The selection of two non-Italian wild card teams for the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia has brought down a storm of criticism on race director Mauro Vegni, who excluded home teams Androni Giocattoli and Nippo-Vini Fantini. The RCS Sport cycling manager defended his decision to Gazzetta dello Sport, saying the teams who rely on invitations to the Giro are working under an erroneous business model.
"The crisis in Italian cycling doesn't stem from the (team) choices by the Giro, but by the fact the movement has for years been based upon the wrong business model: 'I need to ride the Giro or else I'll close the team'," Vegni said. "That's no way to think. We'll always give Italian cycling attention, but the Giro can't be everything and the other races count for nothing. The team who won't ride the Giro will ride Strade Bianche, Tirreno and Milan-San Remo. It is wrong to say everything depends on the Giro. That means the teams don't have plans."
Vegni's organisation awarded two wild cards to Italian teams: Bardiani-CSF and Wilier Triestina-Southeast, and to the Russian Gazprom-RusVelo team and CCC Sprandi Polkowice of Poland. He praised Bardiani as a development team, but was unimpressed by the fact that Nippo-Vini Fantini signed Colombian climber Julian Arredondo.
"I'm sorry for Androni but there has to be a project behind the teams," Vegni said. "It's the same for Nippo, who I put faith in for the last two years. I want to see the best young Italian riders turn pro with them. In Nippo's case, Arrendondo doesn't make much difference."
"Bardiani is the one with a project. It's launching young talented riders. Wilier was second in the Coppa Italia but won't ride Tirreno," Vegni said. "Gazprom is a sponsor of the Champions League and has important plans for the future."
Why CCC? "Because Poland is a new market and very interesting for the Giro. We've also got to consider the political and commercial aspects, not only the sporting aspects."
Nippo-Vini Fantini want a 23rd team to be added
Nippo-Vini Fantini general manager Francesco Pelosi defended his team's history of developing Italian talent. "We have 11 Italian athletes, 5 of which are under 26, each of them were exceptional talents in the Under 23 category in 2014, and now ready for the big jump.
"We have Damiano Cunego, one of the three Italian winners of the Giro, standard bearer of the values behind a healthy and winning cycling movement, that in 2016 has been wearing the blue jersey (of the Giro d'Italia mountains classification) for 13 days; we have hired Marco Canola, already a stage winner at the Giro, 28 years old, Italian and in full athletic maturity.
"Should RCS take a look to internationalisation, we have a country in Japan that is investing in Italy and is following us as flag-team of their country, and we have Julian Arredondo (winner of one stage and the blue jersey in the 2014 Giro), a pristine talent who has fully recovered thanks to our technicians. Last but not least, in order to grow our young talents, we hired some more experienced riders such as 2013 Italian Champion Ivan Santaromita and Alan Marangoni, both of them with many years of experience in Pro Tour."
Pelosi was "astonished" by Vegni's statements which he found "very offensive", touting the team's mission to develop Italian and Japanese riders "with unrivaled ethics and transparency" toward the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Additionally, Pelosi defended the Italian flavour of the squad. "The team is built on two historical sponsors that have been investing in Italian cycling for years (Nippo for 28 years, Vini Fantini for 9, one of longest spans of time in Italy) and do grow their investments year on year. On top of these, two more have followed every season. We don't have any blemishes on our jerseys, we don't make any statement we can't fulfill".
Pelosi has appealed to the Italian Cycling Federation to act to request a waiver of the UCI to add one additional team to the Giro d'Italia, as was done in 2011 for the 150th anniversary of Italian unification.
"It is a matter of fact that the Giro represents the most important event in Italian Cycling Movement," Pelosi said. "All the other RCS races combined, even though they are well-known and create an important audience, can not match a third of the visibility and reach of the Giro. If Italian sponsors decide to invest at a Professional level it is mostly because the investment is aimed to participate in the biggest Grand Tour of its country".