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A famous cyclist taken from us too soon by his own vices, forever climbing.
The return of Pantani
Excerpt from Cycling News, Giro d'Italia: The EPO and the excess of the nineties.
Ivan Gotti won the 1997 Giro but Pantani was back to his best in 1998 and sent the tifosi crazy by throwing down his bandana and launching audacious solo attacks in the mountains. He also finished third in the final time trial to beat Tonkov by 1:33 and set up his Giro d'Italia - Tour de France double.
However Pantani's career followed an Icarus-like curve and he lost his wings during the 1999 Giro d'Italia. He had dominated every moment of the race, winning four mountain stages, but was kicked off the race after failing a haematocrit test in Madonna di Campiglio before stage 21. He went into denial, while his rivals, some of whom had haematocrit values very close but just under the 50% limit, rode on. Gotti took the race lead from Paolo Savoldelli on the Mortirolo but nobody in Italy celebrated his victory.
In 2000 Pantani made a comeback and helped Mercatone Uno teammate Stefano Garzelli beat Francesco Casagrande and win the Giro. Pantani was already fighting his demons but went on the attack on the stage to Briancon and went close to one final stage victory. He rode the Giro d'Italia in 2001 and 2003 but died of a cocaine overdose on February 14, 2004.
His career perhaps epitomised the excess, the fraud and ultimately the tragedy of the Giro d'Italia in the nineties.