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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) back in the pink jersey after stage 15
Katusha's ethics problems complicates race invitation process
RCS Sport, the organisers of the Giro d'Italia, have confirmed to Cyclingnews that their wild card commission will meet on Tuesday to consider applicants for this year's race. However any decision about which teams get to ride the Giro d'Italia in May, and RCS Sport's other spring races (Strade Bianche, Giro del Lazio, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo) could be delayed until doubts about the Katusha team's WorldTour place are clarified.
Competition for places is fierce, with ten teams, including Katusha, fighting for just three places at the Giro d'Italia. RCS Sport is keen to boost the international profile of the Giro d'Italia by increasing the number of foreign teams but is under pressure to help and protect Italian teams, riders and sponsors. Last year Acqua & Sapone did not obtain a wild card for the Giro d'Italia and folded at the end of the season.
RCS Sport wants to make an early decision to allow teams and riders plan their 2013 season, but the legal battle between the UCI and Katusha makes any decision difficult.
The UCI refused to give the Russian team a WorldTour place for 2013 because of doubts about the team's ethics and its past record on doping. The team appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but with the UCI refusing to budge and the 2013 season about to start, Katusha could be forced to fight for wild card invitations to all of this year's major races.
With the 18 WorldTour teams assured automatic entry to the Giro d'Italia and Androni Giocattoli securing a wild card place after winning the Coppa Italia series in 2012, only three wild cards up for grabs for the corsa rosa.
At the moment Katusha does not have any kind of licence and so RCS Sport could decide to ignore their existence and select their wild card invitations from the other teams. However, Joaquim Rodriguez was second in the Giro d'Italia and won Il Lombardia, and RCS Sport feels somewhat indebted to the Russian squad.
RCS Sport could perhaps add Katusha as a 23rd team at the Giro d'Italia at a later date, after a verdict from the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Cyclingnews understands this would not be a economic problem, although the UCI would have to approve the extra team.
Ten wild card applicants
RCS Sport has confirmed that ten teams have submitted dossiers for consideration for wild card invitations: Katusha, Novo Nordisk (Formerly Team Type 1), new Swiss team IAM Cycling, Landbouwkrediet-Crelan of Belgium, NetApp-Endura, Team Europcar, Sojasun, Colombia-Coldeportes and Italian teams Vini Fantini-Selle Italia and Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox.
MTN-Qhubeka, the new Pro Continental team from South Africa, rescinded its application for the Giro d'Italia after team principal Douglas Ryder decided the squad would not be ready for a Grand Tour in May. However, the team is still seeking bids for Milan-Sanremo and Tirreno-Adriatico.
The RCS Sort wild card commission includes Giacomo Catano (RCS Sport CEO), Michele Acquarone (RCS Sport general manager), Mauro Vegni (technical manager of the cycling area), Marco Gobbi Pansana (cycling marketing manager) and Pier Bergonzi (a senior journalist at Gazzetta dello Sport). Each has their personal preferences with any final decision made after a vote.
Fantini Vini-Selle Italia seems almost certain for a place after winning two stages and the climber's jersey in 2012 but who will get the remaining two places?
The Colombia-Coldeportes team could attract interest from South America and create some spectacular racing in the mountains, while the Swiss IAM Cycling team has Heinrich Haussler and Thomas Löfkvist as team leaders.
The Italian website Tuttobici has pushed hard to help the Italian teams but Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox could be overlooked in favour of NetApp-Endura, while the influence of Colnago as bike sponsor of Team Europcar cannot not be ignored.
RCS Sport's decision will make and break the season for several teams but reserve the right to choose the wild card teams that best boost their races, with some teams being offered places in Milano-Sanremo and Tirreno-Adriatico as consolation for missing out on the golden tickets for the Giro d'Italia.