Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport has announced the four wildcard invitations for this year’s race, with Bardiani-CSF, Southeast-Venezuela, Nippo-Vini Fantini and Gazprom-Rusvelo all getting the golden ticket for the corsa rosa, but there is no place for Androni Giocattoli team. The 18 WorldTour teams are automatically invited, meaning a total of 22 teams and 198 riders will ride the 2016 Giro d'Italia.
The Cofidis team of Nacer Bouhanni and the Bora-Argon 18 squad of Irish sprinter Sam Bennett are among the seven wildcards invited to Milan-San Remo in 2016, while Caja Rural-RGA and CCC-Sprandi Polkowice are among the five invited to Tirreno-Adriatico.
RCS Sport said wild cards for the end of season Il Lombardia race will be announced later in the year after evaluating the performances of the teams requesting a place in the final WorldTour races of the season.
The absence of Androni from the Giro d’Italia means that it will be the first time that Gianni Savio's team has missed out on an invitation since 2007, while the inclusion of Gazprom-Rusvelo marks a major surprise.
While at least one non-Italian wildcard invitation had been anticipated, Dutch outfit Team Roompot had seemed the most likely given that the race will start in the Netherlands this year. The 2016 Giro gets underway in Apeldoorn on May 6 and finishes in Turin on May 29.
Southeast earned its selection by right after winning the Coppa Italia teams classification in 2015, and it appears that the presence of Damiano Cunego at Nippo-Vini Fantini and Bardiani-CSF’s strong showing and young Italian roster were enough to secure their invitations. Although Androni Giocattoli has the consolation of wildcard invitations to Milan-San Remo and Tirreno-Adriatico, the team has been overlooked for its most important race of the season.
"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,” Giro race director Mauro Vegni said of the decision to invite Gazprom-Rusvelo. “The international development of all our races remains one of the cornerstones of our strategy and guided us in the final choice of the wild cards."
The Gazprom-Rusvelo roster is made up entirely of Russian riders and the biggest of the team’s 16 victories in 2016 came when Ivan Savitsky claimed a stage victory at the Tour of Qinghai Lake. The squad is managed by Renat Khamidouline.
"It is a great honor for the whole team" Khamidulin, said. "But this is also a great responsibility. We represent a single nationality team and this participation is an opportunity at the highest level. It will be very nice debut on Italian roads, in the country considered the heart of cycling. We’d like to thank RCS Sport for their trust in our team and we thank our sponsors for their support too. This is a great incentive to do well in the coming months."
Rusvelo temporarily suspended itself from competition in 2013 in accordance with Movement for Credible Cycling rules following a spate of positive tests on the team. Petr Ignatenko’s positive test for human growth hormone last season was the squad’s fifth positive test in a little over two years.
The Androni Giocattoli team has not been without its own doping problems, however. The team was the first to be suspended by the UCI for doping offences in 2015, when it sat out racing for 30 days in August following the positive tests of Fabio Taborre, for FG-4592, and Davide Apollonio, for EPO.
In 2015, with just 17 teams in the WorldTour, RCS Sport had the luxury of inviting five wildcards and was able to include all four Italian Pro Continental squads alongside the CCC-Sprandi Polkowice outfit.
Giro d’Italia wildcards: Bardiani-CSF, Southeast, Nippo-Vini Fantini, Gazprom-Rusvelo
Milan-San Remo wildcards: Bardiani-CSF, Southeast, Androni Giocattoli, Cofidis, Bora-Argon 18, Cofidis, Team Novo Nordisk.
Tirreno-Adriatico wildcards: Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani-CSF, Bora-Argon 18, Caja Rural-RGA Seguros, CCC Sprandi Polkowice