Gerolsteiner and Rabobank respond
Last night, RCS Sport announced the teams that were in line to compete in its races, namely the Giro d'Italia, Milano-Sanremo and the Tirreno-Adriatico. Somewhat surprisingly, there was no mention of ProTour team Unibet.com and, following along the guidelines laid out in December, it gave three of the ProTour teams an option to opt-out of the Giro and Tirreno.
Based on the December 12 press release, the Grand Tour organizers in a sense consider their races outside of the ProTour run by the UCI. RCS Sport, the ASO and Unipublic organise a series of 11 events that include the Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, Paris-Tours and Giro di Lombardia.
At the time of the December release, Astana and Unibet.com were not yet part of the ProTour, and are not listed under the invited teams. The former was selected as a wild card for the RCS Sport events while the latter was not mentioned at all. "Regarding Unibet, there are not preconceived hostilities," explained Angelo Zomegnan, events director of RCS Sport, to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "It was not invited for technical and economic reasons linked to the Giro's interests."
RCS Sport singled out three ProTour teams, Caisse d'Epargne, Gerolsteiner and Rabobank, who have until Friday to indicate if they want to participate. According to the December statement, it is not "compulsory for teams to compete in all eleven races," and so Zomegnan sent out invitations to the ProTour teams last month to inquire about their intentions.
"The three did not respond to our invitation nor did so in an inadequate way," continued Zomegnan. "Caisse d'Epargne did not respond to the letter we mailed on January 20. The other two replied that they have a 'right' to participate, and that is for us unacceptable."
Gerolsteiner was upbeat about participating and indicated that several of its riders had season aims in the Corsa Rosa. Team spokesman Jörg Grünefeld noted to Susan Westemeyer of Cyclingnews, "So far we don't have any official statement from RCS. ... Gerolsteiner has a couple of riders who have chosen the Giro for their season highlight. We all hope we can once again discover a talent like Markus Fothen or Stefan Schumacher, both of whom first showed us in the Giro that they are some of the best young riders in the world.
"But we are still awaiting the information from RCS," he concluded.
"If things come as we have heard, we see it as an honour to get the choice of starting or not starting," quipped Team Manager Hans-Michael Holczer to Cyclingnews. "But we feel highly responsible to the ProTour, so we will definitely show up."
"Now, I don't know what this means," commented Rabobank team director Erik Breukink yesterday evening to Dutch journalists. "We did register with them, [General Manager] Theo De Rooij assured me of that. And if you look at it on a purely sporting basis, we do not deserve a refusal to participate in Tirreno and Milano-Sanremo.
"With Erik and Thomas Dekker and Oscar Freire, we have won the overall classification of Tirreno once, and Freire was also once the best in Milano-Sanremo. Concerning the Giro, one may debate on it, but to me this doesn't seem to be the right way to decide over a participants' field."
General manager Theo De Rooij counts on the UCI to fix the problem, and is firmly decided to participate in these Italian races. "The UCI has let the organisers of the three Grand Tours know that all ProTour teams will race in their events," he said. "I don't think we have to re-iterate our coming once again."
The teams will know whether or not they will participate in the Giro, Sanremo and Tirreno when RCS Sport makes its final selection this Friday, February 16.