Italy's highest court overturns 2008 conviction; "a disgrace," says Tour and Giro winner's mother...

Fabio Carlino, the man jailed nearly three years ago for allegedly supplying the cocaine that killed Tour de France and Giro d’Italia champion Marco Pantani, has had his sentence overturned by Italy’s highest court. The late cyclist’s mother, however, condemned today’s verdict as “a disgrace.”

Pantani, who in 1998 became the last man to win both those races in the same season, died alone in a hotel room in the seaside resort of Rimini on Italy’s Adriatic coast on 14 February 2004. He was aged 34.

A coroner’s inquest in the cyclist’s home town of Cesenatico established that he had died from acute cocaine poisoning.

In January 2008 Carlino was convicted of having supplied Pantani with the highly pure cocaine that killed him, acting in conspiracy with Fabio Miradossa and Ciro Veneruso.

Carlino was sentenced to 4 years 6 months in prison, as well as being fined €19,000 and being ordered to pay Pantani’s family compensation of €300,000. That sentence was upheld on appeal 12 months ago.

Yesterday, however, the Court of Cassation’s acting Prosecutor General, Oscar Cedrangolo, said that their were doubts over the original verdict and the appeal court decision upholding it, reports the Gazzetta dello Sport.

Mr Cedrangolo said he “had the impression that the exaggerated media publicity surrounding Mr. Pantani's death led the judges to an excessive attribution of responsibility” to the defendants.

As a result, he asked the part of Carlino’s conviction relating to the charge of homicide as a result of the carrying out of another crime to be set aside, although he requested that a separate conviction for selling illegal drugs be upheld.

The Court of Cassation, however, today overturned both verdicts, setting Carlino free because in its opinion no crime had been committed.

The Gazzetta dello Sport quoted a source within the law firm that represented Carlino as saying: “With this decision, acquitting Fabio Carlino on all charges, the Court of Cassation has shown that it is completely detached from the waves of emotion that often overtake judges of first instance, and has handed down a more balanced ruling which concludes the sad business of Marco Pantani's death.”

Carlino, former owner of an agency supplying models for promotional work in Rimini, said: “It's the end of a nightmare."

Pantani’s family, however, condemned today’s verdict, with his mother Tonina Belletti claiming: "It's a disgrace, there's no justice; in fact yet another injustice has been done, what happened is beyond belief.

“There's no justice here, in Italy you can ruin people and then get away with it. We were sure of winning, but I'm not giving up.

“There are things about the whole business that defy explanation, and there's a tremendous sadness in my heart.”

The cyclist’s father, Paolo, hinted that he believed the true facts behind his son’s death were the subject of a cover-up.

“First they destroyed Marco and now they want to destroy us too,” he insisted. “It's obvious that behind this tragedy there's something murky. Things like this shouldn't happen.

“Everyone knows what really happened, everyone knows who's responsible for our son's death, but we can't get justice. In this country a lot of things are wrong, and our case is one of them.

“But I'm not letting go, Marco's there to help us,” he maintained. “He's giving us strength, from up there.”

The events leading up to the solitary demise of the rider nicknamed Il Pirata on that St Valentine’s Day evening nearly eight years ago were examoined in writer and broadcaster Matt Rendell’s 2006 book, The Death of Marco Pantani. A speculative account has also been published in comic  book form.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.