Hundreds of people have gathered in the Italian town of Cesenatico, birthplace of Marco Pantani, in memory of the tragic death of "the pirate" on February 14, 2004. Pantani's body had been found lifeless in a hotel room in Rimini one year ago. In remembrance of the cycling legend, a church service was held on the eve of the anniversary of his death, attended by numerous tifosi but also close friends and members of the general public.
Pantani's death has stirred up the cycling community in Italy, giving rise to several conspiracy theories. In a recent biography of the Tour de France winner by John Wilcockson, Christina Jonsson, Pantani's girlfriend for several years, claims that Pantani's exclusion of the Giro d'Italia in 1999 [because of a positive doping test involving a hematocrit value of 52 - ed.] had been planned by an Italian betting mafia.
"Marco Velo, still riding professionally for Fassa Bortolo, stated after Pantani's death that there had been rumours of Marco's exclusion even one day before the blood test. You know that very high bets are placed on the main contenders in Italy," Jonsson is quoted in an interview in the book.