As a new Grand Tour promoter, the Giro d'Italia's general director Michele Acquarone inaugurated a previously unseen way of communicating about the wild-cards, giving total transparency about the identity of the candidates, the panel of selectors and the reasons of their choices for teams invited to Milan-San Remo, Tirreno-Adriatico, Giro d'Italia and Il Lombardia by RCS Sport.
With three days to go into the Giro d'Italia, NetApp is the only invited team without a stage win but they have animated the race and claimed a second place with Jan Barta at the top of Cervinia. Androni Giocattoli (with Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez and Roberto Ferrari), Colnago CSF Inox (with Domenico Pozzovivo who is also seventh on GC) and Farnese Vini-Selle Italia (with Matteo Rabottini and Andrea Guardini) have all performed and also given the event an interesting media exposure due to the personalities like Gianni Savio, the Reverberis (father and son) and Luca Scinto who run these three teams, respectively, and which have won five stages out of eighteen so far.
"If we look at what the image of what the Giro has to be in a few years time, the eighteen ProTeams are those supposed to do the race," Acquarone told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview at the start of stage 18 at San Vito di Cadore. "If we look at Wimbledon [tennis tournament], the top seeds are expected to play towards the final.
"As race organizers, we have in our hands four wild-cards. We see them as a way to create interest prior to the Giro but we don't select those teams with the idea that they'll win the overall classification. If they do well, fine, it's a bonus. This year, the four invited teams have done a lot to promote the Giro in the lead up to the race. NetApp has generated interest internationally, Colnago-CSF Inox has developed young Italian riders, which is something we appreciate a lot, Farnese Vini-Selle Italia has had a good Spring with Filippo Pozzato and Androni Giocattoli has done good publicity for the Giro in South America [and Asia].
"That was before the race," Acquarone continued, "and now, Farnese Vini-Selle Italia has won with Rabottini what has possibly been the best stage of the 2012 Giro d'Italia so far [at Pian dei Resinelli]. It makes me very happy with the choices we've done at the beginning of the year. But we've made clear that these Pro Continental teams mostly need to work their calendar out by themselves. If they happen to be invited to Milan-San Remo, Tirreno-Adriatico or the Giro, it's something extra for them, but it must not be what justifies their existence.
"Shall we conclude that invited teams have done a lot so far or that some of the automatically selected teams have done too little?," Acquarone wondered. "The Giro d'Italia is the second biggest cycling competition in the world. I don't think that ProTeams should leave so much space to four invited teams. In the future, we'll pay more attention to the commitment of the ProTeams. The good example is Team Sky. We know that they won't bring Bradley Wiggins to the Giro every year but they brought Mark Cavendish. We couldn't expect anything more from the world champion that winning three stage wins and still being in the race wearing the red jersey with three days to go. They also chose to line up two young Colombians [Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao] who are in the top ten overall. That's what we expect from ProTeams. I wish the eighteen ProTeams were like Team Sky. I'm not saying that only from my point of view but also from theirs."
When he took over from Angelo Zomegnan last year, Acquarone met UCI president Pat McQuaid. "He told me that his priority for cycling was globalization," the Italian mentioned. "I responded: OK, I'm with you! I see a brighter future for cycling with teams like Sky, GreenEdge, American teams, etc. I wouldn't be surprised to see anytime soon in the WorldTour a team from China, one from India, one from South America… It's our role to reach cycling fans all over the world. We'll work for more people to know about the Giro d'Italia through all media, not only TV channels but also iPad, smartphones, etc."
Acquarone, 41, is only the fifth boss of the Giro d'Italia since the race was created in 1909 by Armando Cougnet and later organized under Vincenzo Torriani, Carmine Castellano and Zomegnan. "I love working in the world of sport," he said. "Whether it's cycling, football or basketball, it's fantastic to deal with something that people are passionate about.
"I find people really great in the world of cycling. Like for the issue of the wild-cards, we have to do everything with the maximum transparency. We've got nothing to hide. We're here to please the public. The Giro has to be a party and we're actually like concert organizers. If Madonna comes to Milan and performs in great conditions, people will say: wow, Madonna! But if the sound or the light is wrong, people will wonder: who organized that? As race organizers, we want to be unseen. I'm glad when I hear that the 2012 Giro is going on with no problem. It's the best compliment we can get for our work. We just have to offer a well balanced course. Then it's all up to the riders. They can play the game the way they want to. They are the only stars."