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The Giro d’Italia set to return to Pantani’s Cesenatico in 2010

Reports appeared in local papers this week that the annual Giro d’Italia, one of the most prestigious cycling competitions in the world, is set to include, for the first time since 1999, a stop in Cesenatico,  near Rimini – hometown to arguably Italy’s most famous cyclist, the late Marco Pantani (nicknamed il pirata – the pirate) .

Attempts were made last year, according to the same reports, to include a stop in Cesenatico, but this proved logistically impossible – the offered date of the 24th of May clashed with the already programmed 34th annual Nove Colli cycling race – a race which, incidentally helped launched Pantani’s career.

Marco Pantani - Cesenatico's famous Pirata

Marco Pantani - Cesenatico's famous Pirata

The memory of Marco Pantani lives on strongly throughout Romagna, but particularly so in Cesenatico, and many think a return of the Giro d’Italia would be a fitting way to pay tribute to this former winner.

Pantani was a charismatic and controversial figure during his lifetime. His attacking style and penchant for bandanas led to his nickname <i>il pirata</i>. He undoubtedly did more than most to bring excitement  and new viewers to the sport, though his career ended in ignomy with allegations of drug abuse – in 1999 he was disqualified from the Giro when suspiciously high red blood cell counts were found after a routine drug test. There followed a period of depression and in 2004 Pantani was found dead in a hotel room in Rimini, the result according to the coroner’s inquest of a cocaine overdose,  at the tragically young age of 34.

While his exit from international cycling was marked by controversy, five years on from his death many cycling fans still miss his style and flair, and are quick to point out that his alleged drug abuse (probably, according to biographer Matt Rendel, involving the substance  recombinant erythropoietin) should be placed in its proper context – a sport now infamous for its widespread doping.

If it goes ahead, next year’s stop in Cesenatico will in all likelihood take place on thursday 20th of May, and will definitely be a hugely emotional event likely to turn into a full scale tribute to Pantani from his hometown. The Giro already commemorates Pantani with a mountain pass dedicated to him in each year’s race – the Cima Pantani. The Tour de France has also commemorated him in the past, naming a stage after him in the 2004 race.

Next year’s Giro d’Italia is set to kick off in the Netherlands, with the first three stages of the event taking place there. Further plans for the race have yet to be finalised, though it’s likely that the race will finish in Rome. We’ll bring you more details of the race, and the Emilia-Romagna stages as they’re announced.

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