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Giro boss Vegni: ‘Italian cycling has to get going’

MILAN (VN) — Giro d’Italia boss Mauro Vegni, one day after handing out the wildcard invitations for the 2016 race, says Italian cycling needs to change or face extinction. Italy’s Professional Continental teams won only one WorldTour race in 2015.

Vegni and organizer RCS Sport invited the 18 WorldTour teams along with four wildcards from the Professional Continental ranks: Bardiani-CSF, Southeast-Venezuela, and Nippo-Vini Fantini (all Italian), and Gazprom-RusVelo from Russia. Team Androni Giocattoli, which raced the last eight years, was excluded and now says that its future is uncertain.

“Italian cycling has to get going, both the organizations and the athletes,” Vegni told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. “No one is investing anymore in Italy, the cyclists are going away. The institutions need to do something, otherwise we are at risk of seeing, at most, only one team in the big races.

“We’ve helped the Italian movement in these years. I don’t want to create a monster out of this situation, where being Italian is sufficient to race all the Italian races. We want something more. We want growth projects, true development ideas, that help our movement grow.”

The cycling-rich country that produced Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali now counts only one WorldTour team, Lampre-Merida. For 2016, it has the same four second-division teams as 2015: Androni, Bardiani, Nippo, and Southeast. Last year, only Bardiani won at the WorldTour level when Nicola Boem escaped on the roads to Forlì in the Giro d’Italia. Richie Porte’s last-minute wheel change that day largely overshadowed the win.

Vegni seemingly had to look abroad to fill the final wildcard spot in the Giro. One automatically went to Southeast, which won the Italian Cup last year, and the two others went to the country’s greenest teams, Nippo and Bardiani. That left the fourth spot to Androni or a foreign team.

“The professional teams need to be a point for our young riders to launch their careers, helping growth and with a vision,” Vegni said. “To have old riders with experience where you are always talking in certain terms — ‘He won this race in the past’ — does not interest me. Those big former stars come second when considering a team and its development plans.”

The move was also surprising as it overlooked teams like One Pro Cycling, UnitedHealthcare, and Roompot, in favor of Gazprom. Vegni, however, made a business decision that could reap rewards for RCS Sport. “One of our other principles is to increase our growth internationally, going to find new markets that are economically important. As a company, we are looking all over the world.”

Androni, which received an invitation Monday to the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race and Milano-Sanremo in March, said that the decision could spell the end for the team. Manager Gianni Savio will announce the team’s future in May.

“It was a hard blow for the team,” Savio said in a press release. “I already worked a miracle to save the team after Venezuela didn’t fulfill its contract. The team was built with the idea of the Giro in mind.

“I’m going to make my rounds and talk to the sponsors. In May, I’ll decide if the season will end with a farewell party, or if I can create a new project.”

Perhaps a more troubling sign for the Bel Paese: None of the Italian teams received an invitation from ASO on Tuesday when it announced the wildcards for the Paris-Nice and the Critérium du Dauphiné stage races.