The parents of the late cyclist Marco Pantani have warned the UCI not to attempt to strip him of the 1998 Tour de France title if, as expected, the French Senate names him later this month as one of the riders testing positive for EPO during that race.
The Senate’s report on doping, which follows an inquiry concluded earlier this year, is due, to be published on 18 July, the same day as the 100th edition of the race tackles a double ascent of the Alpe d’Huez.
It is expected to name 44 riders whose samples returned positive results for EPO when they were retested in 2004; there was no test for EPO at the time of the 1998 Tour.
Pantani won the 1998 race, which was overshadowed by the Festina scandal, adding it to the Giro d’Italia title he had taken two months earlier, a double that no rider has subsequently achieved.
The letter from Paolo and Tonina Pantani, whose son died from acute cocaine poisoning in a Rimini hotel bedroom on Valentine’s Day 2004 in circumstances that have given rise to several conspiracy theories, is clearly drafted by a lawyer, possibly in part to head off any potential damage to the Pantani bicycle brand.
In the letter, extracts of which have been published on the website of Rome-based newspaper Il Messagero, the couple directly address UCI president Pat McQuaid, Renato di Rocca, president of the Italian federation the FCI, and Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France.
“We warn against taking any action which may strip Marco of the titles won by him on the road and against tackling the issue in any official premises or through the media, because to talk of a legally untenable provision could gravely damage the image of our son,” it reads.
“As happens also in [Italian] criminal law, death interrupts any current or future proceedings against the suspect and also impact on the crime, which is declared extinct, as is likewise declared extinct the penalty should the sentence have been passed in the meantime.
“Moreover, in sports law which is derived from the general principles of ordinary law in cases not expressly sanctioned, the accused’s rights to defence must be absolutely guaranteed in their entirety, without possibility of proxy.
“In all civilised countries the norms which govern the ascertation of relevant legal facts presuppose the safeguarding of the fundamental and inviolable right of defence. The same principle underpins the sporting regulatory norms which repeatedly and clearly provide the accused with a series of rights aimed at establishing the truth that can only arise from the cross-examination and the exercise of defensive guarantees.
“In our case we maintain that it is ignoble and above all unlawful to talk of inquiries and even of sanctions against a person who unfortunately cannot any longer defend himself nor instruct persons to can defend him.
“We however, for the love that ties us to him and for the feeling of justice that still informs us, do not intend to abdicate our duty to defend his image and his name.
“And it is for this reason that officially request that he not be spoken of as any other athlete still living, and it is also for this reason that we officially warn against undertaking any unlawful action that, being against the most fundamental rules of law, would blacken his name.”
Pantani never tested positive for doping during his career, although he was expelled from the 1999 Giro d’Italia while leading the race after a blood test revealed a haematocrit level of 52 per cent compared to the 50 per cent permitted maximum. He received a two-week suspension from racing.
He would never regain those heights he scaled in 1998, and eventually fell into depression and drug and alcohol addiction before his death at the age of 34.
The question of whether Pantani would actually be stripped of the 1998 Tour de France title if he were indeed revealed to have tested positive for EPO is a moot one.
An eight-year statute of limitations applies under the provisions of the World Anti-Doping Code, but that was not in force at the time.
Lance Armstrong was stripped of the seven consecutive Tour de France titles he won from 1999 onwards, with the United States Anti-Doping Agency treating the period from 1998 to his eventual retirement in 2011 as part of one continuous conspiracy, meaning that in its view the statute of limitations did not apply.
While the UCI contested USADA’s finding that Armstrong took drugs after returning from retirement in 2009, it did not formally challenge the decision through the Court of Arbitration for Sport; nor did the World Anti-Doping agency.
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.