Reading the Espresso Grounds: The Giro Teams

Gav_mediumLet’s talk Giro teams, shall we? The Giro organizers announced the 22 teams who currently hold invitations to the 2010 edition of the Giro d’Italia. (Missed the list? Check it here.) The list included a few surprises. Two French teams, Bbox-Bouygues Télécom and Cofidis made the cut. Two Italian teams, ISD and Ceramina Flaminia, did not. And although this year’s Giro begins in the Netherlands, Vacansoleil and Skil-Shimano, two leading Dutch teams, did not receive invitations to the Italian party. Rabobank is the only Dutch team in attendance.

What in Mortirolo’s name is going on here? Let’s start with the two French teams. Easy-peasy, they are. Bbox-Bouygues Télécom and Cofidis received their invitations thanks to the 2008 argreement between the UCI and the race organizers. Remember that? Varese? I know, as if. The race organizers agreed to invite the pro tour teams to the grand tours for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. After 2010, well, that’s next year, so we can think about that part later.

Since this year is 2010, the agreement still holds, and Bbox Bouygues-Télécom and Cofidis, who were both Pro Tour teams in 2008, receive automatic invitations to the Giro. Last year, Cofidis declined their invitation to the Italian race, because they have a relatively small roster and did not feel they could contest all three grand tours. This year, David Moncoutié had a hankering to ride in Italy, and the team decided over the winter to make the trip South. Euskaldi-Euskaltel and Français des Jeux declined their invitations this year. Voilà, the story of the French teams. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?

The same 2008 agreement ensured that Footon-Servetto received an invite. Last year, the Giro organizers attempted to exclude the team, formerly known as Saunier Duval and previously famous for the doping scandals involving Riccardo Riccò and Leonardro Piepoli. Not content to sit on the sidelines, the team managers took the matter to the sports arbitration court in Lausanne, and won a split decision. The court ruled that the Giro had to allow the team into the race, while the Tour won an exemption. Do we really care about the details anymore? Well, if you do, click and scroll about halfway down, for more than you really wanted to remember about this case. Long story short, Footon-Servetto so in this year.

Does Lampre-Vini Varnese even have a racing license yet? Really, I’ve lost track of that particular foolishness. But it would be a Shocker, if the Giro organizers excluded the team of Giuseppe Saronni. Among other things, he wears lovely tailored suits. Also, he hired Alessandro Petacchi, who albuterol aside remains quite popular in Italy. No doubt his hot wife helps his cause. What would RAI do without her worried face to zoom into during the finales of the flat stages? They’d be lost, I tell ya, totally lost. Damiano Cunego also rides for Lampre-Vini Farnese and while he isn’t a rider for the General these days, he still has a stage win or two left in him. Failing that, maybe he can launch another attack on the doping polemica front this year. I do like a good polemica.

Moving along, Team Sky got the back-dated bro deal, it seems. They were not a pro tour team in 2008, but they are now. They bought a lot of talented riders during the off-season, have shown well during the early season with a win at the Omloop, have sponsor interests in Italy, and will likely bring Thomas Löfkvist (or whatever his name is now) to the race. What’s not to like? Well, the kit’s a bit bland, but who am I to quibble? Katusha also seems to have gotten in on the Pro Tour deal, though really, with Filippo Pozzato sporting the Italian flag on his ass, it’s impossible to imagine Katusha not riding the Giro.

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Cervélo TestTeam? Not a Pro Tour team. But Carlos Sastre won two mountain stages last year, and Simon Gerrans won a stage, too. Gerrans has moved on to Team Sky, of course. But Sastre has said he plans to ride the Giro with ambition to win. Indeed, rumor suggests that the Spanish climber, who won the Tour de France in 2008, may not contest the French grand tour this year and may focus on the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España instead. Last season, Cervélo TestTeam showed well in the big races and there’s no reason to think they will ride differently this year. No brainer invite there, really.

Like Sastre, Cadel Evans has also declared the Giro d’Italia a big objective this year. He’s also the World Champion. If he wants to ride a race, his team will almost certainly receive an invitation. BMC Racing also boasts former World Champion Alessandro Ballan. For added Giro goodness, Ballan is also Italian. Smiles all around from Zomes. Another no brainer invite.

