After a Giro d'Italia where he spent five days in the leader's pink jersey Danilo Di Luca says he will return to racing for the HEW-Cyclassics-Cup in Hamburg on July 31 with just one aim for the rest of the year: to win the inaugural ProTour series.
His stint in pink at the Giro has shot Di Luca to fame in Italy. "The pink race has made me more popular than I have ever been," he said in a team statement. "One month ago I was known mainly by cycling fans; now I am stopped in the street by children and housewives as well."
However, Di Luca doesn't seem to be letting it go to his head. "As far as I'm concerned, nothing has changed. I'm still the same man," he said.
Aside from a couple of showcase criterium races Di Luca has stayed off the bike since the Giro. He hasn't been idle though. "I couldn't disappoint those who asked for a little bit of my attention and time," he said, adding that he'd been to, "several parties (the nicest one in my town of Spoltore where the mayor invited 4,000 people to the main square), some evenings with my friends, a look at the latest adjustments to my new house in Pescara and, of course, all the time my wife deserves."
But now it's time to get serious again. Di Luca plans to devote the next six weeks to, "hard training and serenity. I'd like to stay at home, but if the weather is very hot, I'll spend a period in the mountains. Not in Mexico… Roccaraso would be all right."
While he'll return to competition in Hamburg, Di Luca says he doesn't expect to be a contender there. "I won't be in top form and it's pretty unlikely I'll fight for the win," he said. "Things wouldn't change very much even if I came back racing one week earlier: the riders coming back from the Tour would take their advantage. In Hamburg I'm going to score some useful points, maybe by entering the group of the first ten men. I need to be at my best in San Sebastian, in the Tour of Germany and in September's Tour of Poland. Scoring some points in those race could allow me to relax."
Di Luca believes he can land the ProTour title without winning another race this season, as long as he can maintain the form he has displayed so far. "After all, I scored six prestigious wins this year. I'd be very happy if the seventh win was the Pro Tour leader's jersey at the end of the Giro di Lombardia," he said.
As for other races this year, the world championships is not a goal. "The National team should support Petacchi," said Di Luca. "I'd be very glad to help Alessandro, if Ballerini wanted. If not, it wouldn't be a problem."
Less far away is the Tour de France, which Di Luca sees as a two-horse race this year. "Lance is the favourite rider but I [would] bet on Jan Ullrich too, though he made a false step in the Tour de Suisse, " he said. "I think this year the German will make things difficult for Armstrong. It will be a great challenge."
But Di Luca thinks his countryman Ivan Basso may have taken on too much by riding the Giro and then the Tour. "I hope he will perform excellently but I'm not sure about it. Fighting against opponents who aim only at the Tour is not easy at all."
Di Luca also paid tribute to his team-mate Alessio Galletti who died suddenly of a heart attack on June 15. "We have been team-mates for two years. He was such a joyful and lively guy, a true team-man and an indispensable rider for the strategies of the team. I'm sad about his death and I [feel for] his wife Consuelo, their little son, their relatives… I know them all and I can just imagine how much they are suffering."