Brazilian Flavia Oliveira, the winner of the mountains classification in last year's Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile (Giro Rosa), was not on the start line at the prologue today. She and her Lensworld-Zannata team dissolved their contract earlier this month over conflicting sponsorship of the trade team - which rides Zannata bikes - and Oliveira's national team, which is now supported by Specialized Brazil.
Oliveira called the opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games in her hometown of Rio de Janiero with her national team, and other races with the military team, of which she is a member, with the backing of Specialized Brazil was an offer she could not refuse.
"I wish things had worked out. I understand their side and there's no bad blood," Oliveira told Cyclingnews. "I feel like I've never been given this opportunity to do right by my country on so many levels. Not only represent the green and yellow, but to have the support of a Brazilian company and a way to reach out to more women in my country and keep the sport growing."
Oliveira regretted having to make the difficult decision to leave her trade team, saying she wanted to renegotiate her contract and race the Giro Rosa. "I feel like I'm in a good and bad position. I hate to have to miss out on some big races that I've been focusing on, but the Olympics only happen once every four years. This help will come in handy long after this season. So in the long run, it is the right decision."
Heidi van de Vijver, the manager of the Lensworld-Zannata team said it was not the racing with the national team that they could not agree to, but the fact that Oliveira would be racing on the equipment of another company.
"In no other professional team is this possible and also suddenly we had to agree this," van de Vijver said to Cyclingnews. "Of course we have many riders who race with national teams, or for the Military team, but always with the material from their UCI team as in every other team. It was a hard decision to make for me because we race the Giro now without a 'leader' but I will stay consistent and professional for our sponsors and other riders. I could forbidden this transfer yes, but I want to see fully motivated - and happy - riders."
The only races the national team would normally race is the Pan American Games and championships, world championships and Tour de San Luis, so Oliveira is still seeking another team to race the rest of next season with.
Rather than race in Italy, Oliveira will compete in the Tour de Feminin in the Czech Republic with Aprire Bicycles / HSS Hire, a British team.
"I hope that maybe I'll find a team that I can be a part of and maybe they can help me continue on this journey. I love this sport. As Ashleigh Moolman wrote, we all have to unite and demand, and expect more of our sport so that we can be respected."