Michele Acquarone, the general director of Giro d'Italia organiser RCS Sport has told Cyclingnews that the three teams awarded wild cards for this year received them on merit, but revealed he would like to have the power to award as many as seven wild cards, perhaps via a fan vote, criticizing the current WorldTour licence process for lacking transparency.
On Tuesday RCS Sport awarded wild card invitations to Vini Fantini-Selle Italia, Team Colombia and Bardiani-CSF. The Androni Giocattoli team secured an automatic wild card place by winning the Coppa Italia race series in 2012 and the 18 WorldTour teams all receive automatic invitations to the race.
The Katusha team, having failed to be approved for a WorldTour license, was overlooked, but did secure an invitation to Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo and Il Lombardia.
RCS Sport tweeted a photo of the paper listing the results of the simple voting system used to select the Giro d'Italia wild cards, insisting that the system is democratic.
"It was difficult to decide. We had 14 candidates for our races and ten wanted to ride the Giro d'Italia but we only had three wild card places," Acquarone told Cyclingnews.
"That makes for a big problem because they all had valid reasons to deserve a place and they all submitted excellent dossiers. We asked each team to explain why they deserved to be chosen. We wanted to explain how they'd create more interest and attention for the Giro d'Italia than the other teams. I'm talking about interest from the fans and so a better TV audience. It wasn't about the nationality, their age or experience. We believe that the importance of the riders in each team is fundamental because the better the riders in the race, the bigger the interest for the race from the fans and in the media."
"We studied the dossiers during the holidays and then we discussed each one on Tuesday morning, going through the details. After that we all voted for the three teams we thought we deserved a place and so there 15 crosses on the voting page for the Giro d'Italia. We followed the same process for Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo and il Lombardia."
Vini Fantini secured five votes, Team Colombia four votes, Bardiani three votes, NetApp-Endura two votes and Katusha just one vote.
Acquarone insisted that the Italian teams deserved their places and revealed that Joaquim Rodriguez's comments that he wanted to focus on the Tour de France, probably cost the Katusha team a wild card for the Giro d'Italia.
"Perhaps the Italian fans have been favoured slightly, but I think everyone around the world admired the way the Fantini team rode last year, while the Colombia team perhaps secured its place because it represents a whole continent," Acquarone said.
"All Katusha's problems went against them but I think they lost out more because what Rodriguez said (about wanting to focus on the Tour de France). That didn’t help them in the fight for a Giro d'Italia wild card for sure. The possible presence of Menchov obviously wasn't enough…."
Fewer WorldTour teams, more wild cards
Acquarone would like to have the freedom to award more wild cards for the Giro d'Italia. However, UCI rules only permit 22 teams of nine riders for safety reasons and the 18 WorldTour team have the right and are obliged to ride.
"I don’t think there really are 18 top quality first division teams. For example how many WorldTour teams really have a rider who has a chance of winning the Giro d'Italia?" Acquarone argued.
"Wild cards are a great way of deciding teams for three Giro d'Italia because it reveals which teams really want to ride the race and not which teams are obliged to ride. I think 15 WorldTour teams and seven wild cards would be better for everyone."
"The UCI face a difficult task, managing the sport isn’t easy. But I'd like the whole WorldTour selection process to be a lot more transparent. At the moment people come together in a grey room full of smoke and decide the 18 WorldTour teams. I'd rather have a valid sporting merit system so that all the teams really deserve they places."
An NBA-style fan vote in the future?
Acquarone's drive for more transparency in professional cycling has won him praise from fans around the world. When Cyclingnews suggested opening up to the wild card process to a public or fan vote, he liked the idea.
"That could be a good idea. I like to let the fans give their opinions and I like to get them involved," he said.
"In the NBA All-Star game, the fans vote decides which player are in the team. It'd be great to do the same thing but we'd have to announce it early and make sure things are fair. For example Yao Ming is always selected for the All-Star game because millions of Chinese NBA fans vote for him. We'd have to create a fair system but it could be the next step."