THE GIRO d’Italia had an unexpected day off yesterday when the 19th stage was cancelled because of heavy snow and a potential wind chill of minus 20, but there was no shortage of drama as former winner Danilo Di Luca tested positive for EPO in a surprise test at his home before this year’s race.
If confirmed in a backup “B” sample, Di Luca risks a lifetime ban since this is his third offence.
“I wasn’t expecting this. It was a surprise for me. I’m disappointed,” Di Luca said upon leaving the team hotel. “I’ll ask for the backup analysis then we can talk again.” The UCI provisionally suspended Di Luca pending a hearing with the Italian cycling federation and the Vini Fantini-Selle Italia squad fired the 37-year-old Italian rider.
“Danilo has betrayed cycling once again,” Giro race director Mauro Vegni said. “But I’m happy it wasn’t a young rider. Danilo belongs to a generation that has navigated through the doping system.”
The test was carried out on 29 April, five days before the Giro started, and the result drew a harsh rebuke from Vini Fantini team director Luca Scinto.
“Di Luca is an idiot. I never wanted him,” Scinto said. “Di Luca is sick. He needs to be helped.”
Seemingly headed for retirement just a few months ago, Di Luca signed with Vini Fantini on 26 April. Scinto and others were against hiring him but sponsors eventually prevailed. “The sponsors chose him and now they’ve got to take responsibility,” Scinto added.
The team is considering suing Di Luca for damaging its image.
The race ends tomorrow and Di Luca departs in 26th place overall, 33 minutes, 33 seconds behind overall leader Vincenzo Nibali.
The announcement came a day after the 28-year-old Nibali extended his lead by dominating a mountain time trial, garnering headlines up and down Italy as the new face of the sport.
In 2009, Di Luca was given a two-year ban after testing positive during the Giro for Cera, an advanced form of the blood booster EPO. That ban was subsequently reduced by nine months after he collaborated with Italian anti-doping authorities.
Di Luca was stripped of his second-place finish and two stage wins in the 2009 Giro. And after winning the 2007 Giro, Di Luca was banned for three months later in the year for frequent visits to Carlo Santuccione, a physician at the centre of a four-year doping investigation titled Oil for Drugs.
Di Luca fared well in several stages of this year’s race, finishing third in the seventh leg, seventh in Stage 9, sixth in Stage 11 and tenth in Thursday’s uphill time trial. “He wrote me a text message saying, ‘I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry,”’ Giro director Michele Acquarone said. “If someone looks you in the eye and asks for your support and then betrays you, then it means he has a serious problem – in this case a strong addiction.”
It’s the second doping case from this year’s race, after French rider Sylvain Georges tested positive for the banned stimulant Heptaminol in a urine sample after the seventh stage. The 28-year-old AG2R La Mondiale rider was immediately withdrawn from the race.