In the cynical and dishonest world of doping personalities, Danilo di Luca is the anti-Lance Armstrong.
While the United States Anti-Doping Agency stated that Armstrong was part of the “most sophisticated and professional doping program in sports,” no one would ever characterize Di Luca’s doping in those terms.
Di Luca ran his own program and it was inept, sloppy, brazen and clueless. He was caught in 2007 in the Oil for Drugs doping investigation that zeroed in on Dr. Carlo Santuccione. He was caught in 2009 when he tested positive for EPO at the Giro d’Italia. He should have been caught in the 2007 Giro with a suspect urine sample in what came to be called the “pipì deli angeli.” Now he’s caught at the Giro in 2013, his last and final and definitive time, for EPO.
What’s amazing is that he wasn’t caught even more often, given his serial abuse and half-ass methods.
This constant and recurring pattern of drug usage puts Di Luca in the pathological category. Vini Fantini directeur sportif Luca Scinto could only shake his head in astonishment: “He’s mad, he’s a cretino, he needs treatment.”
The one thing Di Luca did share with Armstrong, the ex-winner of seven Tours de France, was a deep psychological need to win, to be famous, to become a star by any means necessary. Di Luca simply wasn’t as skilled at beating the tests and covering his tracks. He never made any donations to UCI president McQuaid, never visited the Lausanne testing lab for a personal explanation of how the EPO tests work.
Forced onto the Vini Fantani Giro roster at the last minute with only two days of racing in his legs, Di Luca made an immediate impression that also raised instant suspicion. He nearly won stage four into Serra San Bruno and Giro official’s prayers were answered when he didn’t. He continued his aggressive attacks like the Di Luca of old.
That was the problem: it was the Di Luca of old, the rider addicted to EPO and the Giro spotlight. The old habits did not die but now we’re done with Di Luca once and for all.
This week has seen the end of the line for three of the old doping guard. Levi Leipheimer, sacked by Omega-Pharma after his USADA testimony, announced his retirement to the crowds in Santa Rosa for the final stage of the Tour of California. That’s a race Leipheimer won three times without resorting to dope — or so he says.
Russian Denis Menchov, who battled Di Luca for the Giro title several times — and battled doping allegations for years, suddenly retired. And now we have Di Luca, who would be the poster child for psychotic doping behavior if it weren’t for the existence of the banned-for-life Riccardo Ricco. The Cobra and the Killer, both dead.
Just yesterday, Vincenzo Nibali, coasting to his first Giro d’Italia win, spoke of a renaissance in Italian cycling. “In this Giro, we’ve had a lot of Italian stage wins,” said Nibali. “I’m enjoying this, on the evidence of this Giro, I think we’re all relaunching, and we’re all finding the right path.” Di Luca shows us once again that that path is far from clear.
The shock is that despite his impressive doping palmares and convictions, Di Luca always found another ride. If we’re to believe DS Luca Scinto, he fought the idea of signing Di Luca but it was Valentino Sciotti of sponsor Vini Fantini who insisted. Sciotti is like the judge who lets the rapist out of jail for a fourth time then seems surprised when the rapist attacks another woman. “What can I say? I wanted and believed in the man and the rider, and it’s only right that I take all the blame because I made a mistake,” said Sciotti.
What’s the Italian word for “enabler?”
We’ve almost reached the end of the generation of riders how went through the dark years of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Armstrong, Hincapie, Hamilton, Vinokourov, Ullrich, Landis, Beloki, Rasmussen, Heras, Frigo, Sevilla, Rumsas, Mosquera and Ricco are gone. Guys like Ivan Basso, Stefan Schumacher, Francisco Mancebo and Mikel Astarlosa are on their last legs.
Today we add the name of Danilo di Luca to the retirement list. That should have happened years ago.