Provinca newspaper in Como, “We did everything according to the rules.”
Forlì public prosecutor, Sergio Sottani opened the sports fixing case this summer to examine if Pantani was unfairly booted out of the 1999 Giro d’Italia with two days to go and while in the overall lead. Sottani already called in several people, including career criminal Renato Vallanzasca who said that he was warned against betting on Pantani and the fellow prisoner, called Mister X by Italian media, who allegedly told Vallanzasca, “Anyway, that bald-headed rider won’t make it to Milan.”
Pantani held a healthy lead two days before the race was due to finish in Milan. At the end of the Madonna di Campiglio stage on June 4, he had 5-38 minutes on Paolo Savoldelli and 6-12 on Ivan Gotti.
However, the three medics headed by UCI official Antonio Coccioni, carried out tests the next morning and Pantani’s haematocrit read 51.9%, above the 50% limit and an indication of EPO use. The result forced him out of the race. In Milan, Gotti won that year’s race by 3-35 over Savoldelli.
Doctors from the Sant’Anna Hospital in Como – Eugenio Sala, Michelarcangelo Partenope and Mario Spinelli – performed the haematocrit test. Spinelli has since retired, but Sala and Partenope continue to work at Sant’Anna.
“The [testing] machine used was the one required by the UCI,” Sala and Partenope told La Provinca. “We took the results to the sports director, Giuseppe Martinielli, and the team’s doctor, Roberto Rempi… The reading was above the limit and meant that the cyclist had to stop.
“On the same afternoon, the police seized our equipment. We were under investigation for aggravated fraud, but then an expert opinion confirmed the validity and fairness of our work.”
According to rumours, the doctors carried Pantani’s blood samples in the pockets of their jackets.
“We entered Pantani’s room that morning, withdrew 2.7cc of blood and put it in a bag that was used to carry samples, as the rules required,” they said.
“We’ve worked at the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España, the World Championships. In 1999, our team already tested Pantani at the start in Agrigento and then a second time midway through the Giro.”
Pantani returned to race the Tour de France in 2000 and won two stages. He career, however, slowly unravelled in the following years, partly due to cocaine abuse.
He died of a cocaine overdose on February 14, 2004. A Rimini public prosecutor is examining a possible murder theory in a separate ongoing case.
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