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By VeloNews Interactive Wire Services, Copyright AFP 2001
Italy’s Marco Pantani and Germany’s Jan Ullrich are the two stars in the field as the 84th running of the Giro d’Italia gets underway in Pescara on Saturday. But while Pantani and Ullrich’s pedigree is beyond reproach it would be a surprise if either was to cross the line wearing the leader’s pink jersey on June 10.
Pantani, assailed by legal and health problems, has had a miserable campaign so far while Ullrich insists he is only using the Giro as a stepping stone for the one race that is more important in the cycling calendar, the Tour de France.
Pantani has not been invited to the French event — a decision that has infuriated many and not just in Italy. “I don’t want to think about it any more,” was Pantani’s terse reply when asked about his Tour de France exclusion Wednesday.
The Giro represents both the highs and lows of the Italian icon’s career.
In 1998 he won this race and then followed suit by winning the Tour de France – he is one of only six men to do the double of cycling’s two most grueling events. But after that magic peak the next year the accomplished climber hit the depths. Wearing the pink jersey and seemingly assured of victory he was evicted at the Alpine ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio before the start of the penultimate stage.
His blood test before the final stage gave a reading above the UCI standard – seen as an indicator that a rider has taken the banned substance EPO — and is involved in a court case related to that event.
He has already been convicted and sentenced to a suspended three-month prison term in another doping-related matter.
Last year he achieved partial redemption by rejoining his Mercatone Uno team-mates for the 2000 running and playing a part in helping Stefano Garzelli — who had been Pantani’s right-hand man — clinch victory in the millennium running.
Garzelli, now of the Mapei team, is very much a candidate to retain his crown.
Pantani’s performances so far this season do not augur well for this year’s race.
Ullrich, who rides for German Telekom squad, has had a somewhat less stressful year. The 1998 Tour de France champion has also won the Tour of Spain so victory in the Giro would complete a memorable set for the product of the old East German sports system.
But speaking in Germany’s former capital Bonn last week he said he was not banking on victory. “There will be no duel between Ullrich and Pantani or someone else,” said the rider whose team are participating in the Giro for the first time since 1995.
This year the race takes a detour to Slovenia while the 55.5km time trial around the shore of Lake Garda – the 15th stage – could be a crucial moment.
As usual the race has a theme. Last year’s began in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican City as the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the transition to the third millennium of the Christian faith. This year’s will finish in Milan in homage to Italy’s most famous composer Giuseppe Verdi who died a 100 years ago within yards of the La Scala Opera House with which he is closely associated. Copyright AFP 2001
84th Giro d’Italia 3577.1km
May 19: prologue Montesilvano Marina to Pescara, 7.6km (individual time trial)
May 20: 1st stage Giulianova to Francavilla al Mare, 202km
May 21: 2nd stage Fossacesia to Lucera, 167km
May 22: 3rd stage Lucera to Potenza, 149km
May 23: 4th stage Potenza to Montevergine di Mercogliano, 169km
May 24: 5th stage Avellino to Nettuno, 229km
May 25: 6th stage Nettuno to Rieti, 150km
May 26: 7th stage Rieti to Montevarchi, 239km
May 27: 8th stage Montecatini Terme to Reggio Emilia, 185km
May 28: 9th stage Reggio Emilia to Rovigo, 142km
May 29: 10th stage Lido Jesolo to Ljubljana (Slovenia), 212km
May 30: 11th stage Bled (Slovenia) to Gorizia, 187km
May 31: 12th stage Gradisca to Montebelluna, 139km
June 1: 13th stage Montebelluna to Passo Pordoi, 225km
June 2: 14th stage Cavalese to Arco, 163km
June 3: 15th stage Sirmione to Salo, 55.5km (individual timetrial)
June 4: 16th stage Erbusco to Parma, 142km
June 5: rest day
June 6: 17th stage San Remo to San Remo, 119km
June 7: 18th stage Imperia to Sant’Anna di Vinadio, 230km
June 8: 19th stage Alba to Busto Arsizio, 163km
June 9: 20th stage Busto Arsizio to Arona, 181km
June 10: 21st stage Arona to Milan, 121km