The four wildcard invitations to this year’s Giro d’Italia will be revealed this week, with Italian Professional Continental teams desperate to secure a place in the 100th edition of their home Grand Tour. Missing out on this year’s Giro d’Italia and its three-weeks of mainstream media attention in Italy could prove fatal for their long-term future, with an invitation to Tirreno-Adriatico or Milan-San Remo offering little consolation.
Head of cycling at RCS Sport, Mauro Vegni is staying tight-lipped about who will secure the golden tickets to the Giro d’Italia but Cyclingnews understands that at least one international team – almost certainly Gazprom-Rusvelo – will secure a wildcard. The Bardiani-CSF team has an automatic wildcard invitation to the Giro d’Italia thanks to winning the season-long Coppa Italia series in 2016, leaving Wilier-Selle Italia, Nippo-Vini Fantini and Androni Giocattoli fighting for the final two places.
The 18 WorldTour teams all receive automatic places in the Giro d'Italia with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Fabio Aru (Astana), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Tom Doumulin (Tean Sunweb) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) all expected to fight for overall victory. The 100th Giro d'Italia starts in Sardinia on May 6 and ends in Milan on May 28.
All three Italian Professional Continental teams say they are hopeful of securing a wildcard and have laid out their cases in recent weeks. Vegni is facing a tough decision, with the commercial interests of RCS Sport and new owner Urbano Cairo likely to come before patriotism for teams that are struggling to compete at Professional Continental level.
It has been suggested that RCS Sport could go as far as giving just two wildcard places to Italian teams and so invite Polish squad CCC Sprandi to the Giro d’Italia. The team rode the Giro in 2015 but made little impact on the race. However, it seems that Poland is interested in hosting the start of the 2018 Giro, which could favour CCC Sprandi – though it would be more logical that they rider when or if it starts in Poland, and not the year before.
Last year Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport invited Gazprom-Rusvelo, Bardiani-CSF, Wilier and Nippo-Vini Fantini, snubbing Gianni Savio’s Androni Giocattoli squad. Vegni has often tried to help Italian teams just like the Tour de France organiser ASO prefers to give wildcard invitations to French squads. However, last year he warned that being Italian is no longer enough to secure a wildcard as the Italian teams struggle to secure adequate sponsorship and build strong rider rosters.
Nippo-Vini Fantini has signed Julian Arredondo, Alan Marangoni, Marco Canola and former Italian national champion Ivan Santaromita and has solid backing from Japanese sponsor Nippo as part of a project to develop Japanese cycling for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Bike brand Wilier Triestina took over as title sponsor from Southeast last summer and has been joined Selle Italia. However, the new sponsorship has not led to new signings for 2017, with the Tuscan team’s hopes dependent on Filippo Pozzato and talented young sprinter Jakub Mareczko.
Gianni Savio has signed some of the best young Italian riders from the Under 23 ranks but lost veteran team leader Franco Pellizotti to Bahrain-Merida. Savio hopes the talented young Colombian Egan Bernal and its history of attacking riding in the Giro d’Italia will be enough to secure a place in the Giro d’Italia and avoid the potentially catastrophic consequences of missing out.