CSC’s young star not eager to act as defending Giro champ
By Andrew Hood
This week’s two-year suspension of Eddy Mazzoleni, third in last year’s Giro d’Italia, for links to the “Oil for Drugs” doping scandal raises the prospects that 2007 winner, Danilo Di Luca, could soon face the same fate.
Di Luca is facing allegations leveled by officials from Italy’s Olympic Committee (CONI) that he underwent banned transfusions en route to his Giro victory.
If Di Luca is banned, last year’s runner-up Andy Schleck (CSC) could be elevated to overall winner, something that the 22-year-old says he’s not relishing.
“If he gets disqualified it’s because there’s proof that he did something, then it’s clear that I am the winner,” Schleck told VeloNews. “But it’s not nice to win like that.”
Schleck was the revelation of last year’s Giro, hanging tough in the decisive climbing stages and only losing by 1:55 in what was the his grand tour debut.
The Luxembourg rider said he’s more concerned about making his debut in the Tour de France this summer than thinking about what Italian officials might do.
“I cannot expect more than I have now with second place. I will always be satisfied with what I did in the race,” Schleck continued. “For me, it would be another sad story for cycling.”
Di Luca is in the crosshairs. He was already handed a three-month ban this fall for his alleged links to the “Oil for Drugs” scandal, a four-year-old Italian investigation triggered by allegations that Dr. Carlo “the chemist” Santuccione had established a nation-wide sports doping program. In 2004, a coordinated series of police raids resulted in the seizure of doping products and transfusion records, but the investigation has since moved slowly. Last year, evidence suggested that Di Luca was tied to Santuccione, who the cyclist claimed had been his family doctor since his childhood. The 2007 Giro winner was subsequently suspended for three months, a decision he has appealed.
To add to his problems, CONI officials alleged that Di Luca returned an anomalous sample following the 17th stage up Monte Zoncolan in last year’s Giro, a result they insist indicates manipulation. Earlier this month, officials delayed an expected decision to allow three scientists to further evaluate the sample.
Di Luca, meanwhile, continues to race and prepare to defend his Giro title. He joined LPR after his Liquigas team released him last fall and won the Settimana Lombarda last week.
Team CSC boss Bjarne Riis said the team is frustrated by apparent inconsistencies and delays by Italian authorities.
“It makes no difference for us. I think it’s ridiculous. Leave (Di Luca) in peace or do something about it, not just this ongoing non-sense,” Riis told VeloNews. “If they have something concrete on him, that’s another story.”
Riis, who admitted last summer that he used the banned blood booster EPO en route to winning the 1996 Tour, said that chasing Di Luca doesn’t do anyone any good unless there’s firm evidence of cheating.
“Take some decisions instead of just messing around. If (Di Luca’s) going to continue in the peloton, then give him peace, instead of just ruining the rider and the sport because someone wants publicity. It’s worthless,” Riis said. “It’s not good for the sport and it’s not good for the rider.”
If Di Luca is ultimately banned by CONI, it would mark the third grand tour champion to be disqualified in the past three years.
In 2005, Roberto Heras lost his Vuelta a España crown after testing positive for EPO while Floyd Landis is challenging in the International Court of Arbitration for Sport his disqualification from the 2006 Tour after tested revealed the presence of synthetic testosterone.