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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK
Pantani eyes Bianchi switch
Pantani won the Tour de France in 1998
Pantani will have to move teams to find a ride for the 2003 Tour de France
Marco Pantani may leave his Mercatone Uno team to join the Bianchi outfit in order to take part in the 2003 Tour de France.

Mercatone Uno will not be taking part in the race because of their low ranking so Pantani, the 1998 Tour de France winner, will have to look elsewhere if he wants to challenge.

The four wildcard spots in the 22-team line-up have all been handed to French teams leaving no room for either Pantani or current world champion Mario Cipollini.

"I'd love to ride the Tour de France again," said Pantani.

"It would be an honour for me and I'd like to see what I can do against (reigning champion) Lance Armstrong.

"My team haven't been invited and so the only way of riding is by joining another team.

"I've never had any problems with (Bianchi rider) Jan Ullrich, I've close ties with Bianchi and my current team is not against the move.

"I could ride the Tour with Bianchi."

The Italian was riding a Bianchi bike when he won the Tour, for Mercatone Uno, in 1998.

I would be a threat to Armstrong
Marco Pantani
Germany's Ullrich, another former Tour de France winner, moved to the Bianchi team after Team Coast had its licence withdrawn.

Pantani said he would meet his sponsors after the end of the Giro d'Italia on Sunday to see whether the move would be possible.

"I'm always looking for the motivation to keep racing and the Tour would be perfect. It would also show I'm serious about racing again which should get Armstrong worried," he said.

"Last year I didn't deserve a place because I wasn't riding well but this year things are different - I'm competitive and would be a threat to Armstrong."

Meanwhile, Giro d'Italia leader Gilberto Simoni was among 32 cyclists to undergo random blood tests on Tuesday.

Giro organisers later confirmed all tests were negative.

Those tested included Simoni of the Saeco team, second-place Stefano Garzelli of Vini Caldirola, plus members of the Lampre, Panaria and Tenax teams.

Blood tests were performed by doctors of the International Cycling Union (UIC) who had already tested all Giro starters on the eve of the 21-leg race on 9 May.

Italy's Simoni was suspended from the race last year after traces of cocaine appeared in two separate drug tests.




GIRO D'ITALIA 2003

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