The Nippo-Vini Fantini squad have launched a last-ditch plea to Giro d'Italia organisers RCS Sport, asking for an exception to be made to allow them and Androni Giocattoli into the 100th edition of the corsa rosa this May.
The Italian Pro Continental outfit was not selected as a wildcard for the 2017 edition, and race director Mauro Vegni justified his decision to invite Bardiani-CSF, Wilier-Selle Italia and foreign teams CCC Sprandi Polkowice and Gazprom-RusVelo, saying he had to consider "political and commercial aspects, not only the sporting aspects".
In their latest push, the Nippo-Vini Fantini team cited a graph published in Gazzetta dello Sport that shows a precipitous drop in the number of Italian teams racing in the Giro d'Italia - from 13 in 2001 down to five upon the creation of the ProTour/WorldTour. The decline follows that in the number of Italian WorldTour teams, which this year is zero. There are four Pro Continental teams from Italy; two of them were chosen for the Giro.
Nippo-Vini Fantini and Androni Giocattoli were excluded, and railed against the RCS Sport decision, saying non-selection for the Giro threatens their teams' very existence.
"This year Italy, for the first time in decades, will not have any WorldTour team, and just two Italian teams will be on the starting line," the Nippo press release stated. "A negative record, never seen before. For this reason, Nippo-Vini Fantini is sure the right thing to do is not to give up, and we are therefore launching a strong message: 'Believe in it and let's make it happen!'"
In the press release, Nippo-Vini Fantini explain that they want the UCI to raise the maximum peloton size from 198 to 210, while appealing for the four Pro Conti wildcard teams to drop a rider each and send eight-man teams. That would make 16 spots newly available, giving the opportunity for two more eight-man teams - presumably Nippo and Androni - to take part.
The team say that petitions to allow the snubbed Italian teams into the Giro have reached the Italian Parliament, with one netting 1500 signatures, and that their exclusion has captured the attention of some "relevant Italian politicians".
The Gazzetta graphic shows, however, that the heart of the issue lies less in the Giro d'Italia selections and more in the creation of the WorldTour. Before 2005, the vast majority of Italian teams raced in the Giro - in 2002, 12 of the 13 pro teams were invited - but still, the country lost three Division 1 teams at the end of that year.
In 2013 and 2014, all Italian teams were included in the Giro d'Italia (one WorldTour automatic and four wildcards), but that still did not prevent the loss of the Cannondale Team, which merged with Garmin-Slipstream and switched its country of registration to the US. Last year four of the five top Italian teams raced the Giro, with only Androni excluded. Still, the Lampre WorldTour squad almost ceased to exist, only saved by a late bail out by the United Arab Emirates.
Vegni insists that blaming the decline of Italian cycling on Giro d'Italia invitations is based on a "wrong business model". "We'll always give Italian cycling attention, but the Giro can't be everything and the other races count for nothing," he said. "The teams who won't ride the Giro will ride Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo. It is wrong to say everything depends on the Giro. That means the teams don't have plans."
Nippo-Vini Fantini promise to persist in its plea to get special dispensation from the UCI to be included.
"We know that this request is a dispensation and remains an exceptional event, unique and not repeatable," the release stated. "Not a precedent, but an exception for a special event, the Giro100, the edition that more than any other represents the flagship of Italian Cycling, the edition that will showcase what Italian Cycling represents and during which it will declare what it will be doing for the next 100 editions."
The team have created the social media hashtag '#Giro100Italiano' to allow the public to lend their support for the measure. "There are all the motivations to do it, and to make Italian Cycling winning again, all together."