The wildcard invitee teams for the Il Giro were released today and some people are pretty annoyed.
The main object of their ire appears to be the absence of Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec, the second-tier Italian squad which loses out this year to Vini Zabù, Eolo-Kometa and Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè. The fourth wildcard spot was awarded to the top-ranked ProConti team, Alpecin Fenix, who top the table of ‘division 2’ teams thanks in no small part to the copious ranking points garnered for them by Mathieu van der Poel.
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Androni fans (fandronis) have plenty of good reasons to be irked. They went to the podium twice at the conclusion of the 2020 Giro, with Simon Pellaud’s victory in the ‘sprints’ classification (not to be confused with the more prestigious ciclamino points jersey awarded to Arnaud Démare) and the breakaway classification, through Mattia Bais.
Based on the above, and if the purpose of the lower-level teams at Grand Tours is to get in the breakaways and animate the race, Androni could hardly be accused of letting the side down.
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But the way the team races may actually be part of the problem. Mauro Vegni, the race director of Il Giro, was quoted last year as not wanting to have teams at the Giro whose sole aim was to get into breakaways without serious intentions of victory. ITV Cycling’s Daniel Friebe had this quote, apparently from last year post-Giro.
Could Androni’s crime really be that they were simply too good at doing what ProTeams are supposed to do in Grand Tours?
Others have pointed out the fact that Vini Zabù have made the cut, despite one of their riders, Matteo Spreafico, returning two adverse analytical findings at last year’s Giro and being thrown out. The idea that this squad is more deserving of a spot is a little hard to swallow for some.
If you don’t recognise the name of Eolo-Kometa, fear not, it’s a new team being led by Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso. Both names, particularly Basso’s in Italy, carry huge weight, and it also helps that Eolo sponsors some of RCS’ events, as well as the team as the always sagacious Inrng points out.
Adding to the litany of perceived injustices, it’s also worth noting that Androni were one of the teams that actually defended RCS, Il Giro’s organisers, in the wake of the rider protest in last year’s edition.
Androni are not the only ones losing out. If Vegni’s intention really is to pressure wildcard teams to challenge more for wins, it is baffling to see Arkéa-Samsic excluded in favour of Vini Zabù and Bardiani. After all, who on a ProTeam is more likely to bag a victory than former Giro d’Italia champion Nairo Quintana?
Gazprom, too, have a right to feel aggrieved after being overlooked with their new signing Ilnur Zakarin easily capable of bagging a stage result, as long as he doesn’t have to descend any mountains.
But this, fundamentally, is the problem with the wildcard system: there are never enough spots to make everyone happy, and because of myriad factors including budgets, nationality and even rosters, wildcards berths are rendered unreachable for most ProTour teams – making them anything but ‘wild’ in the true sense of the expression.
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