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ROME (AFP) – The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) banned Italian cyclist Danilo Di Luca for life on Thursday due to a positive test for the banned blood booster erythropoietin (EPO).
Di Luca tested positive for EPO in an out of competition test on April 29, forcing him to quit the Giro d’Italia.
Di Luca, 37, won the Giro in 2007, and finished second overall in 2009. He also served suspensions during both of those seasons — in 2007, for prior involvement with Italian doping doctor Carlo Santuccione, and in 2009, when he tested positive for using the blood-booster CERA during that year’s Giro.
Di Luca also delivered a urine sample during his 2007 Giro victory that reportedly recorded the hormone levels of a small child, dubbed “pipi degli angeli” (angel’s pee), a sign of the use of masking agents. However he ultimately was cleared for that offense, with CONI anti-doping officials admitting there was “not a sufficient degree of probability” for a doping conviction. He was able to keep his 2007 Giro title, though he was stripped of his 2009 second-place finish.
“He punched the Giro d’Italia in the stomach in 2007 and almost did it again in 2009,” former Giro d’Italia race director Angelo Zomegnan famously said on Italian television.
After serving a suspension, Di Luca returned in 2011 with Katusha, riding for no salary. He rode last year with Acqua & Sapone, and only opened his 2013 campaign after signing with Vini Fantini in late April. Shortly thereafter, he failed his out-of-competition drug test. Former Giro d’Italia race director Michele Acquarone called Di Luca’s 2013 positive test a “sign of addiction.”
As well as the life ban, Di Luca was also fined 35,000 euros, and his results since mid-April have been erased from the record books.
Sprint superstar Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) said the altered Milano-Sanremo course is too hard and he will skip the 2014 edition.
Cavendish, who won the Italian monument in 2009, said the addition of a new climb late in the race makes the Italian classic not to his liking.
“I can say for certain I will not race Milan-San Remo this year, and maybe never again,” Cavendish told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “If the course is never like it was before, maybe I will never race it again, and my 2009 win will be my only one.”
Race organizers are tweaking the finale of the “classicissima,” removing the Maniè climb with about 100 kilometers to go, adding the Pompeiaga climb in the closing kilometers.
In a bid to make the season’s longest classic even more challenging, organizers have added another steep climb in the closing hour of racing for the 105th edition, set for March 23.
The new climb will come after the Cipressa and before the Poggio, the often-decisive final climb along the Italian Riviera. Pompeiaga is about 5km long, and will provide a chance for more attacks from riders looking to disrupt a sprint finish.
Cavendish is the first major name to confirm he will skip racing on the altered course, which has drawn a mixed reaction among the peloton.
Cavendish, speaking to the Italian sports daily during a visit to the McLaren facilities, said he would be focusing on his sprints during the 2014 season.
With the Tour de France starting in the United Kingdom in what will likely be a sprint finish, Cavendish will have a chance to claim the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.
Cavendish, who also confirmed he will be racing the Giro d’Italia, said he sees “six or seven” stages ideal for sprints during the 2014 Tour.
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Sky is convening this week at Mallorca in its first major get-together ahead of the 2014 season.
After a few weeks of unplugging and relaxing, riders and staff are regrouping from around the world to the Mediterranean island this week to mark out plans for the season to come.
These are heady times for the U.K.-based team. Sky has emerged as the team of reference in the international peloton, winning back-to-back Tours de France with two different riders, a landmark that’s only been achieved a handful of times in cycling history.
The team’s major goals for 2014 are already well documented: Chris Froome will return to France with the goal of confirming his impressive victory this summer. Richie Porte, the plucky Tasmanian who enjoyed a breakout season in 2013, will be untethered for a run at the Giro d’Italia. The team’s spring classics squad will be back in the mix, looking to round out the team’s otherwise stellar palmares.
So where does that leave Bradley Wiggins?
Cycling’s lone “knight” looks to be the odd man out on the team that was initially built around his gifted but sometimes mercurial engine.
Sky has been evasive about what it plans to do with Wiggins next season.
In a handful of interviews over the past few months, there’s a sense among Sky’s brass that they don’t quite know what to do with the man who made history by winning Great Britain’s first yellow jersey in 2012.
As early as last July, team boss Dave Brailsford suggested Wiggins and Froome will line up together again for the Tour start in 2014, telling Owen Slot of The London Times, “They can definitely ride together again. On a personal level, I’d love to see them do the Tour together again next year.”
Talking to William Fotheringham at The Guardian last month, Sky coach Rod Ellingworth also stoked the flames that Wiggins and Froome could race side by side in the 2014 Tour, but added a heavy asterisk.
“It’s too early to say at the moment as we are in the middle of our review period, but we need to put the best nine best guys to the line,” Ellingworth said. “No one has a right of passage because of their past or because we like them.”
There seems to be little doubt about who the team’s outright leader will be. Froome will return as Sky’s No. 1 rider and the entire team will be at his disposal, with or without Wiggins.
