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Italian hopes rest on Giro’s wildcard teams

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The 2017 Giro d’Italia wildcards will be finalized this coming week — a make-or-break time for several home teams.

Organizer RCS Sport should name the four Professional Continental teams to compete alongside the 18 WorldTour teams in the Italian tour, May 5 to 28. The decision will weigh heavier given this year’s edition is the 100th.

It is also a precarious time for the host nation. For the first time in cycling’s modern era, it lacks a team in the top division. Its last remaining team, Lampre, went to the Middle East with sponsor UAE Abu Dhabi.

With the 100th edition and the lack of a top team, RCS Sport’s decision should be an easy one. It could simply select the four Italian teams in the second division: Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani – CSF, Nippo – Vino Fantini, and Wilier Triestina.

Other interests prevail, however. Simply having an Italian license and a fondness for Nutella will not suffice.

Mauro Vegni, RCS Sport’s cycling director, said last year, “I don’t want to create a monster out of this situation, where being Italian is sufficient to race all the Italian races.”

In 2016, Vegni took a risk inviting Gazprom – RusVelo. The Russian team repaid RCS Sport with Alexander Foliforov’s stage win. Foliforov won the mountain time trial up Alpe di Siusi by a fraction of a second (0.16) over then race leader Steven Kruijswijk.

The Gazprom selection came at Androni’s expense. Gianni Savio’s team sat home after racing the previous eight editions.

Out of the four Italian teams, Bardiani is the most likely to be in Sardinia when the race starts. Two factors in its favor: The green team continually invests in young Italian cyclists; and the big one, it won the Italian Cup in 2016. The classification typically guarantees a ticket to the following year’s Giro.

Nippo has that youth appeal, as well. The team, which began in 2010, has hired wisely. Besides young talents, its roster includes 2004 Giro champion Damiano Cunego, stage winners Julian Arredondo and Marco Canola, and former national champion Ivan Santaromita.

RCS Sport appears to be bucking a global isolationism trend. It could welcome two foreign teams in its upcoming wildcard selection.

Gazprom boasts a stage win from 2016 and an expanding roster. For 2017, it hired eight new Russians from WorldTour teams.

The fourth selection could come at the expense of Androni or Wilier. In a nod to Poland, where the 2018 Giro is rumored to begin, RCS Sport may welcome back orange team CCC Sprandi Polkowice.

Italians will hope that move is postponed one year until 2018, when CCC could celebrate the Polish grand depart. If that is the case, Wilier Triestina should get the nod. Flamboyant Italian Filippo Pozzato leads the team with improving sprinter Jakub Mareczko.

Nothing seems certain for those Italian teams given RCS Sport’s past tendency to look abroad, especially when it needs to build sponsor relationships for a costly foreign grand tour start. The imminent decision could come as a blow for Italian cycling.

“In short, the decision is neither simple nor obvious, but it is the future of our movement that is already cyanotic, suffocating, gasping,” Tutto Bici editor Pier Augusto Stagi wrote in a recent article.

“Our professional movement really is likely to suffer a further blow, which could be almost lethal. We only have four teams in the second division, and if one stays at home, it will almost certainly fold.”