Cyclist Pantani Dead at 34
On Sunday, Italy mourned [Marco] Pantani, 34, as a tragic “lost hero.” Pantani — the last cyclist other than Lance Armstrong to win the Tour de France — was found dead Saturday night in a hotel room in the Adriatic resort city of Rimini.
While several bottles of medicine and tranquilizers were found in the room, prosecutors ruled out suicide pending an autopsy scheduled for Monday. The coroner who examined Pantani initially said cardiac arrest was the probable cause, news reports said.
Italy is essentially a single-sport nation, with soccer headlines dominating the country’s mass circulation sports newspapers. Personable champions who emerge in other sports, however, often gain a mythical status.
Pantani was one such athlete. He became Italy’s most popular cyclist, especially after he won cycling’s two greatest races — the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France — in the same year, 1998. The last Italian to accomplish the feat was Fausto Coppi in 1952.
Pantani’s popularity in Italy rivaled that of skier Alberto Tomba and Ferrari’s Formula One team. Moreover, in a country of weekend cycling warriors, Pantani plied a craft that millions of average athletes could try themselves.
And Pantani held onto that superstar status even after he was bedeviled by doping accusations and suspensions in recent seasons — accusations he denied.
Armstrong, who began his run of five straight Tour victories in 1999 and battled Pantani in the 2000 edition, said in a statement Sunday he had deep respect for Pantani “regardless of our battles on/off the bike.”
Bizarre. And a shame.