Giro Wildcards: The Luxury of an Impossible Choice

Michele Acquarone Giro

It’s easy to see the pick of three teams for the Giro as afterthought because the biggest and best names are automatically invited. But it’s not so, the wildcard picks are vital for the race, a chance to shape the Giro and take it to new audiences.

As well as the choice, the process and event itself is cleverly becoming a story and this is something other races should think about.

Fixed Menu
As a reminder, all 18 UCI World Tour teams are automatically invited and must ride. In addition, the Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela team will ride as it won the team prize of the Coppa Italia in 2012, giving it an automatic spot.

A La Carte
This leaves three teams to pick from the UCI Pro Continental ranks. 10 teams have applied and it’s like facing the dessert trolley in a good restaurant. How do you choose?

Giro wildcards

Note Katusha on the list but for now they don’t have a team licence to ride anything so were they to be awarded a spot it would have to be a provisional basis. This is complicated and we’ll return to their case later.

As ever it’s a question of balance and business. Balance because the race needs Italian teams to fulfil its domestic role as the national Tour. Lampre-Merida and Cannondale are formally listed as Italian teams and the latter is likely to send a strong contingent of Italian speakers despite being increasingly international. Astana speak Italian, they are managed by Giuseppe Martinelli and have several prominent Italians, notably Vincenzo Nibali. But three and half teams is not enough.

Both Vini Fantini (ex Farnese Vini, the fluo yellow guys) and Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox seem to have lighter squads on paper but it’s not much the star names, it’s the spirit. Without big names it means they have to attack and this is essential liven up the race. But who else to invite?

  • Caja Rural could ride knowing they’ll be fresh again for the Vuelta. But can you name any of their riders? With Movistar and Euskaltel already riding there are probably enough Spanish teams
  • Europcar have a big focus on July. They might have a roster of 25 riders but once you pick their nine men for July the star factor shrinks, especially since the likes of Pierre Rolland and Thomas Voeckler are likely to race the Ardennes classics and then take a break before returning for the Dauphiné
  • Team Colombia are my pick for mountain mayhem. Plus the likes of Jarlinson Pantano and Darwin Atapuma have the best names in cycling
  • IAM Cycling are another good pick with a good team but they have their sights on the Tour de Suisse already
  • NetApp-Endura came close to a stage win last year and with more experience and depth to the team they could triumph
  • Team Novo Nordisk seem unlikely to ride given their team is not big on star factors even if the team’s mission could resonate beyond the race
  • Sojasun are similar to Europcar, some good riders but once you strip out the riders for July then the team is lighter. However, an invitation for the Tour is not certain so they might want to ride. It would be a good test for the team but I can’t see RCS Sport offering the team a spot just so this team can gather experience

Note African newcomers Team MTN-Qhubeka are not on the list but instead they have applied for other events. Indeed RCS will not just announce the Giro invitations but all their other races too like Tirreno-Adriatico, the Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo.

But so far I’ve listed the sporting considerations. A good race attracts a big audience and this is important. But commercial considerations apply too. Just as RCS has paid appearance fees in the past to bring star names, the reverse is possible with teams paying RCS. Last year NetApp were invited but we should note the sponsor also bought adverts in the race. This not a guaranteed method though, just ask the likes of Vacansoleil who for years sponsored ASO races only to get refused. Broader considerations apply too. Do you want to expand the race in a particular market? If so then invite a team from the region.

The Katusha Case
What should RCS do here? The team is obviously a strong pick but given Joaquim Rodriguez is already talking about the Tour de France, he won’t ride. Indeed once you remove the Catalan and assume some mountain men will ride with him in July the remaining Russian rump of riders is less attractive although Ignatiev, Brutt and possibly Menchov could have their say.

But the real problem is more fundamental. Katusha don’t have a licence. Give them a wildcard and they might not be licensed to race by May. Or they could win their CAS appeal and therefore have the right to to ride the Giro.

It’s a tough call but RCS probably have to deal with the cards that the UCI have given them: if Katusha aren’t registered then they can’t ride. Perhaps reviewing their dossier was an act of politeness?

INRNG picks
Unburdened by commercial factors, Vini Fantini and Colombia are my prime choices. The third choice is harder with Bardiani, IAM and NetApp-Endura each having their merits. The trouble here is forecasting too much, extrapolating rider rosters into results. Perhaps the only certainty here is that Bardiani are 100% Italian and the Giro should help its local roots. But then again NetApp have German connections and the sport is crying out for a boost there. Fortunately someone else has to decide.

A Media Event
The decision gets announced tomorrow and whilst the decision is tough, this is great for the Giro. Put another way it would be a problem if they were short of good candidates to invite.

The whole process is worth nothing. The Italian media has been examining the contenders for some time (Tuttobici, La Gazzetta Dello Sport) and it’s created debate and story. Contrast this with the pick for the Tour de France where there’s nothing until the press release gets issued; ASO is only beginning to explore social media and 21st century communications.

The Tour is so big that maybe it doesn’t need to get extra coverage but all the same, RCS are going out of their way to promote the race and they are already building a story about the 2013 edition. Right now July might seem far away but the Giro is being talked about. There’s a lesson here for other races. For sure, you’re not going to get emotional about the wildcard picks for the Tour du Poitou-Charentes. But it’s the big races I’m thinking about and ways to make them last beyond the duration of the competition. For example ASO does a lot of work to review the route of Paris-Roubaix and only a fraction of this ever seems the light of day and there must be plenty of stories about the Tour of Flanders too.

