Danilo Di Luca, 35, will sign a deal today with Russian squad Katusha, according to Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, although he will be racing for free.
The Russian squad will be Di Luca’s first team since completing his suspension for a double positive for EPO in the 2009 Giro d’Italia, a race he won back in 2007.
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Di Luca’s program has already been decided, with Amstel, Fleche and Liege-Bastogne-Liege all on his schedule, as well as the Tours of Italy and Spain.
“I feel like a new man. I’m riding for free. I’ve drawn up a list of bonuses for wins with [team manager Andrei] Tchmil,” Di Luca told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Di Luca also had had discussions with Astana, and at one point he was close to signing with that squad because he has good relationship with team manager Giuseppe Martinelli, his former boss in the now-defunct Saeco squad.
However, he finally opted for a different team, saying he needed a ‘big change’ and the deal is expected to be formalised today, after which Di Luca will head straight to the Katusha training camp in Calpe, Spain.
Team manager Tchmil was quoted as saying that Di Luca will race as a support rider for Joaquin Rodriguez in the Giro d’Italia, before leading the team in the Vuelta a Espana. In the Vuelta, which Di Luca led briefly back in 2006, he will be aiming to win.
Suspended for two years and fined 280,000 euros for his double positive for EPO in the 2009 Tour of Italy, in which he finished second, Di Luca’s rapid return to racing came after he collaborated with ongoing investigations into doping and had his penalty significantly reduced.
Di Luca’s signing for Katusha brings the total of riders in the Russian squad up to 30 for 2011, the maximum for a ProTeam level squad. Amongst other big signings are Leif Hoste, three times second in the Tour of Flanders, and Luca Paolini, a former double stage winner in the Tour of Britain and winner of numerous one-day races.