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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 February, 2004, 10:17 GMT
Indurain mourns Pantani
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."

For champions it is too easy to go from being loved and exalted to being hated. Pantani found himself alone at the precise moment that he was in the most need
Former Italian ski champion Alberto Tomba

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.

The last time I saw him, he was extremely bitter, a changed man
Moreno Argentin, friend of Marco Pantani

"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. "

The media have something to answer for - they attacked a depressed man
Richard Virenque

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."




SEE ALSO
Tour chiefs want longer bans
29 Jan 04  |  Cycling
Pantani cleared of fraud
02 Oct 03  |  Cycling
Pantani back after ban
25 Mar 03  |  Cycling
UCI wants Pantani ban re-instated
20 Aug 02  |  Cycling
Pantani not picked for Tour
02 May 02  |  Cycling
Pantani launches Armstrong attack
18 Feb 02  |  Other Sports
Police raid Giro teams' hotels
06 Jun 01  |  Other Sports
Battle against drug peddlers continues
15 Feb 04  |  Tour de France
1996-2002: Doping and the great recovery
24 Jun 03  |  Tour History
Virenque 'did not supply drugs'
06 Nov 00  |  Other Sports


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