What to do with Di Luca?

Di Luca

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.

13 thoughts on “What to do with Di Luca?”

  1. Hi:

    An interesting view. You talk about riders with “a past” being accepted again… but it may be worse if we look at the team managers. Kim “two times banned for life” Andersen, Mr 60%, Igor “OP guy” Galdeano, Piotr Ugrumov (Gewiss), Mauro Gianetti (near-dead experience probably couse of doping), Sean Yates (positive as a rider), Lalengue (Phonak Doping Systems), Zabel, Bruynell, Stephens (from ONCE to Festina) and many, many more… but nobady pays attention to that.

  2. Once a liar always a liar ? Maybe… AIGCP and CPA new proposals could help solve some cases (if accepted of course).
    Anyway, as you’ve pointed it riders coming back after a ban and doing as well as before is more than worrying…

  3. Much shadow play for those within the sport.
    It seems obvious that someone that has been caught as a cheat as a rider should not continue under there same name and charges as a DS.
    Not the best example but if you work for a company as a production worker steal, caught and fired….is your next position within the company to be hired into management?
    As for Ricco and Di Lucca…I wouldn’t trust either of them in a shit house with a spoon!

  4. here’s a suggestion: as pro cycling is a highly individuel sport, though run as team sports, the history has brought to the daylight that the art of cheating often are passed on in closed internal groups, like we see in criminal inviroments. However “bruital” punishment such as up to two year bans, enjoying time with their families and still training with their regular trainingpartners in crime, and non-life treatning financially fines seem to have no effect neither on short or long term. So follow the money – the old rule says. Let all first time dopers get at second chance to race – everybody deserves that – cause they all seem to admitt, during their in-tears-press-conferences, that this is what they miss the most during time banned but – and this is important – with NO posibility to earn UCI points in the future for what ever team they may sign a contract with. They all say they just want to race again – so here you go. Don´t blame the teams, most of them do a great job, but simply follow the money through UCI points.

  5. Visko: it depends. If they are willing to hold their hands up and admit they did it, plus offer convincing reasons as to why they don’t think it’s right today, then maybe it’s ok. I wish it wasn’t but there are so many ex-riders that we have to filter them this way.

    Jfjoeylu: it’s the uncertainty. Maybe the average daytime TV viewer doesn’t know nor care but it’s awkward for me to watch these guys.

    Leif: indeed. In many jobs you’ll never come back if you are found committing a serious mistake.

    El Gato de La Cala: good point and one that I’ve touched on before. Most recently see http://inrng.com/?p=1897 from the other day.

  6. when I read that di luca would come back this summer, thanks to a riduction of his ban for relevant colllaboration with coni, I was really courious about what he revealed to judge torri to justify the shortened ban, he said he help antidoping attorney giving a lot of details about the new doping techniques, so interesting matter (probably we can link his testimony with the bernuccis’ case, use of human albumine, pfc and other epo indetectable surrogates). with the “trheat” he could come back in the girodi lombardia, his confession and redemption thanks to a young priest in front of 500 primary school’s pupils (well documented by cylingnews), the bizarre resolution of his contract, my couriosity grew even more, because I was a great fan of him, having follow his intere career.
    I don’t hide my embrace and fear of my feelings watching him again in front of the peloton,whirling fast on the pedals in his home streets, knowing what he did, not only just for a short period as a prof (and not to far from the reality even before, look the podium of u23 championship in valkenbourg ’98, if I don’t mistake), with a bit acceleration of hearth pulses, hoping for his win.
    So, I’m with you, it would be better not to see him again in peloton.

  7. Some well written thoughts on the moral dilemma posed by doping here, especially the Jeff Volkmer and Neil Browne piece quoted. It seems we have two converging of codes of ethics, the one that we as society sign up to and the modified one of dopers.
    At the end of the day, a little bit of contrition goes a long way.

  8. Wasn’t there once a push by teams to get riders to sign-up to caluses in their contracts that said if they are caught doping then the rider is to pay back the value of the contract (or past 2 years of) to the team? What happened to that idea?

  9. gilbert: that’s why I say it’s wrong to hang everything on him. I personally don’t like seeing him there but wanted to remind people that he’s not the only one with a questionable past. I’d still prefer to see a young prospect take his place.

    Jez: yes, the inside / outside thing is worth reflecting on.

    Mat: apparently Vacansoleil have a strict contract with Ricco, we’ll see what happens. There was a move with the UCI to impose a fine on riders but it turned out to have no legal basis. See http://inrng.com/?p=557 for more on this.

  10. The the hypocrisy within this sport is reaching new heights each day. Why is a man like Di Luca treated like a scapegoat by many of the leading cyclingsites, the media, his fellow fellow colleagues, fans and the ruling bodys of the sport, when he has admitted to have doped his entire his entire career in front of 500 students. He helped CONI and the other branches of the the authorities.

    Take David Millar. In the Englishspeeking world of cycling he is hailed a as some sort of a saint. But what have he done that Di Luca haven’t done or done better. They both compete in the same sport and under the same rules but are judged differently. I dont trust either of them but hypocrisy with David Millar and other returned ex-dopers is just ridicules.

    Ivan Basso who never has admitted guilt of doping, just planning to, is treated much better than Di Luca. Basso have never showed any remorse, he still pretends that he won the Giro 2006 clean, and now he is at the same level as before his ban.

    I dont trust either of these exdopers but they all have followed the same rules and should be treated likewise. Until the rules are changed you cannot let the guy who have done the most to show remorse be the guy that are treated like the scapegoat. Then you could just as well embrace the omerta.

  11. This is not going to be a popular view however….he did help light up and animate what was at times quite a dull 2009 Giro! Was damn riveting viewing!

    He’s abided by all the rules (which no doubt would mean paying our wonderful head of the sport) and now having one final dip. I dislike dopers as much as anyone else, but you can only work with the cards you’re dealt. DiLuca just might be better than others at playing the game…

  12. The Stig: I’m with you but as I wrote above, it’s like some marsh and you try to cross and invariably get stuck, you just sink into comparisons (eg Di Luca vs Millar) etc. I’d love to leave it all behind but it’s very difficult.

    Nick: yes, but that’s the trouble, for me at least. When I saw him go from strong one day rider to grand tour contender, I could hear alarm bells ring.

  13. Have you ever driven over the speed limit on the way to work?

    My view on the pro peleton and doping changed last year after listening to Vino’s comments after Liege and the Tour. He was sincerely surprised that people weren’t happy with him winning. In his view he played the game and lost, he served his penalty and returned to the game – as the rules dictated. He didn’t see it as a big crime, just the same as I don’t think that I’m an immoral person when I exceed the speed limit.

    It’s the age old argument of what determines your values – authority or your own sense of right and wrong? I don’t think there’s any chivalry in the peleton. Just as there’s no chivalry in most people’s day jobs. What do they say at fighter pilot school, if you’re not cheating you’re not trying hard enough? If we – the fans – want to see less doping, make the penalties stiffer, that’s the code they’re following.


Comments are closed.