While the Russian team was a surprise, the Italian teams were widely expected to secure a place because RCS Sport always helps to promote and sustain the Italian cycling teams.
We take a look at each of the four wild card teams, recall their history, detail their bike sponsor and rider roster, and consider their chances for success at the 2016 Giro d’Italia.
Team info: The Russian squad is based in the Italian town of Desenzano on the shores of Lake Garda and is managed by the former Eurosport commentator Renat Khamidulin.
Backed by Gazprom from its inception, the energy giant has added its name to the title of the team for the 2016 season. Colnago supplies the bikes.
History: RusVelo was founded ahead of the 2012 season as part of the Russian Global Cycling Project that also encompasses WorldTour outfit Katusha and the Itera-Katusha Continental team, with the specific remit of preparing Russian riders for the Olympic Games on road and track.
Heiko Salzwedel was the first manager but the German was replaced at the end of the 2012 season. A spate of positive tests in 2013 saw the team suspend itself as per Movement for Credible Cycling rules. Petr Ignatenko’s positive test for human growth hormone last season was the squad’s fifth positive test in a little over two years.
Success on the road has been low-key, with stage wins at the Tour of Qinghai Lake the highlight, though Ilnur Zakarin passed through the ranks before breaking through at Katusha in 2015.
Team leaders: Gazprom-RusVelo will not line up with any general classification aspirations, though Sergey Firsanov, second to Vincenzo Nibali at the Tre Valli Varesine, is the team’s best climber, and the squad also includes Russian time trial champion Artem Ovechkin.
Giro d’Italia ambitions: A stage victory is perhaps a dream rather than a target, though manager Renat Khamidulin has vowed that Gazprom-RusVelo will be an aggressive presence in breakaways, pointing to the stable of track-schooled riders at his disposal.
Team info: The Nippo-Vini Fantini team describes itself as an Italo-Japanese team because of backing from the Nippo construction company and the Italian wine producer based on the Adriatic coast. Vini Fantini joined forces with former Neri Sottoli press officer Francesco Pelosi to create the team in 2014, with Damiano Cunego coming on board as team leader after a long career at Lampre.
The team again has a colourful and sponsor-heavy orange, blue and white colours for 2016 and ride De Rosa bikes equipped with Campagnolo components and wheels.
History: Vini Fantini has been in cycling for several years but switched teams after the embarrassment of bringing Danilo Di Luca back into the sport despite his earlier ban for doping. The team claims it has a strong stance against doping and publishes its riders’ Biological Passport data on its website.
Team leaders: Damiano Cunego is 34 and not won a race since 2014 but remains an idol for the Italian tifosi and a natural team leader, especially after being cleared of any involvement in the doping trial in Mantova. Daniel Colli is remembered for his terrible crash and fractured arm during the 2015 Giro d’Italia but he came back to win the Tour of China and is the team’s road captain. Best new signings for 2016 are the aggressive Gianfranco Zilioli from Androni and Gregor Bole from CCC Sprandi, who won the GP Ouest France – Plouay WorldTour race back in 2011.
Giro d’Italia ambitions: Cunego won the 2004 Giro d’Italia, earning him the nickname of the Little Prince. He and the Nippo-Vini Fantini team will be happy with a stage win in 2016. Colle, Bole or Zilioli could also step up if Cunego fails to deliver.
Team info: The Southeast team is based in Tuscany and managed by former professional Angelo Citracca, with the often outspoken but passionate Luca Scinto returning as senior directeur sportif for 2016 after taking a sabbatical in 2015. The team secured its place in the 2016 Giro d’Italia by winning the 2015 Coppa Italia ranking that includes the Italian races.
Southeast is a Chinese company that specialises in making and erecting huge steel structures such as airports, train stations and stadiums. Citracca has also secured Venezuela as a second title sponsor despite the South American country being locked in a battle for payment with Gianni Savio’s Androni team.
Southeast will use Wilier Triestina bikes in 2016, equipped with Shimano components, Ursus wheels and Selle Italia saddles. The team has spiced up its dull grey racing kit, adding touches of black and yellow.
History: The Southeast team has had a series of different sponsors over the years, including Vini Fantini and Neri Sottoli - when the team’s fluorescent yellow kit stood out in the peloton. The team has endured a series of doping scandals, including the double positive for EPO with Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio around the time of the 2013 Giro d’Italia, while former Giro d’Italia stage winner Matteo Rabottini tested positive for EPO in 2014, as did Ramon Carretero in 2015. Management has always denied any involvement.
Team leaders: The 18-rider 2016 roster includes Filippo Pozzato – who returns to the team after three years at Lampre-Merida, and young Italian-Polish sprinter Jakub Mareczko. Other names to watch for include Manuel Belletti – who won the GP. Costa degli Etruschi in 2015.
Giro d’Italia ambitions: Southeast are happy just to be in the Giro d’Italia and will no doubt make their presence felt by going in lots of breakaways. Mareczko is only 21 but won 13 minor races in his first season as a professional and could be a revelation in this year’s corsa rosa. Pozzato is hoping to target the cobbled Classics and hold his form through the Giro d’Italia so he can chase stage victories.
Team info: Something of a family-run operation, with Bruno Reverberi handing most of the team management duties to his son Roberto in 2013. Stefano Zanatta, formerly of Liquigas, joins as a directeur sportif for 2016.
Sponsor Bardiani produces pneumatic valves for food and sanitary processing equipment, while CSF manufactures stainless steel pumps. Mario Cipollini supplies the bikes and the squad’s lurid colours has seen it brand itself as the Green Team in recent years.
History: Established as Termolan in 1982 under the management of Bruno Reverberi, the team has been rebranded multiple times over the years (Navigare, Scrigno, Panaria and Colnago, to name but some) and, remarkably, has missed out on the Giro just once in that period, in 2009. Riders to enjoy Giro success in their various colours over the years include Fabrizio Guidi, Julio Perez Cuapio, Stefano Allocchio, Emanuele Sella and Brett Lancaster.
Bardiani-CSF has been the most consistently successful of the Italian wildcard squads in recent years to boot. Domenico Pozzovivo and Enrico Battaglin won stages in 2012 and 2013, the squad claimed a hat-trick of stage wins in 2014 through Marco Canola, Battaglin and Stefano Pirazzi, while Nicola Boem scored the sole wildcard win of the 2015 Giro.
Team leaders: Bardiani-CSF hasn’t had a general classification contender since Pozzovivo left at the end of 2012. Pirazzi – king of the mountains at the 2013 Giro – Edoardo Zardini and Francesco Manuel Bongiorno will be on the offensive on hilly and mountainous days, while Sonny Colbrelli will be the team’s sprint option in reduced bunch finishes.
Giro ambitions: A stage victory from any source will be the objective, and not many breaks will go clear without a lime green jersey present.