Cycling: Pantani spreadeagles field to close on Giro

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The Independent Online
THE ELEPHANT is back. Marco Pantani, whose prominent ears give him his nickname, virtually secured his second consecutive Tour of Italy victory as he dominated yesterday's 20th uphill stage from Predazzo to Madonna di Campiglio, leaving the closest pursuers at least one minute behind.

The 29-year-old Italian from the Mercatone Uno team, the defending champion in the "Giro," enters the final two stages of the Italian cycling marathon with a lead of 5min 38sec over Paolo Savoldelli and 6min 12sec over the third-placed Ivan Gotti. The French national champion, Laurent Jalabert, trails Pantani by 6min 39sec in fourth place.

Pantani, one of the world's best climbers, captured his second consecutive stage victory - and his fourth in this year's Giro - with a timely attack 5km from the finish line at Madonna di Campiglio, in the Dolomite mountains. He had won the previous day another tough mountainous stage ending at Alpe di Pampeago.

Yesterday the pack caught a breakaway of nine as the road climbed towards the finish, and Pantani pedalled away, piling up an advantage of about 20sec in just 1km.

The Colombian Hernan Buenahora was the last to lose touch with Pantani on the final climb.

Pantani, retaining the pink jersey of overall leader for the sixth consecutive day, was cheered by hundreds of fans as he crossed the finish line alone in his usual style.

The Italian, who triumphed in both the Giro and Tour of France last year, completed the 175km (108.5 mile) distance in 4hr 39min 58sec.

Pantani's compatriot Massimo Codol, of the Lampre team, finished second, 1min 7sec behind. Jalabert, Gotti, Gilberto Simoni and the Spaniard Roberto Heras finished just behind Codol.

"He's unbeatable when the road climbs," said Gotti, who won the Giro in 1997. "It's useless to try to keep his pace. No doubt he has won the Giro."

Pantani refused to accept Gotti's view and countered: "The race is not yet over. The Giro ends in Milan and I will feel safe only when I arrive there."

Pantani may take advantage of another uphill stage today when the riders will have to climb four Alpine passes, including the steep Mortirolo, in a 190km (117.8 mile) ride from Madonna di Campiglio to Aprica.

Tomorrow's final stage will be much more comfortable, run through a flat course from Boario Terme to Milan.

Results, Digest, page 28