Pantani acquitted of charges

FORMER Tour de France winner Marco Pantani has been acquitted of sporting fraud by an Italian court. The court case against Pantani was brought after he was thrown out of the 1999 Tour of Italy for suspected doping. During the Giro, a blood test revealed that he had abnormally high levels of red blood cells. These are an indicator, although not proof, that performance-enhancing drugs have been used.

"It (doping) was not considered a crime by the law at that time," said Italian judge Giuseppe Serao.

Since then the law has changed and doping is now a criminal offence in Italy. After finishing a disappointing 14th in this year's Tour of Italy, Pantani checked into a clinic that specialises in treating depression. In an interview in the Voce di Rimini newspaper, the 33-year-old told fans to "forget about Pantani the athlete."

"I still ride my bike, just to turn my legs, but cycling is the last thing on my mind," he said. "I haven't been to the gym for months. I've gained 15 kilos and I have the physique of a little bull."