Many are keeping an eye on Danilo Di Luca. The Italian rider is on the comeback trail with Katusha after a lengthy ban and came close to a stage win in Tirreno-Adriatico over the weekend.
Several times during his career Di Luca has been linked to doping scandals and investigations. In 2009 suspicious bio passport data led to him being targeted with frequent doping controls and with reason, since was caught using CERA, a blood-boosting product in the Giro d’Italia. Given this history, his return is hardly being greeted with cheers. I myself would rather he had retired, that his spot was taken by a promising young rider.
But we’re not there. Di Luca is racing and worryingly close to his old levels. Eyebrows are being raised. Yet all the same, I feel uncomfortable with this.
First, it’s up to the authorities to catch anyone up to no good. Sometimes the presumption of innocence gets discarded like a used water bottle. We might not like it but having served a ban – and one shortened after co-operating with the authorities – he’s got every right to come back. This isn’t to give him a free pass, we need to be vigilant.
Second, Di Luca seems to attract a lot of criticism but there’s a danger he becomes a scapegoat. Yes he stands out for showing little remorse but he’s not the only rider to come back after a ban. Michele Scarponi was banned and seems to be riding better than when Manolo Saiz employed him? Ivan Basso is almost venerated these days. Over in Paris-Nice Andreas Kloeden did well, he wasn’t banned but he doesn’t have a great reputation.
There are no rules about becoming accepted again but there are some basics:
- express remorse: a rider needs to admit some wrongdoing and explain why they did it.
- promises of change: talk of new ways and lessons learnt seems to work
- transparency: Basso invited journalists to follow him and posted blood values online
The trouble with these ideas is that a good actor can sail through these things. Some riders really don’t believe they done anything wrong. There’s a good piece by Jeff Volkmer and Neil Browne that explains the relativism at work where they quote Floyd Landis:
“somebody is going to cheat those guys and I’d rather not be the guy getting cheated”
Here the American rider explains his use of performance enhancing drugs. As others were already doping he felt he was the one getting cheated… so he had to get even. It’s this relativism that explains a lot of the gulf between those involved in doping and the fans on the outside. Of course, it is a basic human condition to justify behaviour, and rationalising wrong decisions plays a big part in bolstering the original decision to cheat. Yet this view explains why many riders don’t seem burdened with guilt when they’re exposed.
So a cynical rider might not feel bad but for the sake of public acceptance maybe they it’s better to fake some remorse. After all, Riccardo Riccò promised to work with the late Aldo Sassi, even Di Luca denounced doping in the past, only to get rumbled. It’s hard to determine the sincerity. There’s no WADA-validated test for crocodile tears.
To return to Di Luca I fear we have to be careful not to hang all the problems of doping on Di Luca. As much as I don’t like seeing him race, there are plenty more who we should be keeping a very close eye on. But all these secondary thoughts can ruin a lot of TV viewing. It’s not so much a moral maze but a moral marsh: you can get bogged down by weighing up riders and their past. Perhaps sports needs villains to counterbalance heroes but there’s still something not quite right. We’re stuck watching Di Luca and the others and there’s not much any of us can do.