Danilo Di Luca has told reporters that he is "surprised" by the news that he tested positive for EPO. The Italian tested positive for the substance in an out-of-competition test on April 29, with the news breaking Friday morning. He has subsequently been fired by his Vini Fantini team and removed from the Giro d'Italia. However, the rider's B sample must be analyzed before any sanction can be considered.
As he left the team hotel in Dimaro, Italy this morning reporters gathered in search of a comment or reaction. While admitting he was surprised, he also refrained from adding any substantial comment, saying that he would wait for the results of the B test before making a statement.
"We'll wait for the contra-analysis and then we'll see,” he told reporters in a video posted on Gazzetta’s website.
When asked by one reporter if he aware of the damage he’d caused to the sport, Di Luca said. "We’ll speak later for sure. Not now."
As he entered a car and left the scene Di Luca was finally asked if he as surprised by the news. "Yes. Arrivederci," he said.
Di Luca had not answered the phone when Cyclingnews attempted to make contact earlier this morning.
The Italian had previously tested positive for the EPO variant CERA at the 2009 Giro d’Italia and was handed a two-year suspension, that was subsequently reduced to 15 months after he apparently provided information on doping methodologies to the Italian Olympic Committee.
He also served a three-month suspension in 2007 for his implication in the Oil for Drugs doping investigation centred around Dr. Carlo Santuccione.
Snow is currently general in the Dolomites at altitudes above 1,000 metres but even though the summit of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo stands at 2304 metres, Vegni is confident that the show will go on.
"Ci arriviamo – we'll get there," Vegni told a press conference in Val Martello's biathlon centre on Friday afternoon, where he and Michele Acquarone also gave their reactions to Danilo Di Luca's positive test for EPO.
"The feedback we've got from the riders after cancelling today's stage is important. We've looked to take any dangerous descents out of the route and they have told us that they are ready to make sacrifices to bring the stage home even if the weather isn't optimal."
The altered stage – now 211km in length – will see the peloton cover largely valley roads from the start in Silandro until reaching the foot of the Tre Croci, although the final 60 kilometres of the stage, from Monguelfo onwards, will all take place at an altitude in excess of 1,000 metres.
"We can finish on top of Tre Cime di Lavaredo for the simple reason that it's not a descent, and we can clear the road if it snows overnight," Vegni said. "Snow is cold but it's primarily risky for safety on the descents: if the temperature drops and the snow freezes, it makes the roads very slippery. But the stage is mainly made up of valley roads and climbing. We've designed a route with almost no descents."
Vegni pointed out that the organising team includes Stefano Allocchio, who rode in the famous snowbound stage over the Gavia in 1988, and said that RCS would be monitoring conditions along the route of stage 20 overnight.
"A slight improvement with a break in the clouds has been predicted for tomorrow but we're not relying just on the weather forecast, we're monitoring the situation ourselves," he said. "We've got people at all of the vital locations on the course to keep us informed on the snow and the temperatures, so that we can decide quickly if we need to change the stage or not."
Giro d'Italia managing director Michele Acquarone quipped that RCS had been forced to reach for Plan C in order in salvage Saturday's stage, and lauded Vegni as a "magician" for his work to date. Vegni agreed that the extreme conditions had posed significant problems for the organisers, with the climb of Sestriere removed from stage 14, while the final four kilometres were cut from last Sunday's summit finish on the Galibier.
"It's been a difficult week, starting from Saturday when we had to remove the climb of Sestriere. We managed to save the Galibier stage by the skin of our teeth, even if we had to cut it by 4km," said Vegni.
It was also confirmed that the Tre Cime di Lavaredo will now carry the Cima Coppi prime for the highest point of the Giro following the cancellation of stage 19 and the consequent removal of the Stelvio from the route.
