Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli manager Luca Scinto has called for the World Tour to be reduced to 13 teams and for greater guarantees to be given to ProContinental teams to ride the biggest races in their own countries. After missing out on Giro d'Italia selection in 2010, Scinto's men have made the cut this time around, but he believes the system needs to be changed in order to keep smaller sponsors and teams in the sport.
"There should be 13 ProTeams, no more than that," Scinto told Cyclingnews in Qatar. "There are very few teams that deserve the budget to be in the WorldTour. Not everybody can do the WorldTour.
"I think that if there were 13 ProTeams, then you could have a performance-based classification of the ProContinental teams. There would be more wildcards, and the teams that deserve to go to races would be invited. It would allow ProContinental teams who work well the possibility of growing and becoming WorldTour teams later on."
Scinto does not believe that the existing system is without its merits, but he feels that there should be a smaller quota of elite teams guaranteed invitations to all of the major races on the calendar.
"It should be quite like what they're trying to do now, but with 13 teams instead of 18," Scinto explained. "Those teams should also have a budget upwards of 7-8 million euro, and not 4 million as it is now."
Wildcard invitations for home teams: saving the saveable
While Scinto is relieved that his Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli team has earned its berth to this year's Giro after missing out last season, the Tuscan explained that the lack of guarantees given to teams at the beginning of the season make it difficult to convince sponsors to enter the sport. His solution would be to effectively guarantee ProContinental teams entry to the major races in their own country.
"After a year without doing the Giro, our sponsors have been lucky this year," he said. "But in general, with this kind of situation, sponsors don't want to invest anymore and instead of developing their involvement, they leave cycling.
"So I'd put it in the rules that ProContinental teams from Italy or Belgium or wherever get to participate in the big races in their own countries. That would help sponsors to invest.
"You can't just go to a sponsor and ask for a half a million or a million euro and then tell them that you don't know if you'll be doing the Giro."
Scinto also reckons that the Continental category should be discontinued. "I'd make the Continental teams ride in another form, because either they adhere to the biological passport or else it's no use having it for amateur riders," he said. "The Continental teams have a very little regulation and financial means and they take on riders who don't even deserve to be professionals.
"It's my opinion, and it counts for little, but I would do it that way. But of course saying it is easier than doing it."
For Scinto, the combination of the economic downturn and cycling's continued doping problems are making it more and more problematic to attract investment into the sport.
"Perhaps the people who want a cycling made up of just these elite ProTeams don't realise that the economic crisis is very serious all over the world and that cycling is tormented by problems of doping, which means sponsors don't want to invest in cycling and there isn't a lot of money," he said. "People aren't distancing themselves from cycling, but sponsors are.
"We need to save the saveable and have more consideration for the smaller teams who have the possibility of growing."
While Scinto speaks with passion about the plight of ProContinental teams, he and his Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli squad find themselves in a far more secure position in early 2011 than they did 12 months ago. As well as going to the Giro, the team will ride Paris-Roubaix, Fleche Wallone and Liège -Bastogne-Liège and he expects Giovanni Visconti to shine on the big stage.
The Sicilian came close to leaving the team for pastures ProTeam at the end of last season, but ultimately he opted to stay put at the team he joined from Quick Step at the end of 2008.
"He was going to leave. He'd decided to change teams as we hadn't done the Giro or the classics last year," Scinto told Cyclingnews. "But in the end, I think he took a logical look at it. The fact that he had left a ProTour squad to join a team like ours in the first place was maybe a sign that they were lacking some of the things that he could find here.
"I think if he succeeds in winning this year, we'll grow with him. It depends on us and it depends on him."
That growth could eventually include entry into the WorldTour, but Scinto is adamant that it will be a step-by-step process to reach that stage of development.
"I don't think we're a meteorite or the kind of team that is born immediately as a ProTeam," he said. "But I do think that if we work seriously and professionally year after year, our sponsors will believe more in the project and who knows if in the future we couldn't become a ProTeam squad. Our objective is to become a ProTeam, but with tranquillity."
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.
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