Danilo di Luca goes the way of Millar and Vasseur, but not a clutch of other Tour riders still in le
As was widely pointed out in the Italian media this morning, good vibes clearly don’t flow between Danilo di Luca and the Belgian city of Lige. Last time Di Luca was here, in April, a mystery virus descended in middle of the night before Lige-Bastogne-Lige, forcing the Italian to sit out his favourite race. Yesterday morning, Di Luca was again left cursing the Walloon capital after Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc instructed the 28-year-old that he would be a ‘persona non grata’ at Saturday afternoon’s Tour curtain raiser. One of the names cited in the ongoing Italian “Oil for Drugs” inquest, Di Luca joins Briton’s David Millar and Cdric Vasseur as victims of the much-publicised, recently much-wielded rule which states that riders under police investigation are outlawed from the Tour. Di Luca had travelled to Lige almost in an act of defiance, already mindful of Leblanc’s position. He received his marching orders yesterday morning after a meeting attended by the rider, Saeco bosses Giuseppe Martinelli and Claudio Corti, Tour supremo Leblanc and Leblanc’s lieutenants, John Lelangue and Cristian Prudhomme. “This decision was necessary to ensure the smooth running of the event and for cycling’s image and the [Saeco] team itself,” Leblanc commented. Di Luca greeted the decision with the threat of court action. He also presented Leblanc with a letter from the Italian Olympic Committee’s Antidoping Commission stating that legal proceedings had not yet been undertaken against him. All in vain. “Leblanc told me that he wasn’t allowing me to start for the good of the Tour. He said that, had I won a stage, my case and therefore doping was all anyone would have talked about,” said the 2001 Tour of Lombardy champion. “I told him that there was no case against me, and that my situation was very different from Millar’s and Vasseur’s. But he wouldn’t be swayed. When I told him that I would take legal action against the Tour, he told me to go right ahead, but he wouldn’t change his view. At this point I have to ask myself: who thought about my interests?” Di Luca’s bugbear with Leblanc is based – together with his claim of innocence – on the fact the promised inquest into his links with Doctor Carlo Santuccione has not yet materialised. He drew sympathy from many quarters yesterday when it was noted that several riders still not cleared in long-standing investigations are due to ride the Tour. This applies to Di Luca’s Saeco team-mate, Stefano Casagranda, Stefano Zanini of Quick Step-Davitamon and Martin Hvastija. It applies, too, to a key member of Lance Armstrong’s US Postal team, the Czech rider Pavel Padrnos. Police found the banned diuretic manitol in Padrnos’ room in the infamous drugs “blitz” at the 2001 Giro d’Italia. Leblanc reacted yesterday by inviting the teams of the riders involved to check the details of the respective enquiries. He now appears to be reassured. US Postal directeur sportif Johan Buyneel, for one, had moved swiftly to quash all doubts about his rider, who was still with Saeco in 2001: “I read the files two years ago and there’s nothing in it,” said Buyneel. “I also passed this on to Jean-Marie Leblanc. All they found on Padrnos was a product which is a dietary supplement. I have no reason to doubt my rider; even his national federation considers the matter closed.” Padrnos, Zanini, Casagranda and Hvastija should all duly take their place on the start ramp tomorrow.