Marco Pantani, the Italian enigma, will finish his suspension on April 17 2003, and is still talking a great race in spite of all the setbacks he has endured over the last couple of years.
Absent from Milan last Saturday, for the presentation of the 86th Italy Turn (or possibly not invited by the organizers?), Marco Pantani was in Greece, touring in a mobile home in company of his parents, when he discovered the route of the Giro. But after the numerous setbacks met by the Pirate in recent years, is it conceivable that he can compete with the favourites in the Grand tours anymore, Pantani answers “yes” without hesitating. “But don’t ask if I can win it! Then I hope to do the Tour de France where with the kilometres gained from the Giro I will be in a good position to attack 'Robocop' Lance Armstrong."
In spite of the suspension which continues until April 17 2003 (suspension that dates back to the Giro 2001 when the Carabinieri found, in his Sanremo hotel room, a syringe with insulin traces), l'Elefantino seems to have rediscovered a steel morale. “That is true. For several months after my withdrawal from the Giro and all that happened afterwards I was totally sickened. For nearly 6 months I did not ride a bicycle, I tried once but after 5 kilometers I felt sick and returned to my home... But now I feel completely motivated again.”
Always protected by Dottore Cenni, the Mercatone Uno boss, Marco Pantani still has hopes (although now looking unlikely) of teaming up with Mario Cipollini, and more intriguingly, Jan Ullrich! "With Cipo, I hope that the decision will be made very quickly. I have a lot of respect for Vincenzo Santoni, the team manager of Acqua & Sapone, but I would like Mario to ask me personally to become his team mate in 2003. As for Ullrich, he has had a bad year like myself. What a pity that I am not fluent in German! But it might be no joking matter if Jan and I could unite our efforts to try and dislodge Armstrong from the Grand Boucle, that would be an excellent thing!"
The former double winner of the Giro and Tour de France, will need a huge physical and psychological effort to return to his former glories. “I have suffered some terrible years in the past, people have been out to crucify me and, I am not Jesus Christ. I have suffered mentally , but now I am determined to rediscover my best physical form; it is as if I am starting from zero - but the challenge of Armstrong in the Tour motivates me!”
As Bob Dylan once sang - “Time will tell who has fell and who's been left behind” - Marco Pantani is always interesting!