It’s difficult choice but that’s a luxury for Giro boss Michele Acquarone and his colleagues at RCS. Since they can’t pick the first 19 teams, the remaining three give them a choice to shape the race and its image. The contest itself is an asset for RCS and their race. They’ve cleverly created drama before the race, turning an administrative decision into a public contest and you wonder if others can learn from this.

  • Follow up on 8 January: the decision has been made and wildcards go to Bardiani, Colombia and Vini Fantini

17 thoughts on “Giro Wildcards: The Luxury of an Impossible Choice”

  1. Vini Fantini now has Stefano Garzelli, always popular with the fans. His Acqua Sapone team wasn’t invited last year and he considered retiring. As he has said at the time, “I’d like to try to win my tenth stage in the Giro…..In the end I think I’m the only rider who has won a jersey in every special edition of the Giro d’Italia: pink jersey in the Giro del Giubileo (Jubilee Giro, 2000), green jersey in the Giro del Centenario (100th Giro Anniversary, 2009) and another green jersey in the Giro dell’Unità d’Italia (150th anniversary of Italian Unification, 2011).”

  2. I’d love to see IAM & NetApp-Endura ride grand tours this year, each team has some great riders. IAM has riders who have lit up RCS races before (even when they didn’t win) and the teaming up of NetApp & Endura accesses both the German and British markets and each proved to be strong teams in stage races last year. Whether in the Giro, Tour or Vuelta, I’d like to see them given the chance to prove themselves. Colombia could be good to put a spanner in Wiggo’s steady tempo.

  3. I can tell you that an invite of NetApp won’t give German cycling any spark whatsoever. The Giro doesn’t get recognized at all, outside of being televised on Eurosport. There is no coverage of the race itself, the results and so on in other (and bigger) media outlets. Pretty much noone outside of cycling’s “inner circle” took notice of Degenkolb’s success at last year’s Vuelta, and that was an up and coming German rider winning regularly in one of the biggest races in the world. With NetApp you might get a breakaway victory by Bartosz Huzarski or so, if even that, and it is more than far fetched to think that anyone would really care. A wild card for NetApp would not give German cycling a much needed boost.

    If it was up to me it would be the two Italian teams plus either Katusha or the Colombians.
    With Cannondale losing much of its Italian identity the two Italian teams are needed. Katusha is too good to pass up, if they are eligible. If they aren’tm Team Colombia is the next best thing and would help establish the Giro on the South-American markets.

      • Success won’t change much, I fear. Tony Martin is now a two time individual time trial world champion. Degenkolb won five stages at the Vuelta last year. Greipel won three stages at the Tour. Kittel won 17 races in 2011. All that didn’t help getting Cycling back on the front pages.

    • I’m afraid you’re damn right. I would love to see NetApp competing in the Giro again because it is a German registered team but obviously it really won’t help cycling in Germany at all. Sad but true. The only thing German media reports about is about Armstrong. They seem so scared that a Degenkolb or a Martin are dopers that they (the German media) don’t want to hail a German victory.

      I would still pick NetApp-Endura, Bardiani-CSF and Vini Fantini, to support Italian Cycling.

  4. If the gnomes at the UCI showed a little more flexibility, maybe this would be an excellent opportunity to reduce team sizes by one or two. This would have the double benefit of giving some well supported teams a chance to show their worth, whilst making difficult to control attacking riding a feature of the race.

  5. “Lampre-Merida and Cannondale are formerly listed as Italian teams”

    Is that ‘formally’ or has the separatist Italian Northern league successfully split Italy….

    Sorry, great article – bring on the Columbians and 8 man teams I say. Or what about combined teams? I seem to remember Telekom and some Russians had a combined team in the tour once was it 94 or 95? Think they won a stage with Zabel.

    • Yes “formally”, thanks for this.

      Combined teams have happened before but under the UCI’s process it is probably impossible these days. Plus they’re risky, you can have two clans within the team. More recently it was proposed as a team for Marco Pantani with the Vini Caldirola team I think.

  6. ‘Recently watched the Giro from 2008, with Pro Continental outfits the likes of LPR Brakes (DiLuca) and CSF Group-Navigare (Sella) providing much of the drama, before the beach-rested Contador came into form and took home the grand booty.

    In hindsight it was obvious that the revelation of Sella (doped) and team mate Priamo (supplied) implicated in Mircera/CERA later that year.

    Liggett and Sherwin were foaming and back slapping in the commentary booth at the remarkable talent of Sella.. Geez, or is Geezers, these guys should probably move along as the new “clean era” is ushered in. 🙂

  7. My preference is to bring to the Giro whoever will ride the Tour de France later. Enough of that reluctance to do the double. Guys like Voeckler or Purito can do both races optimally, back to back. But anyway, the best thing would be the Giro choosing all of the race contestants, and only allowing those teams absolutely committed to race for victory and glory.

  8. I’m happy with RCS choices but this whole thing just points out there are TOO MANY top-tier teams. A dozen is plenty, leaving race organizers more choices for wildcards and/or smaller races in general. Rarely in the glory days of cycling were there 200 riders in the peloton. A dozen from the big league plus 6 more wildcards would be more than enough. When/if Mr. Mars and The Mad Hatter are shown the door at UCI, the disastrous World/Pro/Whatever Tour idea can be tossed out with them, making things more affordable for sponsors in these days of worldwide economic troubles.

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