Blazin' Saddles

Shamed Di Luca fires bazooka at ’90 per cent doped’ peloton

Blazin' Saddles

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Danilo Di Luca may need a helping hand with his performances on the bike, but the drug-shamed Italian proved this week that his mental arithmetic skills could still function with but a sudden natural rush of blood to the head.

Amid several sweeping statements on Italian TV, Di Luca claimed that 90 per cent of the riders in last year's Giro d'Italia were doping, and that if the remaining 10 per cent were clean, then it was only because they did not care about their performances in the race because "they were preparing for other races and therefore not doping".

With echoes of Lance Armstrong's previous comments regarding the Tour de France, Di Luca told an audience that it was "impossible to finish in the top 10 in the Giro d'Italia and not dope".

The 38-year-old also made an audacious claim that many professional riders had their bikes fitted with special 150-watt motors to help them in the hills (presumably suggesting in between the lines that Sky riders had three each in a bid to maintain their notorious 500-watt mountain metronome).

When pressed, Di Luca refused to comment on whether or not he had recently got back from a holiday in Colorado.

Given the platform on which Di Luca made his statements - an interview with an Italian satirical current affairs show - we should perhaps treat his words with the same kind of scepticism we would reserve for UKIP politician Nigel Farage sounding off against the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties on an edition of Have I Got News For You.

But amid the expected dross there were some snippets of information that everyone in the cycling community should digest, namely that Di Luca pretty much admitted to doping throughout his entire career.

Sure, he didn't supply any specific information about what it was he took and when - there was no mention, for example, of his doping in 2007 when he won the Giro - nor did he mention the names of those who helped him out. But this, presumably, at least highlights Di Luca's willingness to open up and discuss his misdemeanours.

Like Michael Rasmussen before him, Di Luca should not only be treated as a source of entertainment, a sideshow to the sport; he should be listened to - even if it means filtering out what compatriot Marco Pinotto this week described as "the bulls***".

We should be asking ourselves why these men who doped throughout their careers did not test positive more often. Here, Di Luca, at least offered some useful titbits, claiming that his "only regret was being caught" over what he described as a mere "mistake with the timing".

Already banned for life, Di Luca now looks in line to lose all his titles, including the 2007 Giro victory he secured after returning from his first doping suspension, the 'Oil for Drugs' investigation in 2007.

In such an event fans would have the prospect of seeing Andy Schleck - second behind Di Luca in the 2007 Giro - elevated to the top of the pile once more.

It begs the question of how many more Grand Tours Schleck can win without ever actually standing atop the podium? The Luxembourg whippet must be the only rider in history whose results seem to get better the more his form plummets.

Taking into account cycling's track record, it wouldn't come as a huge surprise should Schleck one day be awarded the 2009 Tour title - after all, he's already nabbed one of Alberto Contador's scalps in the past. But unless something outrageous happens, Schleck will never see his '2' alongside the 2011 Tour upgraded to a '1'.

For if anyone has won a Grand Tour clean in the past two decades then surely it's Cadel Evans. In fact, the veracity of Di Luca's comments aside, the Australian was clearly amongst the notional 10 per cent of riders who tackled last year's Giro clean. And while Evans may have finished third overall in Brescia, he was, after all, only preparing for the Tour.

Evans's Italian wife Chiara Passerini led the online outrage against Di Luca following his controversial suggestions, labelling her compatriot a 'CLOWN' in capital letters on Twitter.

Currently rolling back the years in the Tour Down Under, where he has won a stage and currently tops the overall standings, Evans refused to be drawn into the Di Luca debacle.

But he did still have time to share some words about former team-mate Alessandro Ballan, recently kicked out of BMC after a back-dated blood transfusion scandal from 2009.

"I don't know all the details," Evans said, unwisely declining to close his mouth at that point.

"Cycling must be the only profession in the world where looking after your health and trying to be healthy can ruin your career, and all but ruin your life. As far as I understand it he [Ballan] was trying to treat his health."

Good old Cadel, always one to see the inherent good in everyone.

Similarly, American youngster Andrew Talansky took to Twitter to show his outrage about "delusional" Di Luca. In a tweet posted after another message in support of a grand fondo organised by convicted doper Levi Leipheimer, Talansky said: "I feel genuine hatred towards Di Luca. He's a worthless lying scumbag making false statements that hurt the sport I love."

Vincenzo Nibali, the man who won the Giro in which Di Luca claimed 90 per cent of riders were wired, admitted that his countryman had been "a great team-mate" when the pair both rode at Liquigas, but said that he had now "become a bit brain-damaged".

Nibali also said that his ageing compatriot was "at the end of his tether" and was merely trying to "earn some loose change" - prompting Di Luca to publicly deny he had been paid for his appearance on TV.

To think that only a few months ago - while Di Luca and fellow shamed Vini Fantini team-mate Mauro Santambrogio were blasting off the front of the Giro peloton like fluorescent fireworks - the veteran had even spoke of his desire to join Astana and help Nibali win the Tour de France...

(Instead the position of ageing-Italian-sidekick-from-the-old-era went to Michele Scarponi - irony of ironies.)

Perhaps the most sensible thing anyone has said about the whole Di Luca debacle comes from another former team-mate, Charly Wegelius. Directeur sportif at Talansky's Garmin-Sharp team, Wegelius told Cyclingnews: "A kind of satirical programme in the evening in Italy probably isn't the best place to solve these problems. I wouldn't exclude him being part of any kind of solution but it would have to be constructive and honest."

Indeed, once all the dust settles the truth is that the cycling community should listen to 90 per cent of what Di Luca has to say, even if only 10 per cent of it is true.

What his outrageous statements show is that Di Luca himself clearly doesn't believe anyone could win a Grand Tour without doping - probably, it has to be said, because he never believed that he himself could do it any other way.

If, like Armstrong, Di Luca goes to the right people, puts all his cards on the table and co-operates then finally we might have something positive that isn't the hundreds of tests that should have been returned positive in the past two decades.

A satirical chat show and Oprah are hardly the best outlets for Di Luca and Armstrong. They should get on the phone to the anti-doping investigators, arrange a meeting and explain how they were fooled, and who exactly fooled them.

And this should be done explicitly without promises of a reduction on their current lifetime bans.

Trust is earned, not given away for free.

Felix Lowe | Follow on Twitter

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