A look at Danilo Di Luca's year so far...
By Les Clarke
If Danilo Di Luca were to call an early end to his season after the spring classics, many would say he's had an incredible year - but to follow up his wins at Amstel Gold Race and La Fleche Wallonne, Di Luca currently leads the Giro d'Italia, easily the most consistent rider so far.
The Liquigas gun also leads the Pro Tour standings as a result of his great performances, donning the white outfit with plenty of pride. Over the last three weeks, the only time Di Luca hasn't been dressed in white on a bike is when he's been wearing the maglia rosa - something he's becoming very fond of.
Touted as a great hope for the Liquigas team at their launch earlier this year, Di Luca has been quick to praise their efforts - following his Fleche Wallonne win he said; "My team did a great job. It was only when we all arrived together at the foot of the last climb that I thought of winning. This morning, I was actually more focused on Liège-Bastogne-Liège!" It's been more of the same during the Giro, with his team setting up a strong push in the last 50km of most stages, and Di Luca hasn't disappointed, finding the strength to hold off most contenders but never doing anything to harm his chances overall.
Happy days after a disappointing 2004
It may seem like Di Luca's stellar 2005 performances come after a promising buildup in preceding years, but that's definitely not the case - quite the opposite, in fact. Riding for the Saeco Macchine per Caffe team, 2004 wasn't one of Di Luca's best years - "I was feeling good at the start of the year. I was fourth in Amstel, second in Flèche, but then I was sick before Liege-Bastogne-Liege so I couldn't start. After that, my team wasn't accepted for the Tour, I wasn't in the national team for the World's and the Olympic Games, so it was really bad for me." A large part of that 'bad' 2004 was being 'uninvited' to the Tour de France after finding himself part of an audio recording with Dr Carlo Santuccione about new performance-enhancing drugs. Italian police took possession of the recording and Di Luca was subsequently omitted from le Tour.
His non-selection for the Italian Worlds team had a little to do with this incident and a lot to do with the dilemma facing manager Franco Ballerini; with so much depth in Italian cycling, who would he select as team leader (in accordance with his selection philosophy)? He decided against Di Luca, even though he is a proven classics rider. With only a third placing to the Italians, some would say Di Luca's inclusion would have made the difference - for Di Luca it just added to the disappointment of the year. It was a similar situation in relation to Olympic team selection, although the result in Athens (Bettini winning gold) dampened any claims made in support of Di Luca's inclusion.
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