Today the Giro d’Italia issued its wildcard invitations, and the lucky winners are...
- Israel Cycling Academy
- Androni Giocatoli-Sidermec
- Bardiani CSF
- Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia
And let the fighting begin.
The main objection appears to be that Bardiani-CSF are hopeless dopers, while Italian squads like Nippo-Vini Fantini would have been better representatives. I don’t know exactly how they made their choices, but one thing you can be sure of, this has nothing to do with merit. Let’s take a closer look at what each team brings to the table.
Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia
Brings to the Table: Pippo Pozzato! Who doesn’t love the Peacock of Sandrigo? Jakub Mareczko is about the only rider scoring points these days, unless you’re excited about Luca Pacione’s secondary results in 2.1 races.
On the Other Hand: They remind me of the Simsons’ gag where the sign at the trailer park says “35 days without a tornado” one time and later says “2 days without a tornado.” Well, WT-SI have gone a full year without a doping positive! People can barely remember them bringing Danilo Di Luca to the race in 2013.
Verdict: They were the second-highest-scoring Italian pro-conti team, and I’ll get to the first one in a moment. Is that how this works? If so, I admire the simplicity, I guess.
Israel Cycling Academy
Brings to the Table: On the cycling side of things, a slightly beefed up roster from last year including B-list sprinter Kristian Sbaragli and a more promising youngster in Sondre Holst Enger who might bag a stage before he’s done. Obviously their real contribution is playing into the narrative for the race and the sponsorship dollars from the State of Israel, which calls for a little extra inclusion.
On the Other Hand: Cycling-wise, they weren’t necessarily in anyone’s top 20 Pro-Conti teams last year, although the new signings should improve on that. But also, let’s talk about the narrative that they represent. I don’t want to geek out too much on the history of the Jews, but basically the ancient tribes of Israel had endured several cycles of conquest and rebirth until the Romans came along and obliterated the society and religion, starting a 2,000-year odyssey that is only recently circling back to the modern State of Israel. There was some both-sides stuff, not just the Romans bullying another country but at least some Jews provoking Rome like the Turks and Gauls never did. But I don’t really need to talk about that.
What I do wonder, though, is how the Giro plans to “celebrate” the ancient ties between Rome and Holy Land. Both sides know their history well, and yet we are supposed to just think it’s cool that the race ends at the Colosseum, a short walk from the Arch of Titus (depicting the conquest of Jerusalem) as well as the old Jewish ghetto of Rome, sprinkled with stumbling stones commemorating Holocaust victims. It’s, like, historically complicated stuff. You could write entire books about it.
Ultimately, though, I think the plan is to just pocket a bunch of cash from the Israeli tourist board, talk about the history in fluffy enough ways that nobody focuses on it too deeply, and just call it a party, which is what the Giro generally prefers to do. [These are the people who still dedicate stage starts and finishes to Marco Pantani.] Whatever questions are raised by starting in Jerusalem and ending in Rome, I suspect the race is determined not to answer, or maybe hasn’t even thought of. And I guess it’s OK, sports organizations can barely handle explaining their own politics, let alone ancient world geopolitics, so we are free to play along, just be good tourists and marvel at all the old crumbling buildings.
I’m excited, but it might just end up being weird.
Verdict: I’m definitely glad they were chosen. [I know.] They easily clear the (almost subterranean) ethics bar set by the rest of the teams and they’re a curious hodgepodge of athletes from no less than 15 different countries. Swedes and Norwegians, riding together! Their five Israeli riders are desperately young and unproven in Europe, but with a few days on home soil to get their sea legs I think they should fit in. Just don’t knock over any of the long list of superstars on hand.
Brings to the Table: The first-highest-scoring Italian pro-conti team in 2017! And frankly a pretty strong squad, though their most exciting prospect, Egan Bernal, has graduated to Team Sky. That leaves Francesco Gavazzi and Mattia Cattaneo as the lead guys, though young sprinter Matteo Malucelli might generate some interest. Also Rodolfo Torres is a veteran climber who might snag a result when you aren’t paying enough attention. Finally, if you want to pretend there’s a rationale to this all, the team wasn’t selected to the Giro last year, but proved its mettle by winning the Ciclismo Cup.
On the Other Hand: Honestly, I will have enough to complain about for every other team on the list, so by comparison, I can’t think of any real reason not to include these guys.
Verdict: It’s the Giro, they’re in.
Brings to the Table: A history of nabbing the odd Giro stage, and a young roster of riders Italian fans might someday feel excited about, like Giulio Ciccone or Vincenzo Albanese. I guess Andrea Guardini is the leader.
On the Other Hand: They also bring a stink on the level of Limburger cheese. Their list of recent doping offenses is by far their most distinguishing characteristic. If they seem to have lost some key riders, it’s because winners like Nicola Ruffoni are banned for four years. The fact that Sonny Colbrelli once rode for them is the only thing about his career that I dislike.
Verdict: If they at least had some quality riders we could understand the Giro’s thinking here, even if most of us would probably not agree with it. Now I’m down to compromising photos or some sort of gross political connection.
And now, a brief interlude to tell you that the Giro has released their new slate of leaders’ jerseys, via Castelli. I posted the photo above, but here is a better closeup.
Castelli has produced the Giro maglie in the past, but they were last involved in 1992, so their return to the race is a big moment for the long-standing and beloved brand. Oh, and check out the zipper pulls:
Very classy. Hopefully they’ll put them out for sale this spring. I always have room in my closet for a Giro kit.
OK, from the list of teams missing out...
Brings to the Table: Er, um, sprinter Marco Canola? Former Giro winner Damiano Cunego? Lots of unknown Japanese guys?
On the Other Hand: The Giro really doesn’t come very close to Japan this year. I mean, I suppose it’s on the same continent for the first time ever, but that’s still not all that close. Cunego hasn’t been noticed much in the Giro since 2014, and his victory dates back to the good old days of Ullrich and Armstrong.
Verdict: They got some invites to other RCS events, so clearly they just barely missed the cut.
Brings to the Table: Eons of peloton experience and the odd bit of class, including a Vuelta stage win for Stefan Denifl.
On the Other Hand: Aced out geographically, though a more European-oriented Giro in 2019 would see them next up for an invitation.
Verdict: Bide your time lads.