The Italian-Japanese Professional Continental team has a 19-rider roster that includes Japan Cup winner Marco Canola and 2004 Giro d’Italia winner Damiano Cunego as team leaders, plus Ivan Santaromita, Simone Ponzi and Alan Marangoni. Sponsorship from the Japanese construction company Nippo means the Italian-based team helps develop Japanese riders, with qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games a serious objective.
During the team presentation, Nippo-Vini Fantini announced a new Code of Ethics that will be followed by riders, staff, sponsors and the U23 and Junior development teams that have been developed thanks to the support from Europa Ovini, which also sponsored a Continental team in 2017. The team has swapped its bright orange colours for dark blue for the 2018 season.
Cunego has already confirmed he will retire this season and hopes to sign off at the Giro d’Italia in May after an 18-year career that also includes three victories at Il Lombardia.
Giro organizers RCS Sport are expected to reveal the names of the four wildcard invitations to this year’s Giro d’Italia later this week. Tour de France organizer ASO recently announced that Direct Energie, Cofidis, Fortuneo-Samsic and Wanty Groupe-Gobert would complete the list of 22 teams invited to the Grand Boucle alongside the 18 WorldTour teams.
With the 101st edition of the Giro d’Italia starting in Israel, the strengthened Israel Cycling Academy squad is widely expected to secure a wildcard invitation, with Androni Giocattoli also invited thanks to their winning the season-long Ciclismo Cup in 2017. That leaves Nippo-Vini Fantini, Wilier-Selle Italia, Bardiani-CSF and other Professional Continental teams fighting for the two remaining wildcard places.
Race director Mauro Vegni recently suggested that the selection of the wildcards would pay attention to the Italian cycling scene but also consider their current and future business interests. In the past, the Gazprom and CCC-Sprandi teams have secured wild card invitations ahead of the Italian outfits.
The Bardiani-CSF team is considered at risk of missing out in 2018 after Nicola Ruffoni and Stefano Pirazzi failed doping tests, with the news emerging after they had attended the team presentation on the eve of the race in Sardinia.
Nippo-Vini Fantini finished 13th in the 2017 UCI Europe team ranking, ahead of their Italian rivals. However, Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia can count on young sprinter Jakub Marezcko, and Bardiani-CSF have signed Andrea Guardini from Astana.
Valentino Sciotti of Vini Fantini was highly critical of RCS Sport when the team was snubbed in 2017. He is more optimistic for the 2018 Giro d’Italia.
“I think we’ll get some good news this week,” he told Tuttobici from the team presentation.
“Cycling is good for business and giving a great return on investment. We sell 20 million bottles of wine a year and shoes that our investment works. Whatever happens, I’m going to stay in cycling for a while, at least while these riders give me the satisfaction to continue.”
Nippo-Vini Fantini for 2018: Damiano Cunego, Marco Canola, Simone Ponzi, Marco Tizza, Nicola Bagioli, Kohei Uchima, Alan Marangoni, Eduard Grosu, Imerio Cima, Hayato Yoshida, Ivan Santaromita, Hideto Nakane, Masakazu Ito, Filippo Zaccanti, Sho Hatsuyama, Joan Bou, Damiano Cima, Marino Kobayashi and Hiroki Nishimura.