By Andrew Hood
Defending Giro d’Italia champ Danilo Di Luca finds himself with so few contract prospects for next season that he’s made the extraordinary step of securing his own sponsors to underwrite his salary in the hopes of offering his services to a team for 2008 at a bargain-basement price.
Di Luca – banned for three months by Italian authorities last month and stripped of his ProTour title by the UCI – seems too hot to handle for teams nervously watching the reaction from race organizers taking a harder line in handing out race invitations.
“We’ve come up with our own solution and I have some Italian companies who are close to signing,” Di Luca said in Sunday’s La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I won the Giro but I’ve had to find an answer about my future on my own.”
Finding a cold reception among teams unwilling to risk betting on Di Luca’s high price-tag and controversial baggage, the 32-year-old has been forced to try to scrounge up personal sponsors.
Last summer, Liquigas officials already said they would not renew Di Luca’s estimated salary of $1 million per year when he was linked to controversial Italian doctor Carlo Santuccione.
Di Luca has been linked to several ProTour and continental teams, but the Liège-Bastogne-Liège champ was still without a secure contract for next year as he left Monday for a two-week holiday in the Pacific.
“I want to ride the Giro and the classics next year,” Di Luca told the Italian sports daily. “If that doesn’t happen, it’s just absurd, if what’s happening in cycling now isn’t already bizarre.”
Last month, Di Luca was slapped with a short racing ban by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) after links to Santuccione, the alleged mastermind of the “Oil for Drugs” doping ring in Italy.
Di Luca likes to point out that he wasn’t banned for doping and insisted that Santuccione was only his family doctor.
That didn’t stop the UCI from disqualifying Di Luca from the ProTour series, which he was leading going into the final event at the Giro di Lombardia in October. Cadel Evans won the title while the ostracized Di Luca was left scrambling to try to find a team.
Di Luca promises to challenge CONI’s ruling at the Court for Arbitration for Sport and file for damages if he wins.
“The Killer’s” quandary reveals how teams are now cautious about riders who were once welcomed back into the fold without blinking an eye.
T-Mobile wants Sinkewitz review, access to records
T-Mobile officials are asking the UCI to review doping accusations leveled by ex-rider Patrik Sinkewitz and want full access to court records from German officials who interviewed him last week.
Sinkewitz gave more than five hours of testimony to the German cycling federation last week and offered details of his doping practices from the 2003-06 seasons in a tell-all interview released in Monday’s edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel.
Sinkewitz said all doping operations at T-Mobile ended after the 2006 Tour de France when the team was reorganized after revelations that Jan Ullrich was linked to Operación Puerto doping scandal.
On Tuesday, team officials reiterated that the Sinkewitz allegations do not reflect on the team’s current policies and said it is considering further internal action following the revelations.
“We take a fact-based approach. We will review the available information when provided and act fairly and responsible within our rights,” T-Mobile general manager Bob Stapleton said in a team statement. “Further, yesterday we formally requested that the UCI promptly review the Sinkewitz information regarding doping prior to our operation of the team, that has been provided directly to the UCI by the BDR or other authorities.”
Sinkewitz admitted to using the banned blood booster EPO and illegal blood transfusions beginning in the 2003 season when he rode for the Quick Step team through the 2006 season with T-Mobile.
Sinkewitz was fired by T-Mobile during this year’s Tour after testing for abnormally high testosterone levels in out-of-competition tests in June.
“The interview and confessions of Patrik Sinkewitz in recent news articles confirm the necessity of the dramatic changes the sponsor and new management have made in the T-Mobile Team and the further changes needed in the sport,” Stapleton said. “After we took over the team at the end of 2006, we have put in place new management, new riders, new procedures, new doctors, and a firm anti-doping policy and testing program. We continue to make more progressive changes in anticipation of the 2008 season.”
“It was no secret then that EPO made you faster,” Sinkewitz said.
The magazine has made an English version of the Sinkewitz interview available on its website. –Editor
McGee hopes for return to form
The oft-injured Brad McGee is hoping his arrival at Team CSC for the 2008 season will mark his return to form.
Once hailed as a Tour de France winner, Australian said a string of injuries derailed his career the past two seasons. He’s hoping that successful surgery and a move to CSC will revive his career.
“Unfortunately I’ve had a couple of difficult seasons due to an injury, which it took a long time to locate. At first we thought it was a back injury, but in the end it turned out to be some kind of cyst in my knee, and I only had it removed in June after having been bothered by it for more than a year. After the op, I haven’t had any problems and already during this fall I’ve felt a major improvement,” McGee said on Team CSC’s web page. “My ambition is to regain my strength completely to the level I was at two years ago. From there on anything is possible really. This training camp will hopefully help me on my way.”
Contract News: Slipstream completes its roster, Pérez extends, Barlo signs twoTeam Slipstream-Chipotle, presented by H3O, announced that Blake Caldwell will fill the final spot on the 2008 roster. Caldwell is the only rider on the squad who has ridden under the Slipstream banner since the team’s inception. The eleven-time junior national champion will join his twenty-four teammates at the team’s first formal gathering in Boulder, Colorado, next week. The high point of the camp promises to be the official launch party slated for November 14th at the historic Boulder Theater. Tickets are available through the team’s website, or the Boulder Theater box office. All proceeds from the evening will be donated to the Davis Phinney Foundation.Spanish rider Fran Pérez has signed a one-year extension to stay with Caisse d’Epargne for the 2008 season. The 29-year-old joined the team in 2005 after serving an 18-month ban for testing positive for EPO in the 2003 season, when he won two stages at the Tour de Romandie while riding for Maia-Milaneza.Barloworld continues to fill out its ranks by signing Austrian champion Christian Pfannberger and neo-pro Marco Corti, son of team manager Claudio Corti. The arrival of these final two riders completes the team’s 19-man roster for the 2008 season.