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1998 Tour de France

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Drugs overshadow race

Pantani: This was the cleanest tour in years

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Posted: Tuesday September 22, 1998 04:19 PM

  Marco Pantani won the Tour de France for the first time AP

PARIS (CNN/SI) -- Marco Pantani's first Tour de France victory came amid a drug scandal that tended to overshadow the actual race and his momentous achievement, the rare double of the Giro d'Italia and tour at points.

Ironically, Pantini said this year's tour was the cleanest race in years.

"The fear of police has without any doubt made this tour cleaner," said the 28-year-old Pantani, the first Italian in 33 years to win the tour.

"Il Pirata," who became the first genuine climber to win the race since Belgian Lucien van Impe in 1976, said the doping scandals surrounding this year's tour made competing more difficult and his victory even sweeter.

"It was very special psychologically and nervously because we suffered from this situation. No sport can be compared with this as we lived three weeks of intense competition with, on top of it, doping problems and police threats," he said.

Pantani, wearing his trademark bandanna, dyed his goatee beard yellow to match his leaders jersey before Sundays finish in Paris.

"I'm not like the other riders in the world of cycling but I've managed to settle in. I go out, I do what young men of my age do and that's my way to be a cyclist," he said.

"[Team director Giuseppe] Martinelli has sometimes struggled to understand me and my father gets mad because I won't go to bed early but I need this freedom," said Pantani, who enjoys playing his guitar in bars around his home town of Cesenatico during the off-season.

Pantani, stands out from the rest of the bunch as did Felice Gimondi, the last Italian tour winner 33 years ago, and Fausto Coppi, the last Italian to win both the Giro and Tour de France in 1952.

Oddly enough, Pantani, Gimondi and Coppi in a way owe their tour victories to the same man, Luciano Pezzi, who died last month.

Pezzi was a close teammate of Coppi's in 1952 and was director of Gimondi's team in 1965.

He was also the man who, as the boss of the Mercatone Uno team, offered Pantani a three-year contract when it was not even certain the Italian could resume riding after a terrible crash.

"I must say that Luciano Pezzi, who has left us, had this victory in his heart, it was a dream for him. He told me I had what it took to win the tour," Pantani said.

"He gave me a lot of experience. When I thought about his funeral, I really wanted to do something for him," he said.

"Il Pirata" earned a new nickname during the tour, Pinocchio, because he had told the Italian press he did not want to enter the tour because he was not in great shape.

"In the 20 days of a stage race, you go through ups and downs. In the first week of the tour, I really did not think I could win but deep inside there was an open window with a light of hope coming through it," he said.

"I suffered a lot in the Giro for it was my main goal of the season. I was more relaxed and more intelligent in the tour," he added.

"I shot three arrows in the three mountain stages. The Galibier was the key to my victory. It was an exceptional day, a great performance which changed everything," he said about his victory in the 15th stage which sank last year's winner Jan Ullrich.

Now that he has won the two most prestigious cycling events, Pantani says he wants to try something different.

"The great thing about life is to have goals. I have reached a physical maturity so, as from next year, I shall try something different, a world championship, a Vuelta to find new motivation," he said.

 

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Reuters contributed to this report.