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Giro d’Italia announces 2016 wildcards, includes Russia’s Gazprom-RusVelo

MILAN (VN) — The Giro d’Italia will continue its push abroad with a surprise move to invite Russia’s Gazprom-RusVelo to the 2016 edition of the race. Race organizer RCS Sport announced Monday the four wildcard Pro Continental teams that will race alongside the 18 WorldTour teams from May 6-29.

Gazprom will ride with Italian teams Bardiani – CSF, Nippo – Vini Fantini, and Southeast – Venezuela in the Italian grand tour. Long-running Italian squad Androni Giocattoli – Sidermec will have to stay home likely due to doping problems that spoiled its 2015 season.

“This is a hard blow for our team,” manager Gianni Savio told Tutto Bici. “In these times, the team closes or you find a new starting point. I’m a fighter, but you have to understand what the sponsors want.”

Mauro Vegni, the head of cycling for RCS Sport, said in a press release he had so many teams requesting to race that the decision was “difficult.”

“Following the philosophy we adopted in the last few years, we wanted to once again safeguard Italian cycling, while at the same time keeping a very close eye on all the other requests coming from all over the world,” Vegni explained.

“In this year’s selections, in particular those for the Giro d’Italia, we wanted to give space to our national movement, but that doesn’t need to be the only factor that we are obliged to consider. The international development of all our races remains one of the cornerstones of our strategy and guided us in the final choice of the wildcards.”

Italian and indeed international fans may need time to find a Gazprom rider to cheer in this May’s Giro. The team has yet to race a grand tour. In its all-Russian lineup of 21 cyclists, Ivan Savitskiy stands out with an overall win in the 2015 Tour de Serbie.

RCS Sport made a similar surprise move for its 2015 Giro when it invited Polish team CCC Sprandi Polkowice to race. The team failed to finish in the top three in one of the 21 stages over the three weeks.

“We wanted to have an international feel so we can penetrate those countries that could be interesting for us business-wise,” Vegni told VeloNews last year about RCS Sport’s selection.

“Poland could be good for us, because now cycling is going well in the country, which has Michal Kwiatkowski, Rafal Majka, etc. Also the Tour of Poland, which is strong. The country is also strong economically and it could present options for us.”

In 2014, RCS Sport decided against the popular South African team MTN–Qhubeka in favor of an all-Italian wildcard selection. That move included Yellow Fluo – Neri Sottoli, a team with two of its riders Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio failing EPO tests linked to a 2013 race.

Monday’s move also excluded another home team. Dutch team Roompot-Oranje Peloton was considered a strong bet with the 2016 race starting in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, with three stages. The decision to leave out Italy’s Androni Giocattoli could have been due to the doping cases of Fabio Taborre and Davide Appollonio.

In addition to the Giro d’Italia, RCS Sport also announced the wildcard teams for the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race and Milano-Sanremo. Bora – Argon 18, Caja Rural – Seguros RGA, Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani CSF, and CCC will race in Tirreno. U.S.-registered team Novo Nordisk will race in Milano-Sanremo with Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani CSF, Bora, CCC, Cofidis, and Southeast.