Giro d?Italia winner and current ProTour leader Danilo Di Luca has been banned for three months by the Italian Olympic committee for his links to Dr Carlo Santuccione.
The anti-doping investigators of the Italian Olympic Committee had requested a four-month ban for the Liquigas rider but following a 90-minute hearing in Rome on Tuesday morning, the panel of seven Italian Olympic Committee judges gave the 31 year-old from central Italy a three month ban.
Di Luca has always claimed Santuccione was his family doctor , but under Italian Cycling Federation rules the ProTour leader should have ended all links to Santuccione because he had been banned for five years for doping offences and was also under investigation as part of the ?Oil for Drugs? police operation.
Di Luca will now not be able to ride Saturday?s Tour of Lombardy and so risks losing the individual ProTour title in the season-long competition to Australia?s Cadel Evans of the Predictor team. Evans is only 15 points behind Di Luca and needs to finish in the top six to snatch overall victory in the ProTour.
If Di Luca manages to hold on to the ProTour title, the UCI will face the embarrassment of awarding their most prestigious prize to a rider suspended and under further investigation for doping. The three-month suspension will also affect Di Luca ‘s long-term future. Liquigas have refused to renew his contract for 2008 and he has only had limited offers from LPR and Lampre.
While leaving the Italian Olympic Committee in Rome, Di Luca insisted he was innocent.
“I don’t want to say I’m angry but I’m definitely disappointed. I’m going to carry on fighting because I’m convinced that I’m innocent,” he said.