Danilo Di Luca's B Sample test for the EPO derivative CERA was yesterday confirmed as positive by the Italian Cycling Federation. The results of the tests will now be passed to the Italian Olympic Committee, CONI who will begin disciplinary proceedings against the rider.
Di Luca has said that if banned, which given the weight of evidence against him seems likely to be a foregone conclusion, he would retire from the sport. Should he makes good on that promise the 2009 Giro d'Italia will be the last hurrah for the Italian star whose aggressive riding style earned him the nickname “The Killer”. Even allowing for the fact that the careers of some top class cyclists are now progressing well into their late 30s it has to be doubtful whether Di Luca would be able to return to the top level after two years away from the sport.
Indeed the Italian could be looking at much longer ban than a two year ban, he has already got one doping infraction on his record due to his involvment in the so-called 'drugs for oil' scandal so in theory could be looking at a lifetime ban – that would certainly be what the World Anti-Doping Authority rules would seem to stipulate. Any lesser ban might well be open to challenge at the Court for Arbitration in Sport by the world anti-doping body – it is currently trying to have the 8 year ban recently handed out to Tyler Hamilton by the US Anti Doping Agencey (USADA) extended to a life ban.
And Di Luca is unlikely to find much favour at CONI which tried to ban him last year over abnormally high hormone levels in some of the blood samples taken during his winning ride to the Giro d'Italia title in 2007. Following that win there was a marked down turn in Di Luca's form – although his supporters will have pointed to the turmoil surrounding the rider in the ensuing oil for drugs affair and then last year's attempt to ban him by CONI.
Going in to this year's Giro there was little expectation about Di Luca's chances and a certain amount of eye-brow raising over his subsequent performance which for many was open to question given his recent history. The B sample results now confirm that those doubts were well placed.
There must now be some speculation over the future of Di Luca's LPR Brakes team which was built around him and some other ageing Italian stars with the odd blot on their copy books – such as sprinter Allesandro Petacchi.
While this episode demonstrates that there is no hiding place for those at the top of the sport the confirmation that the man who came second in the second most prestigious stage race in the cycling calendar was doping is a blow for professional cycling. However, if it hadn't been for the prompt action of Vincent Hendriks, the Rabobank mechanic who saved Denis Menchov when he crashed in the final time trial helping him beat Di Luca to the overall win it could have been worse. Hendriks quick reaction on the slippery streets of Rome not only saved Menchov's Giro win they saved cycling from even far more damaging headlines and the repercussions for the sport.
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.