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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

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Award the 1999 Giro d'Italia to Marco Pantani?

Marco Pantani

Marco Pantani after winning the 1998 Tour de France. Holding his arm is Felice Gimondi. Bobby Julich is in the lower right of the photo. Photo ©sirotti

Marco Pantani photo gallery

The boss of Italian retailer Mercatone Uno wants to have the 1999 Giro d'Italia victory awarded to the late Marco Pantani, who was sponsored by Mercatone Uno, and has hired an attorney to pursue this goal.

After winning both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in 1998, Pantani looked to be on track to repeat the double in 1999. He came to the Giro in scintillating condition. When the Giro hit the high mountains he was even more dominating than in 1998. At the end of the second of the three Dolomite stages Pantani had a firm grip on the lead. On the morning of the penultimate stage Pantani was ejected from the Giro after a blood test revealed he had a hematocrit above the allowed 50%.

Back then there was no test for the performance enhancing blood booster EPO. The UCI resorted to banning riders whose hematocrit (percentage of blood volume made up of red blood cells) was over 50%.

First, to gain an understanding of the situation, here is how the later stages of the Giro went:

After stage 20 of the 1999, which finished atop Madonna di Campiglio, Pantani was in pink with a 5min 38sec lead over Paolo Savoldelli.

Marco Pantani

Pantani wins at Madonna di Campiglio. Photo ©Sirotti

From The Story of The Giro d'Italia:

"The next day’s stage—number twenty one—promised only more of the same for a peloton riding under Pantani’s tyranny. Leaving from Madonna di Campiglio, where stage twenty had ended, it was to be the tappone with the Tonale, Gavia, Mortirolo, Valico di Santa Cristina and a hilltop finish at Aprica. Surely Pantani, who had so far won four stages in the Giro, would again have his way with the other riders.

"That morning in Madonna di Campiglio, Marco Pantani was awakened in his hotel room so that a blood test could be administered. His hematocrit of 52 percent resulted in his being ejected from the Giro. The effect of his squalificato was profound. The cycling world was stunned. Pantani partisans were sure that some sort of conspiracy was afoot to deny Italy’s most popular sportsman a second Giro victory. It was said that this was a giallo (yellow, an Italian idiom meaning something with dark conspiratorial undertones) case. It hit cycling fans far harder than the 1998 Festina scandal because of Pantani’s heroic image and the adoration the tifosi had for him. He had triumphed over what should have been a crippling accident and had stuck with and won the Tour de France in its deepest most troubling time. Distraught, the rest of the Mercatone Uno team packed and left the Giro as well.

"Nearly all Italians expressed disbelief that Pantani would have taken any performance enhancing drugs. Almost to a man, racers lined up to express their support for the expelled rider and a belief in the cleanliness of his bloodstream. How many of them actually believed what they were saying is difficult to know, but I suspect damn few.

"Pantani knew the night before that he was going to be subjected to a blood test in the morning. Like many pros of the era (two-thirds of the 1998 Festina squad owned battery-powered centrifuges so that they could “manage” their hematocrits) he had his own centrifuge and tested himself before going to sleep, satisfied with his 48.6 percent hematocrit. Riders who do not manipulate their blood have no need of a personal centrifuge.

"Always trying to do damage to the drug testing programs, riders and managers cynically expressed criticism over the reliability of the hematocrit test. In fact Pantani’s blood was tested twice and after it was shown to have a high hematocrit, three more tests were performed in the presence of Pantani’s team doctor and team director Giuseppe Martinelli. Averaging the five tests gave a result of 53 percent. The rules, allowing for a margin of error, require that the average be reduced a point. Thus, Pantani’s 52 percent.

"The doctors who had performed the tests on Pantani’s blood retested the samples when they returned to their hospital in Como. The Carabinieri later seized the samples and delivered them to yet another doctor for testing. The results remained unchanged. Later DNA tests were done to certify that the blood samples were indeed Pantani’s. They were.

"Pantani was distraught. When told the news he smashed out a window in his hotel room. He then quietly returned home. After a few days he held a short press conference where he forcefully asserted his complete innocence. He said that on his way home he had a blood test performed and the hematocrit reading was 48 percent, dreadfully high, but legal.

"To me the entire affair has a sense of mystery about it. We’ve seen there were standard procedures teams used to lower a rider’s hematocrit. The team knew Pantani was going to be tested in the morning. They even knew the time. Why wasn’t his hematocrit brought down before the test? The team doctor spent much of the evening and early morning before the test at a disco, which Pantani’s agent Manuela Ronchi thought strange given the importance of the coming stage. The test was administered a little after 7:30 in the morning, but the doctor, who so far has refused to discuss that day, didn’t show up until after nine (although in one statement, he said he delivered Pantani to the testers but didn’t stay while Pantani’s blood was extracted because he went to get another rider, Marco Velo). It has been asserted that without medical assistance Pantani couldn’t use the normal methods of achieving a short-term reduction in his hematocrit. Yet, on other teams, even the soigneurs knew how to put a bag of saline into a racer to get a temporary three-point reduction in a rider’s hematocrit. Willy Voet wrote it was part of pro cycling’s standard operating procedure and took about 20 minutes to do the job, which probably explains why Pantani was habitually late to his blood tests that require the rider to show up within ten minutes of being called. The conflicting accounts make it hard to understand exactly what happened that morning. But whether he didn’t think he needed help to cheat the tests, based on his previous evening’s hematocrit, or he just didn’t have a technician available, he was a goner."

Mercatoni Uno attorney Marco Baroncini has said that he is not looking to rehabilitate Pantani, because that would mean Pantani had committed an offense. He is arguing that the race should simply be taken from winner Ivan Gotti (who has said he's OK with that) and awarded to Pantani.

Baroncini said, "I can not say if it was a conspiracy of an error or other circumstances, that I am sure of is that emerging new elements which, combined with those already evaluated, showing that the decision against Marco Pantani and, as a result, the team Mercatone Uno, should be amended and revised according to the conditions and criteria outlined in this sense, art. 37 Sports Anti-Doping Rules of the cones governing the auditor's opinion."

My feeling is that if Pantani were racing clean, he would not own a centrifuge to test his blood. Athletes who do not manipulate their blood have no need of a centrifuge to test themselves. Any change in the 1999 Giro standings would have to based upon minutiae and procedure, not because Pantani was racing clean.

Marco Pantani

Marco Pantani (center, in yellow team jersey) with 2000 Giro winner and teammate Stefano Garzelli. Photo ©Sirotti

Tour of Hainan (HC), China, Final Results

The Tour of Hainan was run October 20-28

Final GC after Stage 9:

  1. Julien Antomarchi (La Pomme Marseille 13) 35hr 2min 0sec
  2. Nicolo Bonifazio (Lampre-Merida) @ 22sec
  3. Andrey Zeits (Astana) @ 25sec
  4. José Gonçalves (La Pomme-Marseille 13) @ 1min 6sec
  5. Julien EL Fares (La Pomme Marseille 13) @ 1min 10sec
  6. Alexsander Dyachenko (Astana) @ 1min 11sec
  7. Manuele Mori (Lampre-Merida) @ 1min 13sec
  8. Meiyin Wang (Hengxiang) @ 1min 26sec
  9. Nick Van der Lijke (Belkin) @ 1min 27sec
  10. Moises Duenas (Burgos-BH) s.t.

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