Cycling - Di Luca joins Armstrong in playing the victim card

This week's sideways glance at the news includes a life-time ban for Danilo Di Luca, the return of Oleg Tinkov and a new team for Juan Jose Cobo...

Cycling - Di Luca joins Armstrong in playing the victim card

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Danilo Di Luca (Reuters)

EPO guzzler Danilo Di Luca has joined Lance Armstrong in voicing his disapproval at being singled out and made an example of as doping authorities the world over try to clean up the sport.

This week the 37-year-old former Giro d'Italia winner was banned for life by CONI after his latest drugs misdemeanour. Having already served a three-month ban for the 'Oil for Drugs' investigation in 2007 and given a reduced 15-month ban in 2009 after a positive test for EPO CERA, Di Luca was outraged at CONI's apparent adherence to the three-strikes-and-you're-out rule after he was inevitably shown the door in the wake of his out-of-competition positive test for EPO ahead of the 2013 Giro.

"It's certainly not very nice," the floppy haired Di Luca harrumphed as he left the court hearing in Rome. "It makes me think that I'm taking the flak for everyone."

Poor Danilo. Having got off so lightly in 2007 and 2009, perhaps the Italian thought that his third epic doping fail might have only commanded the length of ban his first offence should have attracted in the first place - namely a two-year slap on the wrist that would have concluded well before the age at which talented, dedicated and hard-working riders are finally ready to put in a serious stab at the Vuelta.

Quite why he's mulling over appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport is anyone's guess. Perhaps he's hoping he'll come up in front of the same jury that dealt with Frank Schleck?

"Whatever I won in cycling I won with my own skills," Di Luca said, inadvertently casting himself as something of a pharmaceutical giant. "I never won anything I couldn't win," he continued, forgetting to add that many other riders were deprived of a fair chance at winning those things that he would have won anyway.

"For example, I never won a time trial at 60 kmph, whereas others have and maybe still do," Di Luca cryptically added, no doubt ruffling a few feathers in other camps.

Let's look at things differently. Forget we're talking about doping and replace the offence with GBH. It's not exactly so far fetched: after all, turning your badly refrigerated blood into the consistency of jam does grievously harm one's body - just ask Riccardo Ricco.

Had Di Luca twice been charged with GBH and then battered another victim to a pulp then there would have been complete outrage with the authorities who let a persistent offender get off lightly. The signs were there from the outset, the Daily Mail's editorial would say. This man should never have been released on bail after three months - he should still be behind bars for his first offence.

Indeed, isn't it a perversion of justice when someone on the eve of retirement is handed a life ban? Surely it would have been much more sensible if that ban came at the beginning of the process rather than the end.

Di Luca may claim that his punishment is "not very nice" but that's only because he's been treated far too nicely for far too long.

Armstrong still handicapped by cycling's hypocrisy

Meanwhile, on a nearby golf course on the outskirts of Rome, Lance Armstrong was enjoying a round of 18 holes with a journalist from the Gazzetta dello Sport.

"I know I'm guilty. I know I've hurt people. I've apologised publicly and want to do it personally to some of them," the Texan mea culpa'ed. "But my punishment is a thousand times bigger than the 'crime' committed."

(Blazin' Saddles cannot confirm whether Armstrong raised his arms to make floating speech marks with his fingers as he uttered the word 'crime' - but it's highly likely.)

"I can understand that they've chosen me as the symbol of those years. They could have given me a ban that was five, six or even 10 times bigger, but not a thousand times. The truth is that in the world of sport, and especially in cycling, there's a lot of hypocrisy. I'm the absolute evil, others are still considered legends."

And how does he get through the stresses of being rejected and shunned by the sport?

"I'm playing a lot of golf. I take my clubs everywhere I go. To clear my head of bad thoughts there's nothing better than golf."

There you go, Danilo - perhaps it's time you took up a new sport now that you've been forced to take a permanent retirement from cycling.

Although one senses that there's more chance in Di Luca becoming Riccardo Ricco's soigneur during his attempt to set record times on some of cycling's most legendary climbs in 2014 than there is him becoming Armstrong's golf caddy.

Tinkov believes doping is a thing of the past

Russian businessman and tweeting liability Oleg Tinkov has put the cherry on the cake of Alberto Contador's annus horribilis by buying out Bjarne Riis at what will be now known as Tinkoff-Saxo, meaning the man who now pays the Spaniard's salary is the same man who believes that "his salary doesn't match his performance".

Poor Bertie looked utterly disconsolate sitting beside Tinkov and directeur sportif Bjarne Riis at a press conference at Google's London offices, during which the Russian tycoon underlined his conviction that there was no longer any doping going on in the peloton.

"Maybe it happens in the small teams where they think it enhances performance," Tinkov said of performance-enhancing drugs, "but in the serious peloton, I never hear anything about it."

The question remains whether or not the peloton will be so serious with a joker like Tinkov back behind the wheel of a serious team's car.

Cobo signs for Turkish team... what could go wrong?

In non-doping news this week, it has been confirmed that former Vuelta winner Juan Jose Cobo has signed for the same Turkish team, Konya Torku Seker Spor, as Mustafa Sayar, the 24-year-old Turk who was stripped of his Presidential Tour of Turkey title in July after it was revealed that he tested positive for EPO at the earlier Tour of Algeria.

Sayar's win in a race in which he finished third-from-last the previous year did raise eyebrows, especially with his dominating performances in the mountains. In his defence, Sayar was riding the 2012 race in support of his team-mate Ivailo Gabrovsky - although it's not much of a defence when considering that the same team-mate himself subsequently tested positive for EPO and was relinquished of the title.

Quizzed about his suspicious performances during the race, Sayar put it down to "a very hard tempo of training". According to Sayar, his Konya Torku Seker Spor team - who Oleg Tinkov would no doubt put in the "small team" bracket - "prepared for this race for maybe six months".

"Gabrovsky['s case] is now in the past. I am very confident of my myself and I don't think I will have this kind of problem," he had said rather ominously.

Konya Torku Seker Sport have yet to sign up to the biological passport programme. Being the only team in Turkey, it would be impossible for the race organisers of the national Tour to exclude them from taking to the start line in 2014 - which means Cobo and fellow Spaniard David de la Fuente should line up for who the latter describes as "the friendly team".

Cobo has yet to win a race since his surprise victory in the 2011 Vuelta. His only Grand Tour last season was the Giro, in which he recorded his worst ever performance in a three-week race, finishing 116th overall. There must be interesting odds on Cobo breaking his duck next year in the week-long stage race in April.

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