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Pro Continental teams anxiously await Giro wildcard reveal

By Gregor Brown • Published
The Giro will confirm its wildcard invites Friday. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Giro d’Italia organizer RCS Sport may decide the fate of several teams Friday when it announces the wildcard invitations for the 2018 race.

Italy’s top organizer will select four Pro Continental teams to compete alongside the 18 WorldTour teams that have guaranteed places on the Giro’s start list.

For Italian teams, “it is everything” to race in the biggest race on their home soil. Not being included in the field risks the squads’ futures.

“To race the Giro for an Italian team means securing sponsors for the next year and also for the current year. To have more security,” Wilier Triestina sport director Luca Scinto told VeloNews.

“As a professional continental team it’s everything for us. Then if you go and win a stage, it’s even better!”

The race, scheduled for May 4-27, will be the first grand tour to begin outside of Europe in Jerusalem. The deal, according to VeloNews sources, is to be worth 10 million euros for RCS Sport.

Recent strife in Jerusalem, however, may force the Giro to start elsewhere. Race director Mauro Vegni said last month RCS Sport is ready for a Plan B if that becomes necessary.

The four wildcard invitations will be delivered Friday. Given the start and the local organizer’s contribution, VeloNews understands that Team Israel Cycling Academy will receive one of the four. The squad includes American Tyler Williams and stars Ben Hermans and Rubén Plaza.

The remaining three selections appear headed to Italian teams Wilier Triestina, Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, and either Nippo-Vini Fantini or Bardiani-CSF.

Ireland’s Aqua Blue Sport, which has U.S. road race champion Larry Warbasse on its roster, will not race, according to two sources close to the decision. After a 2017 debut season that included a Vuelta a España ride and stage win with Stefan Denifl, the team may not race in any of the three grand tours in 2018.

The Tour de France last week named its four wildcard teams for July: Belgium’s Wanty-Groupe Gobert and France’s Cofidis, Direct Energie, and Fortuneo-Samsic.

After years with Russia’s Gazprom and Poland’s CCC, RCS Sport’s selection will be Italian flavored. That is music to the ears of many teams struggling to continue each year in Italy, still crippled by the Eurozone crisis.

“These teams animate the racing the first week with escapes,” Scinto continued. “The WorldTour teams have other goals, overall classification and so on, but ours make a good show.”

The Wilier team includes one of Italy’s top stars, Filippo Pozzato. Pozzato struggled to find his best form in recent years, his last win coming in 2013, but he draws crowds and television cameras.

The two other invitations should land in the mailbox of Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec and Bardiani-CSF. Both come with baggage.

Bardiani built its reputation as the “green team” in Italy producing young talent. Sonny Colbrelli and Enrico Battaglin both graduated to ride for WorldTour squads.

On the eve of the 2017 Giro, however, two of the team’s riders — Niccola Ruffoni and Stefano Pirazzi — tested positive for human growth hormones. Given its history and the lack of options, Bardiani should still race.

“We’re not going to hide that we are slightly worried, given what happened at the start last year,” Bardiani-CSF sport director Roberto Reverberi said.

“The organization should take into consideration the 30 years of our team. Our team has nothing to do with [the positive tests] at all. Even in the big teams, it happens.”

If Bardiani is overlooked, the organizer could send the invitation to Nippo Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini. The team includes 2004 Giro champion Damiano Cunego who, like Pozzato, has not won lately. Cunego said he will retire at the end of May regardless of whether he competes in the Giro.

Androni missed the 2016 and 2017 editions but is certain for 2018 with its Italian Cup classification victory last season.

Some will celebrate Friday, but a blow, one with possible dire consequences, will be delivered from RCS Sport’s Milan headquarters to one unlucky team Friday.

As Androni’s sport director Alessandro Spezialetti put it, “being left out of our home tour is a big blow.”

Without the television publicity of the Giro and a chance to race in the other two grand tours, sponsorship funding could wither like a grape that’s been forgotten in Italy’s vineyards.

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