Pantani wanted to join CSC in 2002, Riis ponders if he could have saved him
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pantani wanted to join CSC in 2002, Riis ponders if he could have saved him

by Conal Andrews at 8:10 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Sastre tried to rejoin team for 2011

Bjarne RiisSaxo Bank owner Bjarne Riis has already spoken about his own pharmaceutical use in the sport, but was left pondering if he could have saved someone else from a different chemical dependence which cost him his life.

The talented, but ultimately tragic, Italian climber Marco Pantani reached out to Riis a couple of years before his death, seeking to switch to his team in 2002.

“I wonder if I could have changed anything in his life if he had come to race with our team?” Riis asks in his recently-published autobiography, according to “I wonder if I could have got him on an even keel and therefore avoided that it ended like that?”

Pantani won the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in 1998, becoming the most last rider to do the double. He looked set to dominate the sport but his career disintegrated after exceeding the 50% hematocrit limit in the 1999 Giro. He took refuge in cocaine, developing an ever-increasing addiction to it. The Italian died of an overdose on Valentine’s Day, 2004.

As Riis mentions, there will always be questions about whether a change in teams might have helped Pantani turn things around.

More recently, Carlos Sastre approached Riis to ask if he could return to the team. He left Saxo Bank at the end of 2008, having won the Tour de France. The Spaniard moved to the Cervélo Test Team, which unexpectedly announced it would not continue past the end of the season.

With things not working out at Cervélo, Sastre was looking for a new squad. He contacted Riis. “Bjarne, I have thought about things. I have energy and desire to continue, but I need a team where people take care of me,” he said in a phone call. “Now the Schleck brothers are moving away, is there any chance that I can return?”

Riis told Sastre that he was surprised to receive the call, but would think about it. However by that point in time, he was already in talks with another Spanish Tour winner, Alberto Contador.

Sastre ultimately signed a deal with the Team Geox – TMC squad. He will share a leadership role there with Denis Menchov. Meanwhile Riis is still waiting to find out if Contador will indeed head the team in 2011.


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