By Gregor Brown and Monika Prell
Saunier Duval is reportedly interested in signing 2007 Giro d'Italia champion Danilo Di Luca. Spanish media has reported that the ProTour team's directeur sportif, Joxean Fernández Matxin, has spoken with the 31 year-old from Abruzzo. However, a recent three-month suspension by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has made contract negations difficult for the rider who rode for Liquigas during the last three seasons.
"It would be a pleasure to work with Di Luca, but I think the team is already complete for 2008; maybe we can talk about it in the next year," said Saunier Duval Directeur Sportif Matteo Algeri to Cyclingnews Wednesday morning when questioned about the news from Spain. "We don't know about the future of the ProTour, and the rules for surrounding the signing Di Luca are confusing. In my opinion it is better to wait; right now, unfortunately, it would be difficult to sign Di Luca."
However, Basque daily Diario Vasco confirmed Matxin is discussing a contract with the rider known as 'The Killer.' "We are interested in Di Luca and we are talking with him," affirmed the team's main contact in Spain. "Still, nothing is signed."
The Italian is currently on holiday in Polynesia. Upon his return this Sunday he will make a decision about his future contract and if he will appeal CONI's suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Besides Saunier Duval, it is reported that he also has offers from Lampre-Fondital, Acqua & Sapone and LPR.
ProTour Team Lampre already has a contender for the Grand Tours in Damiano Cunego. The 2004 Giro winner confirmed to Cyclingnews that he had not heard anything of Di Luca joining his team. "I have heard the news, and I know to make a decision like this that they would first ask me – and I have not heard anything."
Italian Professional Continental Teams Acqua & Sapone and LPR might offer reasonable options for Di Luca. The former is run by Palmiro Masciarelli, who has strong links with Di Luca as they are from neighbouring regions in the south and they have worked together in the past at Team Cantina Tollo. Switzerland-based Team LPR would be a likely home but, as with Acqua & Sapone, funding Di Luca contract would be an issue, and it has already engaged Paolo Savoldelli.
Algeri confirmed that Saunier has men for the Grand Tours even with Gilberto Simoni's departure to the team of Gianni Savio. "For the Giro – [Riccardo] Riccò, and for the Tour I think it will be [José Angel Gomez] Marchante." In addition, the team managed by Mauro Gianetti has searched for a second title sponsor with no avail. "At the moment we have just Saunier Duval," concluded Algeri to Cyclingnews. Prodir will still be involved with the team it has sponsored since 2004 but not as a title sponsor.
Matxin affirmed to Diario Vasco that Saunier Duval is "in contact with various companies that could become a co-sponsor on our jerseys so that we have the funds to go about this contract." Should the team sign Di Luca, it is likely that his home region of Abruzzo would provide sponsorship - reportedly a sum of one million euro.
"At the moment we have various options of co-sponsors, and this gives us certain tranquillity," Matxin continued. "We don't want to waste a lot of time with the decision. ... Di Luca or not, we may sign another rider." The final roaster could come before the team's first meeting in Noja, Spain, December 1 and 5.
Matxin confirmed that Saunier Duval will go on sponsoring its amateur team and also a Spanish Continental team. "It [the continental team] will be the successor of the Grupo Nicolás Mateos, with José Luis De Santos as directeur." Matxin stated that some "good Basque riders" will be in its ranks.
"It's a pity that we have not been able to go on with [Javier] Etxarri, [Rubén] Reig and Sergio Domínguez, but we have some good hopes." The three Spaniards are going to ride with the new Professional Continental formation of Nicolás Mateos.