The director of the Giro d'Italia, Angelo Zomegnan has hinted there will be several surprises when he names the teams invited to this year's event but has refused to give further details before the formal announcement.
The 22 teams will be named on Monday, March 7, exactly two months before the race begins in Turin with a 21.5km team time trial.
Under a bilateral agreement between major organisers and the UCI, the 18 ProTeams registered for 2011 have been invited to ride all the races on the World Tour Calendar, with the race organisers allowed to award up to four other wild card invitations.
That should mean Ag2r-La Mondiale, Katusha, Lampre-ISD, Quick Step, Saxo Bank-SunGard, RadioShack, Garmin-Cervélo, Omega Pharma-Lotto, Rabobank, Team Sky, BMC, HTC-Highroad, Liquigas-Cannondale, Leopard Trek, Movistar, Astana, Vacansoleil-DCM and Euskaltel-Euskadi all receive invitations to the Giro d'Italia.
However, Cyclingnews understands that Vacansoleil's place could be at risk. The Dutch team has sacked Riccardo Riccò' and has opted not to race Ezequiel Mosquera until his positive for hydroxyethyl starch is resolved but its ProTeam status could be at risk.
Zomegnan could also decide to take a strong stance against Vacansoleil, despite the agreement with the UCI. Last year he refused to give Riccò's Ceramica Flaminia team an invitation to the Giro and is not afraid of confrontation.
Wild card invitations
If Vacansoleil misses out on an invitation to the Giro d'Italia, it would also ease the problem of deciding who is given the wild card invitation.
Zomegnan has confirmed that the Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli team will have one of the wild card places thanks to team leader Giovanni Visconti being the current Italian national champion. The Tuscan team will also include sprinter Andrea Guardini.
That leaves several Professional Continental teams desperately hoping to secure one of three or four other places.
Androni Giocattoli topped the Italian team classification and so seems assured of an invitation under an agreement between the Italian Cycling Federation and RCS Sport.
Team manager Gianni Savio has lost Michele Scarponi to Lampre but recently added Jose Rujano to his team to boost his roster. He is rightly confident his team will be at the start in his home city of Turin on May 7.
The Geox-TMC was snubbed for Tirreno-Adriatico by RCS Sport but was invited to Milan-San Remo and seems likely to be invited to the Giro because their squad would include both Carlos Sastre and 2009 Giro winner, Denis Menchov. Both of the team's sponsors are Italian companies, with Geox a major name on the Italian high street and major advertiser in newspapers and magazines owned by RCS.
This leaves Colnago-CSF Inox, Acqua & Sapone, Team Type 1, Cofidis and possibly Europcar hoping for the final one or two wild card invitations.
All have valid reason for an invitation but someone will miss out when the teams are announced on Monday.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.