Cycling: Pantani drops in at drugs inquiry

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The Independent Online
THE WINNER of last year's Tour de France, Marco Pantani, appeared before a Turin magistrate investigating doping in Italian sport yesterday but left a written defence document instead of answering questions.

Pantani, who competes for the Mercatone Uno team, said he refused to answer the prosecutor's enquiries but said he he had handed over a stack of documents which he expected to clear his name.

Pantani, who was in the office for only a few minutes, was recently cleared of doping charges by the Italian Olympic Committee after failing a blood test during the Giro d'Italia, or Tour of Italy, in June. He was disqualified from the Giro two stages from the finish when a second consecutive victory was well within his grasp.

Pantani, who has repeatedly denied using performance-enhancers, said as he left the magistrate's office that he had exercised his right not to speak.

"It's better this way," he said. "We have cleared things up because my credibility is at stake here. I hope we can change direction and finally talk about cycling. I presented a written memorandum to clear up my position."

Prosecutors last month ordered DNA tests, apparently reviewing the handling and outcome of the random blood check that led to his exit from the Giro.

The mountain specialist, whose recent career has also been troubled by a knee injury, has not been competing since the Giro, but said recently he plans to return next year.

Authorities in Turin have been conducting their investigation into use of banned substances by athletes since August 1998, and, among others have questioned several Serie A footballers.