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The current investigation into the death of Marco Pantani is taking place alongside another separate enquiry relating to his exclusion from the 1999 Giro d’Italia, specifically in relation to claims that the Italian’s expulsion could have been related to mafia-like activities.
A previous claim has resurfaced again in this regard; in 2007 the Italian mobster Renato Vallanzasca told Pantani’s mother Tonia that the Camorra organised crime syndicate stood to lose a lot of money if he had won the race, but would gain considerably if one of his rivals triumphed instead.
Vallanzasca was in prison in 1999 and has claimed that he was warned against betting on Pantani, being told that the rider would never make it to the finish of the race.
Pantani looked set to win the event but, two days before the finish, he was blocked from starting the penultimate stage as his haematocrit was higher than the permitted threshold of 50%.
However, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, correct protocol was not followed in that June 5 1999 test carried out at Pantani’s hotel at Campiglio, an examination which led to a haematocrit figure of 51.9%.
The Italian climber he was thrown off the race and given a two week suspension, descending into a spiral of depression and drug addiction and dying of a cocaine overdose less than five years later.
That death is being investigated by a separate court amid claims that he may have been murdered.
The Giro expulsion investigation is being led by the chief prosecutor in Forlì, Sergio Sottani. He is looking into claims that IOC protocol was violated on the day in question, with the rule declaring that the rider himself must choose the test tube to store his blood not being followed.
Instead, La Gazzetta reports that the doctor Michelangelo Partenope choose the test tube in question. He has since claimed that he didn’t know this was against protocol; UCI commissaire Antonio Coccioni, who oversaw the doping test, has reportedly admitted that the test result would have been thrown out had an appeal been launched.
However the violation was apparently not noticed at the time. Team doctor Roberto Rempi had gone to get Marco Velo, another Mercantone Uno rider due to be tested, while Coccioni was speaking with team manager Giuseppe Martinelli in the corridor. Neither saw the error and no appeal was lodged.
The test tube detail was first outlined in a 2003 trial which accused Pantani of sporting fraud, but has resurfaced again as part of the current investigation.
La Gazzetta reports that a doctor showed the tube to Pantani and said what it claims was a cryptic sentence: “You recognize this is your own, then I do not want any trouble.”
The newspaper also states that the testing doctors turned up later than usual and that the rules in place at the time meant that Pantani would not have had to give a blood sample had he eaten breakfast before that point. However it states he did not do so, apparently relaxed about the possibility of being given a blood examination.
It claims he believe his haematocrit was 47.9 percent, two points less than the threshold, and a full four points than the number that would be ascribed to him.
According to Martinelli, he was informed of the result after 15 minutes, considerably less than the normal time taken in processing a sample.
The prosecutor Sottani is due to speak to both Partenope and Coccioni in the coming days, and will presumably also grill Martinelli about his recollections.
Claims Pantani was targeted due to betting fraud:
Given Pantani’s popularity in Italy and his position as the first Italian winner of the Tour de France since 1965, the obvious question is why anyone would want to ensure he was thrown out of the race. Vallanzasca’s previously claim that he was told the rider wouldn’t reach the finish of the race has resurfaced, as has the allegation of mob involvement.
The prosecutor Sottani will speak to Vallanzasca during the current investigation.
La Gazzetta claims that Pananti’s entourage was given warnings during the race. It also states that a university professor who spoke during a TV broadcast earlier this year about how it would be possible to alter the test has received threats and was warned not to speak any further about the matter.
He reportedly told investigators about these threats several weeks ago, adding to the current investigation.
It remains to be seen if there is any truth in the new allegations, plus the claims that he was murdered rather than dying alone of a self-inflicted overdose.
The author of the superb The Death of Marco Pantani book, Matt Rendell, previously expressed his scepticism about the murder claims to CyclingTips. That interview can be read here.