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BBC Sport's Simon Brotherton
"Armstrong rode into Paris victorious"
 real 14k

Monday, 30 July, 2001, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
'Pirate' poised for return
Marco Pantani
Italy's Pantani faces uphill battle after doping scandal
Italian cyclist Marco Pantani will make his return to racing this weekend at the Tour of Castile and Leon in Spain.

Pantani's return was announced on Monday by the organisers of the race, which starts on 5 August.

Pantani, the 1998 Tour de France winner, missed out on challenging Lance Armstrong in this year's event after the Italian's Mercatone Uno team were not invited to the race.

The Italian - nicknamed the "The Pirate" because of his shaven head, goatee beard and earrings - was last in competitive action in the Giro d'Italia back in June.

Dogged by scandal

Pantani, who won the Giro in 1998, dropped out on the 18th stage of this year's race suffering from influenza.

His never-say-die riding style - Pantani excels in the mountain stages - has made him the idol of Italian cycling fans.

Since that double triumph three years ago, the Italian has been dogged by doping scandals.

He was ejected from the 1999 Giro for having been found to have an excessive red blood cell count, a symptom often related to doping offences.

Hotels raided

Last year Pantani was also given a three-month suspended sentence by an Italian court for doping offences.

This year's Giro was held up for a day after drug squad officials raided team hotels searching for illegal drugs.

Italy's Dario Frigo, in second place at the time of the raid, was thrown out of the three-week event by his Fassa Bortolo team after drugs were found in his hotel room.

Italian media have reported that 86 people have been placed under investigation following the raid. Pantani is not one of them.

See also:

29 Jul 01 |  Tour de France
Armstrong lands Tour hat-trick
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