We’re coming now to the bitter end, and there is a shocking lack of Italian teams in this Giro so far. What to do? Add some Italian teams, of course. The choices are: Ceramica Flaminia, ISD-Neri, Acqua e Sapone, Androni-whatsit, and Colnago-CSF Inox. What’s an Inox? I’m picturing a bird. Or maybe a gazelle. Anywho, Ceramica Flaminia pretty much hit the doomsday button when Riccardo Riccò’s girl tested positive for CERA, the exact same drug he tested positive for. Fancy that. Then, the Riccò domestic arrangements blew up in everyone’s faces, and really, did we need to go there? Certainly, the RCS did not want to. Ciao-ciao Ceramica Flaminia, maybe next year.

Acqua e Sapone, meanwhile, has Stefano Garzelli on their roster. Stefano Garzelli rode with Marco Pantani. He also won the Mountains Jersey in last year’s Giro. And, he won Tirreno-Adriatico just last week. This is just the kind of thing that race organizers like to see. Determination, ambition, passion, results in their races. Acqua e Sapone also brings Luca Paolini, who is good for the stage-hunting. Masciarelli, who? It’s unlikely that Acqua e Sapone had much to worry about here. Likewise for Androni-Diquigiovanni, who pretty much always get an invite. They’re good for some stage-hunting and maybe José Serpa can make a run at the General. Or something.

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That leaves just one spot between Colnago-CSF Inox and ISD-Neri. Alas for ISD-Neri, they just haven’t had much in the way of results lately. They did a lovely job last year of riding the breakaways, but sadly, most of their efforts never saw the finish. Dimitri Grabovskyy is silly strong, but tends to attack for teevee time more often than actual results. Giovanni Visconti, popular and Italian, hasn’t faired especially well in the results column lately either. Certainly, his Giro last year was largely anonymous.

Colnago, meanwhile, nearly made the podium at Milano-Sanremo last weekend with their shiny new sprinter Modolo. ISD-Neri has Oscar Gatto, but Gatto has yet to make a big result in the pro ranks, despite his torrid run as an amateur. Advantage to Colnago in the sprints.

ISD also hired José Rujano specifically for the Giro. Apparently, that was not enough to please Zomes, though this year’s Giro is certainly one for the climbers. The hesitancy over Rujano on the part of Zomegnan is understandable. Certainly, Rujano has not had the most consistent record at the Giro. Zomes decided Pozovivo over at Colnago sounded more appealing. Or, maybe he just liked team manager Signor Reverberi better. To me, this last pick between Colnago and ISD might have gone either way, but the lack of results from ISD at last year’s Giro tipped them over the edge and into the dustbin of grand tour hopes.

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The need to include a few Italian teams pretty much doomed the chances of Vacansoleil and Skil-Shimano, despite the start in the Netherlands. Though Zomes might have excluded Colnago-CSF Inox in favor of Vacansoleil or Skil-Shimano, that decision would have meant a Giro d’Italia with only four Italian teams. I suspect the tifosi might have been disgruntled. Already, disgruntlement abounds at the exclusion of ISD-Neri. The requirement from 2008 to invite all the Pro Tour teams and the sudden hankering of David Moncoutié to race in Italy did not leave Zomes too many options. Things might have been even more difficult if not for the tiff between Zomes and RadioShack. We’re not inviting you to our party, we didn’t want to come to your stupid party anyway. ZOMG, high school!!!!

One final twist to the story: Zomes has named six teams as "reserves." The reserves include: Camiooro-Ngc, De Rosa, Ceramica-Flaminia, ISD-Neri, Skil-Shimano, and Vacansoleil. The Giro organizers have also required the invited teams to submit a list of 15 possible riders for the race. Reportedly, the Giro is going to be super tight on the doping front. It’s possible that a team might lose its invitation between now and May, either for failing to meet the "ethical" requirements of the race, or for sucking on the road. The drop-dead date for naming the reserves is 3 May, just before the race start. ISD-Neri just might get their start in the end, though a last minute call-up won't do the team any favors on the preparation front. Thanks Zomes, really.

One more for the rumor mill? Cicloweb.it speculates that Alberto Contador might be a surprise addition to the Giro d’Italia this year, in part thanks to the offices of Astana sports director Giuseppe Martinelli. Yes, that Martinelli, the guy who drove the car for Marco Pantani, Stefano Garzelli, and Damiano Cunego when they won the Giro. That would quite put a twist into the plot of this Giro, if the Ciclowebbers prove correct in their prediction. Contador or no, it should be a good party there in Italy with Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, the Liquigas-Doimo ménage leading the chase for the Pink Shirt.

See you in May!

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