Danilo di Luca is one of the most famous and successful riders in the bunch. No presentation is needed for him. But his cordiality and his friendly way makes him one of the most popular riders among to the Italian fans, who fondly remember his week in Maglia Rosa during the Giro 2005 as one of the most beautiful stories of that race.
Danilo roared back to a strong finish to 2006 with a dramatic stage win and a day in the amarillo jersey at la Vuelta.
During that time Danilo felt for the first time in his career how strong can be the love of the Italians for the leader of their Giro. So strong that since that moment he planned for 2006 a new project: to win the Giro d’Italia. So strong was his commitment that he sacrificed the Classics, which were till that moment the first appointments of his season. But 2006 was not the right year and Di Luca suffered too much during the first week and left the gc battle before the games were really open.
“I’m in Terracina (on the sea, not far from Rome) now, with my team for our second winter camp. I feel good, really good. So much better compared to last year”. Di Luca knows very well that his last season has been not as he and the Tifosi expected,and one of the reasons was a delay in the winter preparation.
“I’ve had some physical problems last winter and some of them (a teeth problem) were still present during the first important appointment of the season, the Tirreno Adriatico. I tried to catch up from then and I chased all the season without reaching really good performances”.
Always a contender in the early season, Di Luca won both Fleche (above) and Amstel in 2005.
The physical problems of the rider were well known already at the beginning of the season but more than one observer criticized him for the choice to make the Giro the main target of the season. Di Luca is still considered a one day race man and the doubts about his endurance on three weeks follow him since the time of his debut with the pro world.
“I’m still convinced that I can have the Giro as a main target. I’m much more convinced after the presentation because this year the route is better suited to my technical characteristics. There’s no more the long time trial and instead of it there is the climb time trial in Oropa that I really like. If I have to consider one stage I think it’s to Oropa.”
“Also during the last Vuelta, in a season so difficult for me, in such a difficult race, I was able to get an important win and to wear the Amarillo. This has been the greater satisfaction for this year.”
DiLuca saw his gc hopes disappear on the tough 7th stage of the 2006 Giro.
Speaking about the next Giro we must talk about the Zoncolan. The east side of mountain which is in the nightmare of any cyclist. “I don’t know yet the Zoncolan, I will try this climb, as many others, before the Giro start. I’ve heard of it but nothing more. In any case a pro’ rider cannot be afraid of a climb and I’ve already demonstrate to be able to manage the extreme slopes. In the Vuelta 2002 I’ve climbed the Angliru in a rainy day and I finished 6th that stage.”
The Basso Battle
Zoncolan or not, it’s impossible to ignore that to win the Giro any contender will have to fight with Ivan Basso. “If Basso will demonstrate the same condition of last year it will be a problem for sure. He’ll be a strong contender for the final Maglia Rosa.” “The next Giro”, he continues, “will not be exactly the same as we’ve seen last year. In the first part it will be open to many solutions and also some surprise will be possible. In any case it’s difficult to win a Grand Tour with a surprise because the second part is terrible and the challengers will be again wheel to wheel in the big mountains.”
Although no longer the focus of his season, Di Luca like the 2007 Giro corsa, but admits Basso is likely the man to beat.
In a moment we feel again on the Colle delle Finestre, in the 2005, when Di Luca, Simoni and Rujano were able to make the difference and to try to play the last card against Savoldelli. These moments must be so fixed inside his mind that listening him it’s natural to fly back in time. “Sometimes the difference between a success or a defeat is so thin… it’s true that small mistakes, small things sometimes make the difference; in any case I’m now working hard and I try to follow exactly the same approach to the season 2005. I will be ready for the Belgian Classics and especially for Liege–Bastogne–Liege which is my favourite one.”
There was a time when Milan-Sanremo was one of the favourite races of Di Luca. He almost won that race in 2003 when he tried an impressive attack at the beginning of the Poggio. But for next year the young rider Pozzato, the 2006 winner of the Primavera, will join Team Liquigas and maybe the plans of the riders cannot collide in that race. “In any case the Sanremo arrives too early for those who want be competitive during the Giro, no, my season targets will be the last part of the Belgian classics, the Giro and the World’s. I will ride the Tour just in case that the route of the next World Championship in Stutgardt should be not suitable for my technical characteristics. I will discover the route in the next months and I will take a decision, but according to the rumors it should be good for me. Now I expect and I hope for much more space for me inside the Squadra after Bettini’s win.”
Speaking about cycling with Di Luca is so interesting that the time flies. The agreed fifteen minutes are long gone, we perfectly understand that the winter stages are very difficult and Di Luca must be tired. But we cannot leave him without a comment on the actual news about the Pro Tour. The three big organizers of the cycling world (ASO; RCS and UNIPUBLIC) are now again so far from the UCI position that the future of the Pro Tour is very uncertain.
“I have been the first winner of this challenge last year and I’m very proud of it. I think that all the riders agree that such standing really declare the best one of the season. The people don’t yet love this challenge as they did with the old World Cup because on the table there are too many problems. We really hope that these problems will be solved because the Pro Tour is really the way to modernize cycling. Tradition and future can be shared and Pro Tour was the right way. We, as riders, are just spectator of the big quarrel against organizers, UCI and Teams but there is no really space for our intervention.”
It’s really late now and I feel that there is no more time to steal. It’s always a pleasure speak with a rider so open who does not just fabricate answers but likes to compare with different opinions.
Giro 2005: DiLuca leads Simoni and Rujano a few kms from the top of the Colle della Finestre.
Almost a week to Christmas. The air is cold for the first time this winter and the riders are already on their bikes to prepare the season that we are waiting for.
“I will enjoy the Christmas with my family in my home, as I love to do. I didn’t expect to be so well known to the Noth American supporters but I’m really glad for it. It’s a reason more to dream about a Pro Tour race there. I would like to know more about that world.”
Tradition and future. Di Luca shares inside his personality these two components of the cycling. It’s a rider who understand the importance of the traditional finish lines but is open to new ones. The image of him pushing hard on the dirt road of the Colle delle Finestre is one of the most beautiful moments we can remember in the last years. No tactics, no calculations. Just instinct. As a special finish line was settled there for the first time. It was nothing official but the people will remember it forever.
• Check out his website at DaniloDiLuca.com