Italian cyclist Pantani says Lance Armstrong 'nothing special'

MADRID, Spain (AP) — Italian cyclist Marco Pantani has reopened his feud with American rival Lance Armstrong, describing the three-time Tour de France winner as "nothing special'' and accusing him of exploiting his battle with cancer.

"I don't want to get into an argument, but for me Armstrong is nothing special,'' Pantani, the 1998 winner of the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia, was quoted as saying Monday by the Spanish sports daily Marca.

Pantani, who has been the target of doping investigations in recent years, said Armstrong's "a great rider, but he's not a great champion. He's clever and he's making the most of his sickness.''

Armstrong, 30, overcame testicular cancer to win the Tour de France the last three years.

Pantani and Armstrong have regularly exchanged insults over the past few years. On more than one occasion Armstrong has referred to the Italian as "Elefantino'' in reference to his large ears.

Pantani was angry when Armstrong eased up to let him win a stage of the Tour de France two years ago.

Pantani said he looked forward to challenging Armstrong again in this year's Tour.

"With a bit of luck and health, we'll see the return of the Pantani of the great achievements,'' the paper quoted him as saying in Seville.

Pantani, who was not invited to take part in lat year's Tour because of his poor performances, said his intention this year is to do well in the Italian Giro and win the French Tour.

Pantani's first objective is to win the Milan San Remo classic on March 23.

Pantani was thrown out of the 1999 Giro after having been found to have an excessive red blood cell count, a symptom often related to doping offenses. He later was given a three-month suspended sentence by an Italian court for doping offenses from 1995.

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