Giro d'Italia director angry after EPO positive overshadows the Giro d'Italia
Michele Acquarone rarely loses his cool and has the natural propensity to be optimistic. However, his anger about the effects of Danilo Di Luca's positive test for EPO on the Giro d'Italia were clear to see during an afternoon press conference in Val Martello to announce that Saturday's stage will finish at the summit of Tre Cime di Lavaredo whatever the weather.
Despite bad weather disrupting the final week of the race and snow forcing RCS Sport to cancel stage 19 and redesign stage 20, Vincenzo Nibali's dominance had returned the Giro d'Italia to the front page of Gazzetta dello Sport and produced some spectacular racing that had been admired around the globe.
The news of Di Luca's positive suddenly dragged Italian cycling back into its murky past and quickly overshadowed any good feeling about the Giro d'Italia.
"It's been a very unique day in lots of ways. We hope that these 17 great days of the Giro aren’t cancelled by snow or by the mud," Acquarone said, making it clear who he was referring to.
"In our hearts we've got the warmth of Naples and the sun of Ischia. It's been a spectacular Giro with lots of people along the roadside and watching at home. The snow won't cancel the Galibier stage and the finishes at Ivrea and Vicenza.
"Regarding the mud, we can only say that every time it happens we feel we're a victim but we won’t allow a single case to damage a new cycling generation of clean riders. I'm not trying to minimize things but I think it's a case of an old rider who hasn't understood that the world has changed."
Acquarone's anger was evident as soon as Di Luca's name was mentioned.
"I'm angry because I think: 'How can a rider or a person of his age be so stupid and not understand that the music has changed and not understand the damage he's doing to himself and the whole movement'," Acquarone said.
"I really hope it's a marginal event, but it means were not talking about Nibali's great win yesterday and so [Di Luca] has caused some damage. We're not talking about what we should be talking about."
Di Luca's Vini Fantini-Selle Italia team is not part of the UCI WorldTour and so was invited to the Giro d'Italia by RCS Sport as a wild card team. Di Luca was not part of the team when Vini Fantini was given the wild card, but it was widely expected that he would join the team. Acquarone has no regrets about the decision to include the team, suggesting Di Luca needs help because he has a drug problem.
"The Vini Fantini team is a great expression of Italian cycling," he said.
"It has some great campione in its team; riders such as Garzelli, who wanted to end his career at the Giro, Rabottini, who won the climber's blue jersey last year, Oscar Gatto who won a beautiful Tropea ahead of Contador. When the commission decided to give Vini Fantini a wild card, it was because we've got to support Italian cycling.
"Speaking personally, if someone looks me in the eyes and he tells me 'I made a mistake, I've understood and won't make another mistake' I believe them. When he makes another mistake, it means he's got a drug problem. If he can’t stop himself, he definitely needs help."
Experienced Giro d'Italia technical director Mauro Vegni refuted the suggestion that RSC Sport should have been suspicious of Di Luca's performances after his successful but very late comeback to racing.
"It's not up to us to evaluate a rider's performances. I think it's up to the team, not the organisers," Vegni said.
"He's got a licence from the international federation and so that's OK for us. He undergoes all the controls, like all the riders. He got caught by one of them. I don’t see why we should evaluate his performances.
It's time to stabilise the sport
Acquarone and Vegni hinted they will consider legal action against Di Luca after the Giro d'Italia is over. They also want to continue to work with the teams to create a new, more stable structure for the sport, so riders are less tempted to dope.
Acquarone has held talks with the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels (AIGCP) and offered a revenue-sharing structure. The teams have so far refused a long-term deal but talks are on going and Acquarone met with new AIGCP president Luuc Eisenga this week.
"We're willing to work with the teams and the UCI to make teams more stable, so that so we talk about internal controls and help the teams to help defends themselves and so focus less on individual riders," Acquarone revealed.
"I really think there's a desire to change and there's a desire to work with Luuc Eisenga to find whatever is needed to make sure these cases don’t happen again. I think cycling is changing. It's going in the right direction and a lot is being done. One isolated case of an old rider won't change our strategy."
