The worldwide cycling community will await the results of today’s post-mortem following the sudden death of the great Italian Marco Pantani.
Pantani, who was just 34, 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.
He was found dead in a hotel room in the Italian holiday resort of Rimini on Saturday evening.
Although a cause of death has not been determined, prosecutor Paolo Gengarelli reportedly excluded suicide.
Medicines and notes from Pantani were found near his bed, and an autopsy is to be carried out later today.
Five-times Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain mourned the loss of Pantani, saying that the man nicknamed ‘il Pirata’ (the pirate) because of his penchant for wearing bandanas and earrings had attracted numerous fans to the sport.
“He made people so interested in the sport,” Indurain told the Spanish sports newspaper Marca.
“There may be riders who have achieved more than him, but they never managed to bring in the fans in the same way.”
Belgian legend Eddy Merckx, one of the greatest riders of all time, highlighted the loneliness that cyclists can feel when their careers are finished.
“He certainly made some errors ... it’s very sad,” Merckx told Belgian TV network RTBF.
“When the career is over, we can feel very sad. You are left to your own devices.”
Meanwhile, Jean-Marie Leblanc, the Tour de France director, paid tribute to Pantani’s ability in the mountains.
“He marked the history of cycling by being the last great climber of the generations of climbers that we have know over the past 10 years,” he told French radio station France Info.
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. He was prosecuted for sporting fraud, but later cleared on appeal.
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, and again was later cleared due to a lack of evidence.
Pantani was treated in a clinic which specialises in dealing with depression during 2003.
“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.
“It’s something shocking that doesn’t seem real,” said Franco Ballerini, the Italian national team coach.
“With Marco, I have 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 Cesenatico (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 am 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.”