Danilo Di Luca, fresh off a successful Giro d'Italia, is already talking of his second half and ostensibly has the Vuelta a Espana in his sights. Now, to be clear, Di Luca knows that Team Lpr Brakes has been left begging for a start, so there is nothing to get too excited about just yet. And all of this may be tied to his world championship aspirations, which are looking pretty solid right about now. A few thoughts:
* First, ASO are thought of as a stumbling block to Di Luca's next move, but the fact that they bought into the Vuelta is hardly the end of the story. Just a guess, but there would be plenty of time for ASO to assure themselves of Di Luca's cleanliness before September, provided a) he's clean and b) the Giro is forthcoming with any test results. Look for some fast-tracking of Di Luca's samples for CERA screening, perhaps.
* The old Vuelta/Unipublic regime could find a few reasons to get interested in Di Luca's Lpr team. First, as Di Luca tells La Gazzetta (via VN), Alessandro Petacchi is very Spain-friendly, being a star and fluent in Spanish as well. Secondly, the Vuelta may be a little short on other stars. Sastre is almost certainly out, or at least he won't seriously contest a third grand tour. Ditto for Menchov. Contador will be coming off the Tour de France, so even if he attends his aspirations and form may not be ideal. [Bruyneel interview in AS.com conspicuously silent on Bert/Vuelta.] Lance won't be there. Evans presumably doesn't draw much. And Valverde will probably still be riding under a cloud. I don't doubt the Vuelta startlist will be strong, but a frisky Italian team might be some good value.
* The downside: Di Luca has little history of riding the Vuelta with interest. He has started twice and finished only once, a 20th placing back in 2002. Worse, his other appearance was in 2006, where he took a DNS on stage 18, then showed up at the World Championships ten days later. CN story that day says he "decided to stop (his) ride." If the Vuelta folks believe Di Luca will hold back or bail to guard his form for the Worlds, that certainly lessens the attraction.
* If it happens, will the Killer be a protagonist? This year's Vuelta avoids the Pyrenees, and the race tops out at 2,500 meters, with only two climbs over 2,000. Also the time trials are short. Instead, you have about 275 smaller climbs, which may play into Di Luca's hands, at least compared to past editions which included more monumental climbs or long, flat ITTs.
The first bullet is probably the biggest one; we'll see about that. I suspect that if Di Luca is above suspicion and pledges his devotion to finishing and winning the race, he and Petacchi may yet winnow an invite. Equally likely scenarios are that cooperation breaks down on the Giro sample tests and the race decides to avoid Lpr, or that Di Luca openly admits he wants to win in Mendrisio and preps in Italy and elsewhere. But he will be relevant this fall, in two of those three scenarios.