Evian-les-Bains, France, July 19 2000 – The 1998 Tour de France
and Tour of Italy champion Marco Pantani revealed this morning that was forced to
pull out of the Tour de France because he was so weakened by the nasty dose of dysentery
that affected him yesterday.
Pantani also took the opportunity to mend his fences with current race leader Lance
Armstrong, whom he had accused of disrespect when the American said he had allowed
the Italian to win last week’s stage to the climber’s paradise of Mount Ventoux.
The 30-year-old, who had regained his self-respect with two stage wins in this year’s
race following the humiliation of failing a blood test on the penultimate day of
last year’s Tour of Italy, admitted that he had no energy left.
"There is no way I can carry on. I am completely empty," he said.
"I don’t know what caused it, it could have been a cold drink I suppose. The
symptoms were not very pleasant but my stomach blew up and then I went down with
dysentery," he added.
Pantani had started suffering during the 16th stage of the race from Courchevel to
Morzine, which was won by controversial French rider Richard Virenque.
His Mercatone Uno team doctor diagnosed that he was suffering from dysentery and
advised him not to leave on the 17th stage Wednesday to Evian-les-Bains.
Pantani set off on a flashy but foolhardy 80km escape early in Tuesday’s stage. Obviously
angered by race leader Lance Armstrong’s remarks that he let him win last Thursday’s
stage to Mount Ventoux, he had looked back to his best when he came home alone to
win Sunday’s 173.5km Alpine ride from Briancon to Courchevel.
However, despite their disagreement, Pantani paid a handsome tribute to the 28-year-old
"I think he dishonoured my win in Mount Ventoux but nevertheless he will be
a worthy winner and I think it is going to be very hard to find another rider who
is as strong as him in the years to come," he said.
The shiny-domed Italian has taken part in the Tour de France five times since 1994
but has never before been forced to drop out. However, he refused to admit that his
effort early in Tuesday’s stage had been a waste of time.
"Some people will say I am crazy but I had to do it as I knew I wasn’t feeling
well and if I had to retire I wanted to do it with my head held high and having provoked
a real racing stage," he said.
The charismatic Italian, who faces a court appearance in October on charges of sporting
fraud where it is alleged he used banned substances in the 1995 Milan-Turin race,
said that his superb performances in the Tour had regenerated his career.
"My two great victories have completely changed my mindset and made me want
to be the best again," said Pantani, who had considered retiring after his ignominious
last 12 months.
"Now I have rebuilt my rapport with my teammates and that makes me optimistic
for the future," he added.
Pantani, who said he may well participate in the Olympic Games in Sydney in September,
was in 14th place in the overall standings, 20min 46sec behind Armstrong.