By Shane Stokes
The possibility of a ProTour series victory by Cadel Evans increased on Tuesday due to the news that current leader Danilo Di Luca had been suspended for three months due to his links with controversial Italian doctor Carlos Santuccione, but it's possible that the final outcome of the season-long contest may not be known for several months.
Evans is currently 15 points behind Di Luca and needs to finish sixth or better in Saturday's Giro di Lombardia in order to end the year with a higher points total. However the current doping investigation into Alexandre Vinokourov may also play a part, due to the fact that Evans finished second behind the Astana rider in the stage 13 time trial at the Tour de France.
Vinokourov took ten ProTour points for the victory but stands to lose these if he is found guilty on the charge of homologous blood doping. He was tested after his time trial success and ejected from the race when those results came back positive. Evans told Cyclingnews on Tuesday that this made the current situation less than straightforward.
"The ProTour is certainly a target. I think to win it is prestigious, to come second isn't a big deal, it seems," he said. "But it is also a bit complicated. For example, take the points from the Albi time trial stage – do I get them or not? Things like that make it a bit strange."
UCI ProTour manager Alain Rumpf confirmed to Cyclingnews on Wednesday that the result may be revised and thus play a part. "If Vinokourov is disqualified from the Tour de France, Cadel will be declared the winner of the Albi time trial and get an additional five UCI ProTour points. However, we have to wait until the procedure against him is over to have a confirmation of the above."
In the event that Evans does receive five extra points, seventh in Lombardia would see him ultimately finish with a five-point advantage over Di Luca. Given that Vinokourov's disciplinary process is likely to take at least several months, it makes it theoretically possible that the winner of the 2007 ProTour would not be known until some point next year, echoing the delay which existed in determining the winner of the 2006 Tour de France.
A tie between Di Luca and Evans is possible and in this situation, Rumpf said that a count back system would be used to determine who the winner is. "In the case of a tie in the final classification, the rider with the greatest number of first places, second places et cetera on the classification of the races of the current year, whichever his placing, shall take precedence. The riders are first separated by first places and then it only goes to second places if there is still a tie."
In this case, the ProTour victory would go to Di Luca due to his wins in 2007. He triumphed in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and then took two stage victories plus the overall classification in the Giro d'Italia. Evans' points have been achieved through a number of high placings, including second in the Tour de France and Dauphiné Libéré, plus fourth in the Vuelta a España. He hasn't taken a ProTour victory, although he could gain one if Vinokourov is ultimately removed as the winner in Albi. Evans will be consequently aiming for a win or high placing on Saturday in order to remove any doubts.
Could Di Luca be disqualified?
However, as reported yesterday, the UCI will this week study the reason for Di Luca's suspension and this may further affect the situation. "We are currently investigating the consequences of today's decision of the CONI on Di Luca's status in the 2007 UCI ProTour rankings," said Rumpf on Tuesday. "As we have not yet received the official decision of CONI, we do not expect to come to a conclusion before tomorrow [Wednesday]."
Di Luca's links to Santuccione relate to previous seasons, so it is unknown if this could impact on his ProTour lead. However, it is believed that CONI studied the results of his anti-doping results at this year's Giro d'Italia. The Liquigas rider was one of those named in June as returning abnormally low hormone values after the stage to Monte Zoncolan on May 30.