FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — RCS Sport sent a strong message to its home teams this week when it named the four wildcards to compete in the 2017 Giro d’Italia.
After leaving two of the four Italian Pro Continental squads out of the lineup, RCS Sport’s cycling director Mauro Vegni told La Gazzetta dello Sport, “The Italian cycling crisis is not based solely on the Giro wildcard selections.
“It’s the fact that for years these teams have run on a mistaken model: ‘We either race the Giro or we close the team.’ You can’t have this as your way of reasoning.”
In its selection of teams to race alongside the 18 WorldTour teams, it left Androni Giocattoli and Nippo – Vini Fantini off the list. It did select Italian squads Bardiani – CSF and Wilier Triestina, along with Russia’s Gazprom – RusVelo, which raced and won a stage in 2016, and Poland’s CCC Sprandi Polkowice.
RCS Sport has dealt a hard blow to Italian cycling. Without a team in the WorldTour for 2017, the four Italian Pro Continental teams are the meat of the once dominant cycling country. Half of them will be watching on television when the 100th edition of the Giro starts on Sardinia on May 5.
The teams chosen for the Giro will race with the 18 WorldTour teams, a list that includes Bahrain – Merida with defending Vincenzo Nibali.
RCS Sport also issued wildcard invitations for its other early season WorldTour races Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milano-Sanremo. The four teams received a green light to some of those races.
The white gravel classic Strade Bianche holds WorldTour status this year. In addition to the 18 WorldTour teams, RCS Sport is welcoming three wildcards — Androni, Bardiani, and Nippo.
“It can’t be that the Giro is everything, and our other races count for nothing,” Vegni said.
“The teams that aren’t racing the Giro are racing Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Sanremo. If it’s all linked to the Giro, that means that these teams don’t have a true project.”
Bardiani had two factors in its favor: it continually invests in young Italian cyclists and it won the Italian Cup in 2016. The classification typically guarantees a ticket to the following year’s Giro.
Cycling industry companies Wilier Triestina and Selle Italia back the team with Filippo Pozzato, but they also invest in RCS Sport’s races.
Italy’s long-running Androni team, with Gianni Savio at the management helm, already sat out the 2016 Giro. Nippo – raced the last two editions. It stood a strong chance of racing again in 2017 with 2004 winner Damiano Cunego and Colombian Julian Arredondo, who won a stage and the mountains classification in 2014.
“I’m sorry for Androni, but at the base you need to have a true project. The same for Nippo, which I gave my faith for a few years,” Vegni added.
“I’d like to see that the best young Italian talents pass through these teams. Arredondo, in Nippo’s case, doesn’t make the difference. The project that Bardiani has is a good platform to launch young cyclists.”
RCS Sport’s decision could be the knock-out punch for Androni and Nippo. Without the big Italian race on their program, sponsors may abandon ship. Androni already said that will be the case.
“I am not a man of knee-jerk reactions, but when I take a decision that is it,” Mario Androni, who heads the Androni toy company, told Tutto Bici.
“Last year, I made an evaluation, I decided that in case we fail to receive an invitation in 2017 that my time sponsoring cycling would end. I thought long about it one year ago, I said so clearly, and now I confirm it.”
General manager Gianni Savio is currently with the Androni team racing in Venezuela. He said he will address the issue in a press conference when he returns to Italy.
“It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth,” Nippo manager Francesco Pelosi said.
“Italian cycling lost the only WorldTour team it had this year. Maybe for the 100th edition of the Giro it would’ve been merited to give attention and consideration to the rest of us.”
Italian cycling skates on thin ice with the 2017 season just underway. Its last remaining team, Lampre, went to the Middle East with sponsor UAE Abu Dhabi. Now, Androni and Nippo must make other plans for May.