Only a few days removed from the Giro d'Italia's announcement of 2017 wild card invites that saw them left out in the cold, Nippo-Vini Fantini are preparing for their season opener at the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina.
The team's headliners at the 2.1 America Tour event include Damiano Cunego and new signee Julián Arredondo, who has shown a knack for early-season racing over the course of his career. He grabbed international attention with a win at February's Tour of Langkawi in 2013 and took two stages the following year in January's Tour de San Luis.
The 28-year-old Colombian signed with Nippo-Vini Fantini after three seasons with Trek-Segafredo organisation. Although his stint with Trek got off to a strong start with a stage win and the king of the mountains title at the 2014 Giro d'Italia, lingering hip issues saw him claiming fewer and fewer notable results over the course of his tenure there. After an offseason spent attempting to fix the problem, Arredondo is looking to put his recovery to the test in Argentina.
"I'm really happy to be back in a race, I really want to start riding in an official competition after the long training and recovery," he said via a team release. "I have been working a lot, many hours each day for more than 3 months, to live again a moment like that. I will be at full disposal of the team, the Sports Directors and Damiano Cunego."
Nippo-Vini Fantini are also interested in seeing how well speedster Nicolas Marini can perform across the Atlantic with several sprint stages on tap in San Juan. Fast-finishing Fernando Gaviria and Elia Viviani are both slated to start, providing plenty of competition.
"We are really curious to see in action together for the first time Julian Arredondo and Damiano Cunego. But our most performing rider in this moment is Nicolas Marini. He was racing (and winning) until November, he made a good preparation and for the sprints he will be our leader," said sport director Mario Manzoni.
Kazushige Kuboki, Riccardo Stacchiotti and Ivan Santaromita will round out Nippo's six-man San Juan roster.
Looking ahead, Nippo are still holding out hope for possible intercession by the Italian Federation with Giro organiser RCS to open up a space in the Italian Grand Tour. In addition, Tuttobici reported Friday that Italian senator Massimo Caleo may seek a parliamentary initiative push for additional invites for Nippo and Androni Giocattoli, the two Italian Pro Continental teams left without wild card spots.
In the meantime, the team will get to racing. Though excluded from the list of Giro d'Italia invites, Nippo were offered wild card spots at WorldTour-level Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo.