A long investigation into claims that the Mafia played a role in Marco Pantani’s disqualification from the 1999 Giro d’Italia has apparently concluded that there is evidence this did indeed happen, causing a downward spiral which eventually led to the climber’s demise.
Pantani went into the Giro as the defending champion and also the winner of the 1998 Tour de France. He was well clear with two days left, dominating the race to the summit of the Madonna di Campiglio, but a pre-stage haematocrit check the following morning determined that he was at 51.9%, far above the UCI’s threshold of 50%.
He was ejected from the event as a result, and started using cocaine. Although he returned to take two stages in the 2000 Tour de France, he consumed more and more of the drug and eventually succumbed to an overdose on February 14, 2004.
There has long been a rumour that the Camorra crime syndicate based in Naples was involved in his disqualification. In the weeks and months following the Madonna di Campiglio affair, claims emerged that the group had stood to lose huge sums of money if he won the race, and that it instead made a big financial gain once he was out of the event.
The original claims were made by convicted underworld figure Renato Vallanzasca, who said that he was told Pantani would be ejected from the race prior to it actually happening. The prosecutor in Forlì has looked into the case and now, after an extensive enquiry started on October 16 2014, Italian media states that he has indeed concluded the Mafia group was involved.
On Monday, the La Repubblica newspaper released an audio tape in which another unnamed prison detainee backed these claims.
In that recording, that detainee spoke to a female listener about the allegation. “Basically, the Camorra made Pantani lose the Giro … by changing the [doping] tests and making sure he tested positive,” said the caller. “This is something that should be known, the mother [of Pantani] should also be told.”
When asked by that female listener if the claims were true, the detainee said ‘yes’ five times.
Now, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the prosecutor has agreed with the general claim. He has reconstructed all the steps, and spoken to dozens of people; some in jail, some outside. The conclusion was that the Camorra threatened a doctor and forced him to alter the test results to put Pantani over the limit.
However the prosecutor has also asked for the case to be shelved, saying that it is outside the statute of limitations and that no criminal case can be brought.
Pantani has been linked to EPO use in other events. A French senate enquiry into the 1998 Tour de France concluded that he used EPO in the 1998 Tour de France, which he won.
However, as the UCI had no EPO test at the time, only riders with haematocrit levels over 50% were disqualified. This was done so on a health basis, and they were forced to take a two week break in competition. He could have returned to compete in the 1999 Tour de France, but did not do so.
Pantani’s mother said that the news vindicated her son.
“Finally someone has managed to some good work,” she said. “It won’t give me Marco back, but it will give him back his dignity.
“These words hurt me,” she added. “They confirm what Marco always said – ‘they cheated me’. He never accepted it.”
She and the rest of the Pantani family are reportedly considering taking action under civil and sporting law.
Italian investigators previously dismissed her claims that he had been murdered in 2004, concluding last year that there was proof that he had suffered an overdose of anti-depressant drugs, with cocaine also contributing.