Spanish cycling legend Miguel Indurain has paid tribute to Marco Pantani, describing him as a "tragic genius".
The five-times Tour de France winner said Pantani, who was found dead in a hotel room in Rimini on Sunday, will be remembered as one of the greats.
"He got people hooked on the sport," Indurain told the Spanish sports paper Marca.
"There may be riders who have achieved more than him, but they never succeeded in drawing in the fans like he did."
Climbing specialist Pantani made his name in 1995 by daring to attack Indurain
in the mountain stages of the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France.
"What I liked about him was his explosive power in the
mountains - he knew how to attack, but also had the ability to sustain his form," Indurain said.
"I also admired his reserved character, his way of behaving during the race - it was something that made him different to the rest."
Pantani eventually won the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in 1998, the last rider to achieve the classic double.
But his career went into freefall when he was thrown out of the 1999 Giro for failing a blood test for haematocrit - an indicator, though not proof of the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
"It ended up complicating his whole life and he was never able to get over it. He was never the same
again," Indurain said.
Pantani was also banned in 2002 for using insulin during the previous year's Giro.
He rode in the 2003 Giro, finishing 14th,
and was later treated in a drugs and depression clinic.
Gianni Petrucci, the president of the Italian Olympic Committee, said: "I am
shocked. A great man of Italian sport has gone.
"At this time, I don't want to talk about his personal problems, only cry for
a great sporting man."
Pantani's friend Moreno Argentin, a former cyclist, said: "The last time I saw him, he was extremely bitter, a changed man.
"He was not the same person. He was another man. In the world of cycling,
some people have helped him and others haven't. "
Belgian Eddy Merckx - one of only five men along with Indurain, Lance Armstrong, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault to have won the Tour five times - blamed the Italian justice system.
"After his success in the Tour of Italy and Tour de France in
the same year Pantani certainly made mistakes - but he was targeted
by Italian justice who never let him go," said Merckx.
"I believe it was that that destroyed him."
France's Richard Virenque, who received a drugs ban in 1999 for his part in the Festina affair, said the media were also to blame.
"I'm disgusted. I knew Marco was depressed - the media have
something to answer for - they attacked a depressed man," said Virenque.
"If you've got a family around to help you you can get over the
situation, if not you can end up doing inexplicable things."