Cycling: Cause of Pantani's death still unclear

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The Independent Online

An autopsy showed yesterday that the Italian cyclist Marco Pantani died from severe swelling in his brain and heart, although the reason for these catastrophic symptoms was still unclear, it has been reported.

Dr Giuseppe Fortuni, who was involved in the autopsy, said further tests were necessary and that results should come within two weeks.

Pantani, the 1998 Tour de France and Giro d'Italia winner, was found dead in a hotel room in Rimini on Saturday. Funeral services were planned for Wednesday in Pantani's home town of Cesenatico, which is just north of Rimini.

The Italian sporting hero had suffered from depression in the past, but prosecutors have played down the possibility of suicide - a widespread speculation in the Italian media. Authorities here say they will not be drawn on the cause until investigations are completed.

Pantani's heart and breathing stopped after "cerebral and pulmonary edema", Fortuni said after the three-hour autopsy. "Cerebral edema was the ultimate cause of death. Two elements have emerged: bleeding in the brain and lungs. At this point, we can exclude violence."

Asked whether the death of Pantani could be linked to drugs, Fortuni replied: "There is no sign of that but no way of excluding it either."

Police said Pantani, 34, was found with about 10 bottles of tranquilisers of four different brands, some of them empty, others just opened.