Fifteen years after the death of Marco Pantani, his mother Tonina has again called for the investigation into his death to be reopened after suggestions that Pantani may have died after being forced to drink water containing a huge quantity of cocaine rather than via a self-administered overdose.
Pantani died on February 14, 2004, after barricading himself in a hotel room in Rimini under the effects of cocaine and anti-depressants. The winner of the 1998 Giro d'Italia and Tour de France suffered greatly with substance abuse and mental health-related problems following his disqualification from the 1999 Giro d'Italia due to a high blood haematocrit.
Pantani's mother has always defended her son's honour while admitting that he may have used blood-boosting EPO during his career. Tonina hired high-profile Italian lawyer Antonio De Rensis to investigate all the circumstances of Pantani's death and managed to spark a new investigation in 2014 that was fuelled by media reports in Italy that played on the heartstrings of Pantani's enduring popularity among the tifosi.
Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation dismissed a final appeal in September 2017, but that has not deterred Tonina Pantani.
"I knew my son very well. Right from the start, I said: 'They've killed him,'" Tonina told La Gazzetta dello Sport, as Italy again prepared to mourn the loss of one of its biggest sporting heroes.
"I'm more convinced about it than ever before. My battle for the truth continues and I hope they reopen the investigation."
On Tuesday evening, the popular Le Iene television programme again cast doubt on Pantani's death and the police investigation that followed. They spoke to one of the drug dealers involved, to a prostitute who allegedly spent the night with Pantani in the final days of his life, to the ambulance team that discovered Pantani's body and to the owner of the Le Rose hotel where Pantani died, about his final movements.
They suggested the crime scene was contaminated by several people entering the room and raised questions about key details of the investigation. They again highlighted doubts about a ball of cocaine that was found next to Pantani's body, suggesting his body had been moved, and spoke to a hotel receptionist who claimed Pantani had slept in a different hotel just 24 hours before his death.
The Le Iene show showed several gruesome photographs of Pantani's body, suggesting the numerous heads wounds could have been caused by a fight rather than a simple fall. They claimed that fingerprints had not been taken and suggested that the high level of cocaine found in Pantani's body could have been caused by him being forced to drink water containing the drug.
"The official reality is very distant from what many witnesses have said – witnesses who don't know each other. We're going to take the video to the Rimini police and ask that they open the investigation again," De Rensis told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
The original head of the Rimini police, Paolo Giovagnoli, responded line by line to De Rensis' doubts in 2014, with judge Vincio Cantarini confirming that Pantani was killed by "serious acute heart failure, a toxicological effect caused by [the anti-depressants] trimipramine and venlafaxine, and cocaine".
Cantarini added that the last months of Pantani's life had been characterised by "a compulsive and increasing use of cocaine". He dismissed claims that Pantani was murdered as "a fantastical hypothesis, mere conjecture".
However, as La Gazzetta dello Sport pointed out, Giovagnoli has been replaced by a new head of police.