Whether Wiggins returns to the Tour depends a lot on him.
First, he will have to mend fences with Froome. Then, as Ellingworth suggested, he will need the conditioning to prove he deserves a spot on the Tour Nine.
Wiggins, who turns 34 in April, has one more season on his current contract with Sky. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do with it.
So far, Wiggins hasn’t given much away. He’s hinted he might want to race Paris-Roubaix and take aim at the world time trial title in September. He’s already suggested that he will return with a return to his roots on the track with a quest for another Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
So 2014 could well be Wiggins’ final full season dedicated to the road.
There will surely be some heart-to-heart conversations this week on Mallorca about what to do with Wiggins.
Brailsford has a soft spot for his mercurial star, as the pair dates back to Wiggins’ early days on the track, and the Sky principal will always remain Wiggins’ backer. Yet at the same time, Brailsford is smart enough to realize that it’s Froome who owns the future.
Wiggins will remain loyal to Brailsford and Sky, and if that means riding in support of Froome, that’s what he’ll do.
In a telling interview with The Times last summer, Wiggins said if he returns to the Tour, it would be as a “super domestique” to help Froome.
Of course, Wiggins on form still has a huge motor, and Brailsford will want to find a way to keep him motivated and ready for the Tour, especially if Froome has some bad luck.
It remains to be seen if Froome and Wiggins can bury the hatchet, however. There’s still plenty of bad blood between the pair, and Wiggins was still stirring the pot throughout the first half of the season about who would lead Sky for the 2013 Tour.
That eventually became a moot point when Wiggins fell ill and withdrew from the Giro and didn’t even line up to defend his yellow jersey in Corsica.
In David Walsh’s latest book, he revealed that Wiggins didn’t pay Froome his share of the 2012 winner’s bonus until the world championships this year in Florence, indicating that there remains some tension between the pair.
Despite a terribly inconsistent 2013 season, Wiggins remains a huge star in the United Kingdom. He salvaged his season by winning the Tour of Britain, a victory that made massive headlines across the U.K.
With the Tour de France starting on home roads, it will be hard to imagine that Sky will not be tempted to have both Wiggins and Froome at the start line in Yorkshire.
The seeds to a possible Froome-Wiggins détente are being planted this week on Mallorca.
MILAN (VN) — Michele Acquarone, the now ex-Giro d’Italia race director, attacked RCS Mediagroup today at a press conference in Milan. He said that the Milan publishing house kept him in the dark in its fraud investigation into 13 million euros that went missing.
“Over two months, it can only make one announcement? It blamed me, cut me off, removed my computer and took my telephone. They’ve ruined my reputation,” Acquarone said. “I’ve done everything according to the books in my years at RCS.”
The Italian from Sanremo started working in 1999 with RCS Sport, RCS Mediagroup’s sporting subsidiary. He became the director of the annual race through Italy in the summer of 2011, replacing Angelo Zomegnan. In the midst of an investigation, however, RCS Mediagroup suspended and fired Acquarone.
It has yet to make an official announcement but made its decision Tuesday. Acquarone wanted to tell his story today.
“It’s been two months of isolation,” he added. “I’ve been linked and accused of taking the money.”
Milano Finanza reported at the start of October that RCS Mediagroup began its investigation. It reported 13m euros in missing funds and the suspensions of Acquarone and media relations director Matteo Pastore. Administrative director Laura Bertinotti quit and Catano switched departments at that time.
RCS released a statement in October saying that it handed the investigation over to outside experts and that it replaced chairman Flavio Biondi with Raimondo Zanaboni. Silence followed.
Acquarone contacted VeloNews on Friday and said he would speak this week. RCS likely had already made its decision, which made its way to the press Tuesday: Giro boss Acquarone fired. In addition to Acquarone, it dismissed Catano.
“I feel like a scapegoat for how the news came out. I think the facts will tell the story but for now, I feel like a scapegoat,” Acquarone added. He denied taking any money. “I’ve not taken a euro extra over my salary.”
A criminal investigation will but RCS has kept details of this secret. In this period, it communicated with Acquarone twice, both times with a registered letter: once suspending him and the second time firing him.
On Sunday, the Tutto Bici website reported that RCS is leading toward appointing Paolo Bellino as the Giro’s sixth director. The Italian from Piedmont is a former track and field athlete and currently serves as the Italian Athletics Federation’s secretary general.
Acquarone closed the shortest chapter, two and a half years, in Giro history. The Italian stage race began in 1909 with Armando Cougnet in charge and passed to Vincenzo Torriani, Carmine Castellano and Zomegnan, but it never had such a short-lived boss in 104 years.
He said that RCS Mediagroup’s actions over the last two months ruins his reputation and makes his next step difficult. “I worked well in RCS for 14 years, five years on the sporting side. I hope that has value. What matters more, those five years or these two months? I know I’ll have to start from zero.”
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