Danilo Di Luca thought he was the best rider in the world after winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro d?Italia this year. He was convinced he was set for another big contract in 2008, but after being caught up in a doping scandal the Italian has been forced to find his own sponsors, and is now desperately looking for a team that will give him a place in 2008.
Di Luca has struggled to find a team ever since being placed under investigation by the Italian Olympic Committee?s doping investigators. Liquigas initially refused to renew his 600,000 pound contract, and then dropped him like a stone in the summer when the investigations continued.
Di Luca has always denied any wrong doing and has only been banned for three months for working with Dr Santuccione, but his suspension was enough for the Union Cycliste International to eliminate him from the ProTour standings while leading the competition and so stop him from winning the ProTour in the Tour of Lombardy should he have started.
The Italian has been linked with several teams in recent months, but widespread budget cuts have so far left him at the top of a long list of unemployed riders looking for a team and worried about their future.
According to a detailed story in Sunday?s Gazzetta dello Sport, Di Luca has given up waiting for major offers and has gathered a collection of personal sponsors who will cover his wages in 2008. He and his managers are now trying to convince to a team to give him a place in their line-up, for virtually nothing.
According to Gazzetta, Lampre, Acqua e Sapone, LPR and Tenax have been approached in Italy, with Saunier Duval, Caisse d?Epargne, CSC and Astana also contacted. However the best chance seems to be with Jacques Hanegraaf?s new team that is set to rise from the ashes of Unibet.com. Di Luca has left for a two-week holiday in the Pacific but hopes to sign with a team when he returns.
?I won the Giro d?Italia but I?ve had to worry about my own future by working with my managers,? Di Luca told Gazzetta before going on holiday.
?We came up with a home made solution, using my name in Italy and thanks to my friends. Two or three companies are close to signing and I hope it will be all sorted out when I get back from my holidays. I want to ride the spring classics and the Giro. If it doesn?t happen it?s be absurd, even if things are already crazy in cycling.?
When he gets back from his holiday?s Di Luca will also be busy with his appeal against his three-month ban. He is waiting for the final detailed verdict and will then appeal to the Court for Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. By the time a final verdict emerges Di Luca will have already served his three-month ban but hopes to use a decision I his favour as a basis to sue for damages.
?I wasn?t suspended for doping and the accusations are from before the ProTour ethics code was introduced so I?m not worried,? Di Luca said.
Comment: Di Luca's desperation