Marco Pantani's 1999 Giro d'Italia expulsion is at the centre of a new investigation that opened in September in Forlì, Italy. Public prosecutor Carlo Sottani is examining if the Mafia and sporting fraud had a hand in the Italian cyclist's high haematocrit anti-doping test and dismissal while in the race leader's pink jersey.
Sottani opened his inquiry while a separate investigation into Pantani's death ongoing in Rimini, 33 miles away in the same Emilia-Romagna region.
He is focused on the point that marked Pantani's turning point and downfall. In 1999, one year after winning the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France double, the Italian climber was on his way to defend his Giro d'Italia title. He held a 5-38-minute lead with only one mountain stage left, but the morning before on June 5 in Madonna di Campiglio, testers informed him that his haematocrit tested above 50 per cent (51.9 per cent) and that he would have to leave the race.
Pantani returned to win two stages in the 2000 Tour de France, his last two wins before he faded from competition and died of a cocaine overdose on February 14, 2004.
A high haematocrit reading indicates use of blood booster EPO, which was widely abused in the 1990s and 2000s. Even with a test developed and implemented in 2000, it continues to be a problem as team Astana had two of its cyclists, brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy test positive recently.
Sottani, Pantani's parents Tonina and Paolo, and others are not convinced that 'Il Pirata' was to blame. Italian media reports that Sottani will hear from the testers, doctors and officials involved in taking blood, reading the haematocrit and using it to exclude Pantani from the Giro and the chance of a second overall win.
The Forli prosecutor will also examining the 2007 comments by Italian mobster Renato Vallanzasca regarding illegal betting and sports fixing. Vallanzasca told Tonia Pantani that the Camorra was involved. While in prison in 1999, Vallanzasca was warned against betting on Pantani's overall victory and said that he heard that Pantani would never make it to Milan for the finish.
Sottani is not ruling out a link between Madonna di Campiglio and Pantani’s death in 2004. He has reportedly been in contact with Paolo Giovagnoli, the prosecutor in Rimini who is investigating the possibility that Pantani was murdered on Valentine’s Day instead of overdosing on cocaine.
Video allegedly shows police going through the hotel room where Marco Pantani died in 2004
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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