The Giro d?Italia champion is without a job and has been forced to look for his own private sponsors so he can offer himself to a team free of charge.

It is an astonishing situation for the winner of a grand tour and one of the most prestigious Classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, to find himself in.

And they say the anti-doping effort is not working?

If it were all about results, Danilo Di Luca would be fighting off the interest with a big stick and naming his price for 2008.

Instead, the scale of the controversy around the Italian makes him untouchable.

Liquigas decided not to renew his contract just months after he delivered victory in the Giro d?Italia. He will be 32 in January ? hardly over the hill.

But he?s just too hot to handle at the moment. Currently he?s serving a three-month suspension (handily for Di Luca it?s running out-of-season) for associating with a banned doctor, Carlo Santuccione in 2003 and 2004.

And there is the possibility of another investigation into his conduct. Surprise tests during the Giro d?Italia revealed Di Luca had the hormone levels of a child, possibly indicating manipulation. The Italian Olympic Committee is poised to investigate.

After Johan Bruyneel had his fingers burned for signing Ivan Basso last year, team managers are being more cautious this winter.

Di Luca is banned, and so the ethical charter agreed by the ProTour teams bars them from signing him now. Perhaps when the suspension expires in the new year there will be a team willing to brave the barrage of criticism. But it?s unlikely anyone will rush to match the reported £600,000 annual salary Di Luca was being paid by Liquigas.

Bizarrely, Di Luca claimed to the Italian press that CSC had made an approach. That seemed about as likely as the organiser of the pie-in-the-sky Tour of America announcing a grand depart in Tehran. Bjarne Riis? look-a-like mouthpiece, Brian Nygaard, was quick to scotch the claim ? stating in no uncertain terms that CSC had absolutely no interest in Di Luca.

So, what does this very public snubbing of a rider who has delivered two huge results mean?

It means that the message is sinking in. Di Luca?s conduct has not been beyond reproach. Yes, he can state that Dr Santuccione was his family doctor but when Santuccione was banned from practicing for doping athletes, Di Luca should have cut ties immediately, for his own sake.

The telephone conversations between Di Luca and Santuccione, recorded by the Italian anti-doping police and published in French newspaper Le Monde implicate Di Luca further.

Di Luca protests his innocence ? don?t they all? ? but the gun is smoking.

It has been argued that the continued scandals demonstrate that the anti-doping effort is not working and that another approach should be sought. But that is lunacy ? akin to saying that murder should be legalised because the police can?t stop people killing each other.

The fact cycling?s top teams have distanced themselves from a proven winner with a murky track record demonstrates the tide is beginning to turn. Di Luca?s case has shown that a rider with a poor reputation will struggle to find a job.

Of course there is likely to be a wild cat team willing to take a punt on Di Luca in the new year. The opportunity to sign a ?big name? may prove irresistible to some. But the organisers of the races are slowly wising up too. Is there any guarantee that the Giro d?Italia will roll out the red carpet to any team that signs him?

What will be fascinating is whether the organisers of the Giro invite Di Luca to the presentation of the 2008 race route on December 1. It?s hard to see how they can give a warm welcome to a rider who is banned from competition, even if it is the off-season.

It?s likely that just like Oscar Sevilla and Francesco Mancebo, Danilo Di Luca will pull on a team jersey next year. All smiles and defiance, the true mark of his worth will be the size of his monthly pay cheque.


Di Luca finds his own sponsors