Cadel Evans (Predictor) is set to snatch overall victory in the ProTour after the UCI announced that current ProTour leader Danilo Di Luca of Italy has been excluded from the season-long competition following his ban by the Italian Olympic Committee.
Di Luca was suspended for three months for working with Dr Carlo Santuccione who has banned for doping offences and is currently under investigation as part of the ?Oil for Drugs? police enquiry.
With Di Luca out of the ProTour rankings, Evans now leads Spain?s Alberto Contador by 36 points with 2006 ProTour winner Alejandro Valverde third at 37 points and Oscar Freire third with 182 points.
With only Saturday?s Tour of Lombardy left to race has overall victory in the bag. Contador has already ended his season after winning the Tour de France, while Freire has little chance in the hilly race. Valverde will have to finish first or second at Lombardy with Evans outside of the top seven places but has hardly raced since the Tour de France and is not expected to challenge in the tough 242km Tour of Lombardy.
?My chances look good now. I don?t know all the details about Di Luca?s suspension but it means my chances of victory have improved dramatically,? Evans said after hearing about Di Luca?s suspension.
?Before I was behind Di Luca but now I?ve got a good lead on Alejandro Valverde. To win he?s got to finish first or second and even if he does I can still win if I finish in the top seven. That?s not bad odds. It?s perhaps not the best way to win the ProTour and unfortunately cycling is being used a political scapegoat at the moment, but these things go both ways. Last year I wasn?t awarded points when riders were caught for doping and I?m still waiting to find out if I?ll get some more points after Alexandre Vinokourov?s positive in this year?s Tour de France time trial.?
Evans lives in the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland during the cycling season and crossed into Italy on Wednesday to train on the course of the Tour of Lombardy with several team mates. He made it clear he will ride to win in the hope that victory in the ProTour comes as a natural consequence.
?It?s a tough route but I?ve ridden the Tour of Lombardy five times and so know the key climbs. The last one near Como is steep but I finished fourth in 2004 and so know what it?s like,? he said.
?Despite now having a good lead in the ProTour I?m going to try and win the Tour of Lombardy. I?m tired after a long hard season but so is everybody else.?
Evans named Frank Schleck (CSC), new world champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) as favourites for the Tour of Lombardy.
Other riders to watch for are Damiano Cunego (Lampre), current Italian national champion Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Leonardo Bertagnolli (Liquigas) and Alessandro Bertolini (Diquigiovanni). Holland?s Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) will not ride the Tour of Lombardy after failing to recover from a knee injury.
Race organisers have announced that a minute’s silence will held before the start of the Tour of Lombardy to remember 1961 winner Vito Taccone, who died recently.
There will be a full report from the Tour of Lombardy here at www.cyclingweekly.com and in next week?s Cycling Weekly magazine.
Tour of Lombardy 2007: route map
Tour of Lombardy 2007: course profile