USA's ProTour team back on the Grand Tour schedule
By Gerard Knapp
After being initially left out of the team selection for the 2008 Giro d'Italia, the first Grand Tour of the cycling calendar, a clearly delighted Team High Road – the USA's ProTour squad – announced Friday morning that it has secured entry to the cycling events organised by RCS Sport, the owner and organiser of Italy's three-week tour.
Team High Road also announced its acceptance of the invitation to and planned participation in the events owned by RCS Sport, including the Giro d'Italia.
Angelo Zomegnan, events director of RCS Sport, said, "After careful and diligent review, RCS Sport is glad to confirm its confidence in Team High Road and its promising riders, and invite the new USA-registered team at our races starting, in chronological order, with Monte Paschi Eroica on March 3, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, Giro d'Italia, Giro del Lazio, Giro del Piemonte e Giro di Lombardia".
Team High Road owner, Bob Stapleton, said, "Team High Road is honoured to compete in these exceptional events and thanks RCS Sport and Mr. Zomegnan for their support.
"These are some of the most spectacular sporting events in the world and we plan to come with excellent athletes and extraordinary motivation," he added.
"I'm extremely happy to know that Team High Road has been invited by RCS sport to participate to their events and above all to the Giro d'Italia. Personally it represents an event with an importance that goes beyond competition.
Team High Road is likely to be led by Italian rider, Marco Pinotti, who wore the maglia rosa in the Giro d'Italia in 2007.
"It is not only an outstanding race, but it brings emotional and historical value. It's my duty to race this event at my best according to principles of fairness and integrity," he said.
Earlier this month, RCS Sport announced that 21 teams would contest the 2008 Giro, however, at the time the organiser said it would reserve "right to withdraw the invite at any moment".
On Friday, February 1, the Italian event organiser and media company announced that it had invited the following teams to the 91st edition of its Grand Tour, including: Ag2r-La Mondiale, Barloworld, Caisse d'Epargne, Cofidis, CSF Group Navigare, Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Française des Jeux, Gerolsteiner, Lampre, Liquigas, LPR Brakes, NGC Medical-OTC Industria Porte, Quick Step, Rabobank, Saunier Duval-Scott, Silence-Lotto, Slipstream Chipotle - H30, Team CSC, Team Milram and Tinkoff Credit.
It's not known if RCS Sport will expand the invitation to 22 teams, or it will withdraw the invitation to one of the teams announced on February 1. One theory is that RCS will expand the invite list to 22 teams; or it could drop a team based on recently re-opened Operación Puerto investigation.
High Road's invitation to the Giro is a further slap in the face to Johan Bruyneel's Team Astana, which this week was excluded from competing at the 2008 Tour de France (see reports) by race owner Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO). Astana was also left out of the initial team invite list for the Giro (see reports), as well as the French ProTour teams Bouygues Telecom and Crédit Agricole.
High Road's exclusion from the initial Giro roster was cause for concern to the fledgling USA ProTour team, which had been working hard to re-build the team and also attract a naming rights sponsor after T-Mobile withdrew from the team back in November.
ASO's announcement that it was not going to invite Astana to any of its races in 2008 was actually part of the release of teams that were being invited to Paris-Nice, ASO's first major stage race of the year in Europe, and among those teams invited to Paris-Nice was High Road. The invitations to Paris-Nice was seen as indicative of ASO's plans for the other races it organises, including the Tour de France. The decision by RCS Sport comes only days after High Road seemingly secured the blessing from ASO to compete in its 2008 events.
With the Grand Tours now not part of the UCI's ProTour, the race organisers are able to invite teams according to their own criteria, and so far this year, it's been difficult to assess a consistent pattern in these selections. However, it appears that a combination of national favouritism (in that Pro-Conti teams from the respective nations are receiving invitations over some ProTour teams) and a review of teams' histories with particular regard to doping infractions, appear to the be the most dominant factors.
Team High Road is presenting its 2008 roster later today in Palo Alto, California, just ahead of the start of the Tour of California, which kicks off this Sunday.
UPDATE: Friday, February 15, 2008, 13:00 PST
Speaking from Italy, Angelo Zomegnan, events director of RCS Sport was in meeting at 21:00 CET, Friday night when contacted by Cyclingnews. "We will have additional comments regarding the Giro from the RCS Sport's Events Director following the meeting," he said. Cyclingnews will provide an update at this time.
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