Mauro Vegni suggested that any reforms should include a change in the international calendar.
"I think that the reforms the UCI is carrying out will be important in this sense. We need to change the world calendar. There are probably too many races, too many races close to each other and above all, the globalization of cycling and addition of new races in new cycling countries, obliges us to review the calendar and the rules that decide it. It's fundamental and decisive for the future of the sport."
"Blanco Update: @RGUpdate did not feel well during and after the time trial. In consultation with the medical staff he won't start anymore."
Gesink came into the race as a contender for the podium and came through the first week skirmishes unscathed and in third place overall.
However last year’s Tour of California champion wilted in the mountains, and despite appearing to recover in recent days, the Dutchman dropped out of the top ten after yesterday’s mountain time trial, lying 12th, 10:19 down on Vincenzo Nibali.
Although team leader Michele Scarponi faded over the second half of the time trial course and conceded further ground to maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), he did enough to edge closer to the podium and now lies 1:08 behind Rigoberto Uran (Sky). For his part, Niemiec took 12th place on the stage, and he retains his 5th position overall, 6:09 behind Nibali.
"The route was pretty hard especially because you needed to push a pretty big gear and I'm happy with how I did because I've managed to hold on to fifth place in general classification," Niemiec told Cyclingnews after the rain-soaked time trial. "But from tomorrow we've got two very hard stages even if we don't know exactly what climbs we'll have."
It seems unfair to say that Niemiec has crept into fifth place overall given the prominent role he has played in working for Scarponi in the mountains, but there is no arguing that his progress has been overshadowed by that of his high-profile leader, who last winter served a three-month ban for frequenting Dr. Michele Ferrari.
Indeed, their places in the hierarchy were reflected starkly by the scenes in the Hotel La Betulla, shortly past the finish of Thursday's stage, where the riders were able to shower and change before descending the mountain. While a camera crew waited anxiously by the elevator for Scarponi to emerge with his thoughts on the afternoon's action, Niemiec was able to slip into the lobby completely unnoticed and sit on a couch to eat an impromptu recovery meal as he spoke to Cyclingnews.
"The principal objective for the team is to put Scarponi on the podium given that he's quite close but it would obviously be good for us if I finish in the top 5 as well, so we'll see how that plays out during the stages to come," Niemiec said of his status in the team.
The 33-year-old Niemiec was a late, late arrival at the highest level. After turning professional with Amore & Vita in 2002, he spent seven seasons at Miche before joining Lampre in 2011.
15th in last year's Vuelta a España, the Pole has enjoyed a rich vein of form this spring, finishing 6th in the Giro del Trentino, 7th in the Volta a Catalunya and 9th in Tirreno-Adriatico, but he admitted that he had not expected to perform so strongly at the Giro.
"Absolutely not, I didn't expect this at all," Niemiec said. "I didn't think the Giro would go as well as this for me personally. I did some good results before the Giro but I really didn't think I'd be 5th after 18 stages. I just hope now I can hang tough over the next two stages and then we'll see where I land on Sunday."
The risk of ice on the descents meant that the Stelvio and Gavia have been cut from stage 19 and will be replaced by the Passo del Tonale and Passo Castrin, while Saturday's tappone to Tre Cime di Lavaredo may also be at risk. With Lampre-Merida's duo still hoping to make up time on a flagging Cadel Evans (BMC), Niemiec admitted that he would have preferred the stages to have been run off as planned. He was confident, however, that Scarponi could cope with the expected conditions in spite of his travails in the frigid temperatures of the Alps last weekend.
"Michele had two stages of minor crisis in the cold but he managed to get over it and now we can all see that he's going well, and he's back in the game for a place on the podium," Niemiec said.
French team to sit out Dauphiné after doping positive
The UCI's Pro Cycling Council has voted to allow the Ag2r-La Mondiale team to forfeit its participation in the Critérium du Dauphiné without being subjected to the financial penalty normally applied to WorldTour teams missing WorldTour events.
