Work in Sports
'The Pirate' ponders
Drop-out Pantani says he's content with performance
ROME (CNNSI.com) -- Marco Pantani had almost everything in the 2000 Tour de France. Everything, of course, except an arrival at the finish line in Paris.
There was a slow start, a mid-race comeback, a verbal feud with the leader, one memorable stage victory and another he'd rather forget.
Italian newspapers featured an array of Pantani photographs and remarks after the 30-year-old dropped out of the Tour on July 18. His withdrawal was blamed on intestinal problems, although some riders speculated Pantani's bow-out was related to a poor showing in the final mountain stage.
"I'm returning to Italy convinced that I ran a good race. I returned to being a key player," Pantani said in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I showed that I am able to win big mountain stages and next year I will return to retake the yellow jersey."
The smooth-scalped cyclist said his focus has now turned to the Olympics. Italian coach Antonio Fusi indicated Pantani is likely to earn a spot on the Azzurri squad.
"Someone like him -- strong, motivated and in shape -- will always do well," Fusi said.
Pantani, who won the 1998 Tour, had struggled this year following a doping scandal that saw him thrown out of the 1999 Giro d'Italia.
Pantani fell out of contention in this year's Tour by finishing in 38th place in Stage 16. He fell from sixth to 14th in the standings, more than 20 minutes behind leader Lance Armstrong.
He withdrew on the morning of July 19, saying stomach problems had hurt his performance and affected his sleep.
Pantani and Armstrong traded barbs following Stage 12 to Mount Ventoux, where the American handed victory to the Italian at the finish line.
Pantani later earned some revenge for what he said was Armstrong's disrespect in giving him the stage as a "gift." The Italian battled to win Stage 15 on July 16, a 173.5-kilometer Alpine ride from Briancon to Courchevel.
Pantani tried to heal the rift with Armstrong a July 20 interview, calling the American "the strongest of all racers."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.