Cycling: Pantani died of accidental cocaine overdose

The coroner's report into Marco Pantani's death has reached the conclusion that the 1998 Tour de France winner died of a cocaine overdose.

The coroner's report into Marco Pantani's death has reached the conclusion that the 1998 Tour de France winner died of a cocaine overdose.

The autopsy doctor, Giuseppe Fortuni, has yet to make his findings public, but judicial sources indicated yesterday that the coroner's report says the Italian died because of "an acute intoxication of cocaine, causing an edema [accumulation of liquid in the brain and lungs]."

The possibility that Pantani committed suicide has been all but discarded, given that the report states: "There are no concrete elements to support [such a] hypothesis].

The report is almost certainly the final piece in the jigsaw of the initial mystery surrounding Pantani's death. His body was discovered in a downmarket hotel room in the holiday resort of Rimini on the early evening of 14 February. He was 34 years old.

The coroner's conclusion would perhaps explain why Pantani had taken out around €20,000 [£13,400] in cash from a bank a few days before, as well as the presence of a white powder on his bedside table. It is also the last chapter in the story of an Italian sportsman who remained an iconic figure in his country despite being thrown out of the Tour of Italy in 1999 because of a failed hematocrit test - an indicator, but not proof, of the use of the banned drug EPO. But Pantani's popularity could not prevent him from entering a five-year spiral of diminishing success, an increasingly anarchic existence off the bike, and what has now been confirmed as illegal drug use.

After finishing 14th in his last race, the 2003 Tour of Italy, Pantani seemed to go completely off the rails, falling out with his family and developing a frenetic night life. He had told friends that he wanted to go to a rehabilitation clinic in Bolivia this spring, but instead he made a lone, fatal trip to Rimini, spending the last five days of his life in the hotel room, half-barricaded in by furniture and barely communicating with the outside world.

"He gave his life to cycling." Italy's former world champion Mario Cipollini said recently. His life's grim finale, though, threatens to overshadow all Pantani's achievements.

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