The French team opted to skip the race under the rules of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), which calls for any team in the organisation to suspend itself for eight days, starting from the next WorldTour race, after its second doping infraction.
"The PCC decided no fine will ensue (art. 2.15.128) on the grounds that the sporting penalty was sufficient and that the organizer was supportive. The team nonetheless remains solely responsible for its actions," the UCI statement read.
Planning, braking and time splits result in early lead
They were one of the favourites to take out the opening team time trial in the fourth round of the National Road Series at the Jarvis Subaru Adelaide Tour, but few expected Euride Racing to beat the dominant time trial squad of Huon Salmom-Genesys or the ever-consistent Budget Forklifts. But the local team that formed out of the existing South Australian Institute of Sport squad had done their homework well in advance of the 20.9km team effort.
Denied a spot on the TTT podium at the recent FKG Tour of Toowoomba by the slimmest of margins, Euride Racing put in the hard yards and ensured that come race day they could exploit every ounce of their local knowledge. Practice makes perfect as they say and while the South Australian squad may not have had the firepower to topple Huon Salmon-Genesys, Drapac or Budget Forklifts in Queensland at Toowoomba, they knew Adelaide's test would come down to much more than just watts.
"What helped us here is local knowledge," explained team manager and rider Fraser Northey to Cyclingnews.
"We looked at a lot of time splits throughout training, the tight corners, we know we can go through them without braking too much and we knew exactly where to rotate our riders and who would go over each climb. I guess it was a bit of a risk in some of the tactics we chose but it paid off."
The course started at Cudlee Creek and flew down the primarily downhill Gorge Road - the same used by the peloton at this year's Tour Down Under before they turned off to climb the decisive Corkscrew climb - and knowing how fast each bend could be negotiated was key to Euride maintaining their speed along the flatter, middle section. A few minor climbs in the opening seven kilometers and again toward the finale were 'make or break' areas and this is where time would be made or lost, according to Northey.
"The two main points on the course are the first three climbs. We had eight men rotating through until we got to them and then our three power riders sat on and dictated the pace. They were riding to their limit but it kept us all together. As soon as we got over the top those three would pick up the pace and ride longer turns. Once we got down the descent it was back to an eight-man rotation.
"We knew exactly where to brake and not to brake. We looked at little things like the first man had to wait about three seconds before he would kick-out of it - to keep the team together. We planned a lot of it and just had to stick to it."
The scientific approach taken to the opening TTT means that Harry Carpenter, who was the first from Euride Racing to cross the white line and three of his teammates, will start the second and penultimate Stuart O'Grady road race on the front foot. It's a position that few National Road Series teams have been in, given that Huon Salmon-Genesys has spent nearly every day of the season so far with the leader's jersey on their backs.
"There's only one real road race so the emphasis was on the team time trial. That was massive because if we won it there would be four or five riders on the same time and then allows you to play more than one card. Everyone knows defending is much easier than trying to regain the lead."
Garmin Sharp DS on the weather and tough conditions
Garmin Sharp came into this year’s Giro d’Italia with high expectations following Ryder Hesjedal’s 2012 victory. However since the Canadian's abandonment in the second week the American team has forced to change tactics.
Ramunas Navardauskas rescued the team with a win on stage 11 but the race has been a tough event for the team with David Millar and Nathan Haas joining Hesjedal on the sidelines.
In this exclusive video for Cyclingnews Garmin-Sharps’ director sportif Charly Wegelius discusses the team’s race. The former domestique, who rode as a loyal climber for many Giro champions also discusses the parcours and the weather that has dominated this year’s Giro.
With stage 19 cancelled and stage 20 modified and losing multiple climbs, Wegelius, who spoke during Thursday’s time trial, admits that Vincenzo Nibali has been the strongest rider in the race, and that despite the course changes, the Italian is a worthy winner.