MILAN (VN) — The Giro d’Italia put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of the Italian teams with its wildcard selections on Tuesday. “Do or die,” organizers said, giving the nod to the locals this year with a question mark put on 2014.
With 18 ProTeams already with a guaranteed start in its A-race, RCS Sport’s five-man panel met on Tuesday to vote on the wildcard invitations for the second division teams. A global mix of 10 teams — American, Colombian, Russian, Swiss, Belgian, French, German — were standing in line for three invitations. The first of four already went to long-running Italian team Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela for winning the home race series last year.
When the panel — Giro director Michele Acquarone, RCS Sport CEO Giacomo Catano, operations director Mauro Vegni, marketing manager Marco Gobbi Pansana and Gazzetta dello Sport senior journalist Pier Bergonzi — tallied the votes, Vini Fantini-Selle Italia received the most, thanks to its heroics last year: mountains classification and two stage wins, including Matteo Rabottini’s gutsy breakaway on the rain-soaked stage to Pian dei Resinelli. Colombia-Coldeportes and its famous Italian manager Claudio Corti took spot number 21. And the young home team, with an average age of 23, Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox took spot 22.
The Giro d’Italia will feel more Italian than ever when it starts from Naples on May 4: Italian ProTeams Cannondale and Lampre-Merida represent the first division, with Vincenzo Nibali leading Kazakh squad Astana, and three Italian teams arrive from the second divisision, with Corti driving the Colombian squad.
“This invitation is a crucial step in our project’s path,” Corti said in a press release.
Vini Fantini expressed the same: “This means that we are going the right way.”
“RCS Sport showed that they believe in us,” Bardiani Valvole manager Roberto Reverberi added. “These races are starting points for our growth.”
“Our selection is a great message for Italian cycling, it will give a hand out of this economic crisis,” Acquarone explained in Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Anyway, the teams merit it; it wasn’t charity.”
Crisis? According to Eurostat, Eurozone unemployment reached a new high in November. Italy is at the top with Spain and Greece. Its sporting scene is not much better. Top team Liquigas-Cannondale found help from a wealthy investor and un straniero from Canada, Cannondale, and took the bike brand’s name for 2013. Lampre-Merida, now half Taiwanese, balances on the brink of collapse under the weight of the Mantova prosecutor’s work.
Bardiani Valvole will prove exciting in the Giro. Reverberi said his team would not be in escapes just for TV time, but to win. However, RCS Sport could have easily ignored it for U.S. team Novo Nordisk or German/British combo NetApp-Endura. Katusha, evaluated as a second division team, is stronger than the rest, but stands on shaky ground. RCS Sport preferred to pass on the Russian team, inviting it only to its other races.
RCS Sport sent its “do or die” message to Fantini, Bardiani and Corti. Their Giro performances could encourage companies to extend their arms, sign checks and support teams and races to avoid standing at the edge of a sporting cliff come December.
Currently, organizers are in trouble. The Italian federation is searching for someone to organize the women’s Giro, the famous one-day season opener, Donoratico is having difficulty collecting payments and stage races Reggio Calabria and Friuli are equally unstable. Italian cycling, one of the historical pillars in the sport, appears to be crumbling like Pompeii.
“Tradition alone is not enough,” wrote Gazzetta journalist Luca Gialanella, “Lack of money, investments, planning… Distrust, fear of doping. We were the lead nation, but now we only hold the record for the number of professionals.”