January 10 arrived and, as promised, RCS Sport assigned the wild cards for its own races on the UCI WorldTour.
I'd like to make two points to start:
1. I’m very proud to have arrived at a decision in double quick time so that all of the teams involved are now able to plan their own seasons in the best possible way.
2. In theory, there should be a WorldTour calendar for the WorldTour teams and a continental calendar for the second-tier teams. The WorldTour wildcards should be an extra bonus for Professional Continental teams. When I hear it said that there are top-flight teams who “put up” with participation in our races and second-tier teams who threaten to leave cycling because they have received “only” three wildcards and are thus excluded from the Giro d’Italia, it seems clear to me that something is wrong with the system and that it needs to be looked at by those responsible for the sport.
That said, let’s go behind the scenes a little bit to reveal how the wild card invitations were decided. The projects which Mauro Vegni judged to be of the highest value from a sporting point of view were: Farnese Vini-Selle Italia, Colnago-CSF Inox, Androni Giocattoli and Acqua e Sapone, in that order. (Europcar were not considered because they did not present a real candidacy).
The projects that convinced Marco Gobbi from a marketing point of view were: NetApp, Team Type 1-Sanofi and Farnese. Pier Bergonzi, representing Gazzetta dello Sport, defended Italian cycling after a poor season (the worst since 1989, with no successes in the races that count), and pointed out the need to support young Italian riders like never before, in order to bring back enthusiasm to the whole of Italian cycling.
Chapeau to Farnese, who among all the candidates presented the best overall project in terms of commitment, athletes and marketing. They convinced everybody, and personally I hope that this project can permanently become the third force of Italian cycling.
In truth, the Giro d’Italia assigning three wildcards yesterday, given that one place went by right to Androni Giocattoli due to the agreement with the Italian Cycling Federation as the winner of the Coppa Italia classification. Thus, the selections we made were: Farnese and Colnago (technical-sporting) and NetApp (marketing). The latter can give the Giro a big boost in terms of promotion and communication on the German market and elsewhere. The real gamble is on a sporting level – will NetApp succeed in making a good impression in as tough and demanding a race as the Giro? Ralph Denk assures us that they will do a great Giro and we have decided to trust him. At the end of May, we will see how things went.
For Tirreno, the decision went firstly to Farnese and Colnago, and that was a sporting decision. Then we decided to expand to four wildcard teams in order to give Acqua e Sapone and Coldeportes the chance to ride a WorldTour stage race. For Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Lombardy, we are instead happy to have opened the door to teams who had never ridden it before (Project 1t4i, Team Type 1, Utensilnord, Colombia Coldeportes) in order to give an opportunity to all of them.
Looking at things by region, I’m very happy with the response from Germany because the commitment shown by NetApp and Project 1t4i was astounding. I hope that these projects can continue to grow, as this is an excellent signal for the whole world of cycling. Italy is producing some excellent young riders but there is a lack of strategic planning for the future. RCS Sport and its wild card invitations cannot and must not continue to be the cure of all ills (the case of Geox should make us reflect well on that.)
South American fans are very attached to our races, and in 2012 we are happy to be able to give space to Colombia Coldeportes, but also to Androni (Rujano) and Acqua e Sapone (Betancourt) so that South American riders can show their full worth in our WorldTour races. As for China, the Champion System project did not convince either from a sporting or a marketing point of view. It seemed more of a risk than a gamble. They’ll be reconsidered next year. We didn’t receive any real interest from France, Belgium and Spain. Clearly their objectives are (unfortunately?) elsewhere.
I conclude by saying that I personally emerged from the commission with three regrets/disappointments:
1. Denying Garzelli the chance to end his career at the Giro. Stefano is a great champion and a good guy who has had an extraordinary career.
2. Not being able to have the Project 1t4i team at the Giro d’Italia and Tirreno-Adriatico. I’m very happy to see them at Milan-San Remo and Lombardy, but the project is so wide-ranging that I would have liked to have seen them as protagonists in all of our races. On my personal score sheet, they were first in the list. Behind them came Farnese, NetApp and Team Type 1.
3. Indeed, Team Type 1 was the squad most penalised by the decisions taken yesterday. Of course, Milan-San Remo is a prestigious stage and one that guarantees global exposure, but Phil Southerland’s project goes far beyond cycling. I would have liked to have been able to do more to spread their noble message of hope and life. We’ll talk about it again next year.