Less than two weeks before the UCI presidential election, Italian newspaper Facezia Dello Sport reports that incumbent Patrick McQuaid may be responsible for the murder of troubled climber Marco Pantani.
The Italian nicknamed the Pirate was the last rider to win the Giro-Tour double in 1998 but later plunged into cocaine abuse and died of an apparent overdose in a hotel in Rimini in 2004.
That was the official police story but now Pantani’s mother wants the police investigation re-opened. “I’ve asked for the re-opening of the investigation because I want explanations, I want answers. I want to know how he died,” said Tonina Pantani.
Pantani’s mother refused to point a finger but her message was clear. “My biggest concern is that he may have been killed. In my opinion, Marco had ruffled someone’s feathers.” It’s her belief that her son was about to expose the dirty secrets of drug use in the peloton and someone powerful wanted him muzzled. “He spoke his mind and talked about doping, that doping was a big problem.”
In a dossier compiled by two investigators and presented to the UCI Management Committee, McQuaid already stands accused of corruption, extortion, accepting bribes and the attempted cover-up of Alberto Contador’s positive dope test in 2010. Could murder also become part of the damning charges against McQuaid?
A spokesperson for the United States Anti-Doping Agency quickly responded to the disturbing news. “Our own investigations continue to show that McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen took a leadership role in creating the doping culture in cycling,” said Alice Taltale. “We would not be shocked to learn that murder was part of the program.”
While it seems inconceivable that a UCI president would resort to foul play in order to keep control of a sporting empire built on doping, Pantani’s mother is highly suspicious. “Marco wasn’t alone in the Rimini residence where he was found dead: there could have been other people with him,” she claims. “He called the police, complaining of people who were bothering him and an hour later he was found dead.”
Patrick McQuaid, a man now fighting for his own political life in a bitter election campaign against rival Brian Cookson, called the charges a “fabrication” and a “scurrilous attack.” Lawyers from the UCI have already sent Tonina Pantani a letter charging her with libel and defamation of character.
However, Michael Jokson, author of Death Of A Pirate, a book on Pantani, believes that the authorities should take these new claims seriously. “You have a corrupt UCI president who recently said Lance Armstrong has ‘no place in cycling.’ In other words, McQuaid is saying Armstrong shouldn’t exist,” said Jokson. “Maybe Pantani threatened to blow the lid off the corruption and McQuaid decided there was ‘no place’ for Pantani.”
Investigators are now attempting to ascertain McQuaid’s whereabouts on the night of Pantani’s death. Was he in Rimini, Italy and if so, how far from the La Rose hotel where Pantani was found dead? “We know the sport was rotten and corrupt from the top all the way down,” said Jokson. “The corruption, bribery, intimidation, the vast sums of money funneled into secret accounts — when you look at the whole picture, a murder wouldn’t surprise me.”
McQuaid’s rival for the UCI presidency, Brian Cookson, attempted to take the high road in what has become a bitter, acrimonious election campaign. “These are serious charges but we must respect the process,” said Cookson. “I would like to refrain from any comment until the authorities have made their investigations. I think it best if we focus on the specific initiatives I’ve proposed be bring the sport back to credibility.”
While a murder charge against McQuaid is little more than rumor and no charges have been filed, he has already received the support of the Malaysian Cycling Federation. “Who is Pantani? We have never heard of this Pantani man,” said deputy president Datuk Foolyu Mohamad. “Mr McQuaid is nice man, he buys many cocktails and make good race here in Malaysia.”
The Turkish Cycling Federation has also issued a statement that in the event of police charges against McQuaid, they will propose a back-dated amendment to UCI rules that allow McQuaid to stand for election even if he is in prison.
Jamie Fuller, marketing head at SKINS and a frequent critic of McQuaid, said this kind of rule bending won’t happen. “What the fuck, you know? When are people gonna wake up to this fucker? We have got to get rid of this guy,” said Fuller. “I don’t even care about Pantani — McQuaid’s trying to kill the entire sport.”
This latest turn of events continues what has been a shocking and damning year in professional cycling. For Tonina Pantani it’s a nightmare without end: “I’ve seen the court documents and there are things written in there which are just not true,” said Pantani’s mother.
EDITORS NOTE: Could this story really be true? Of course not. But this is the tangled and bizarre farce of professional cycling, In other words, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.