Italian sport is in shock following the death of legendary cyclist Marco Pantani.
The 34-year-old, who earned a place in the record books in 1998 when he became one of a select band of riders to win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year, was found dead in Rimini on Saturday.
A cause of death has not been determined yet but medicines were found near his bed. A post-mortem is to be carried out on Monday.
Gianni Petrucci, the president of the Italian Olympic Committee, said: “I am shocked. A great man of Italian sport has gone.
“I had several talks with him after Campiglio and I have spoken with him several times since that episode when he was already depressed.”
Madonna di Campiglio is where Pantani failed a blood test during the 1999 Giro d’Italia. He was leading the race at the time and was thrown out of the event.
Pantani also served a six-month suspension after a syringe was found in his room in 2001 although he was only one of many cyclists involved in that scandal.
He protested in vain that the syringe had been planted and that he had not been using the room.
Pantani was treated in a clinic that specialises in dealing with depression.
“At this time, I don’t want to talk about his personal problems, only cry for a great sporting man,” Petrucci added.
Friends, colleagues and rivals want to mourn for Pantani and not focus on the controversies which tarnished the end of his career.
“It’s something shocking that it doesn’t seem real,” said Franco Ballerini, the Italian national cycling team coach.
“With Marco, I’ve never had much contact because it was difficult to speak to him. Whenever I wanted news on Marco, I would call his friends or the president of Cesnatico (Pantani’s team). I haven’t got any words. It’s impossible to find words.”
Mario Cipollini, the veteran sprint star who was a close friend of Pantani, said: “I’m extremely sorry. I am shocked. This is a tragedy. When things like this happens, you are lost for words.”
Moreno Argentin, a former cyclist and a friend of Pantani, 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. And like that, sometimes he was there in the sport and other times he would retire.”
Pantani was nicknamed ’Il pirata’ (The Pirate) because he feared no-one on the bike.
Among his rivals to have expressed sadness is Fernando Escartin.
“I’m feeling terrible,” Escartin said. “The only thing that comes into my head is Chava (Chava Jimenez) because I guess that this would have been under the same circumstances.”
Chava was a promising Spanish rider who died last year of a drug overdose after a bout with depression.
Escartin added: “Cycling is very hard. You spend a lot of time away from home, alone. And when you retire, your life changes is a very important way.