“Objectively, it’s a great injustice. And – please write this – it’s a sporting shame, sporting infamy.” Gianni Savio had a night to think about his Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec squad’s absence from the 2021 Giro d’Italia, but his view of RCS Sport’s distribution of the wildcard invitations hadn’t softened when he picked up the phone on Thursday morning.
The aggression of Simon Pellaud and Mattia Bais on last year’s Giro saw the team carry off the intermediate sprint classification and the breakaway prize for most kilometres off the front. Off the bike, Savio issued a forceful defence of the race organisation in response to EF Education First’s proposal to bring the race to an early halt due to concerns over the coronavirus bubble.
Those displays didn’t suffice to earn selection this time around, though. Although the UCI granted a dispensation that allowed RCS Sport to invite an additional team to the Giro this season, Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec were still overlooked in favour of Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè, Vini Zabù and newcomers Eolo-Kometa.
After their last exclusion in 2017, Androni earned passage to the next three editions of the Giro by targeting the berth RCS Sport used to ringfence for the top team in the Ciclismo Cup classification of Italian races. For 2021, with Alpecin-Fenix earning an automatic place as winner of the 2020 Europe Tour, RCS Sport assigned its remaining wildcards without any fixed sporting criteria.
Like at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, commercial considerations were undoubtedly a factor. For that reason, Savio was neither surprised nor dismayed to learn that Eolo-Kometa had been handed a wildcard even though this is their first season as a ProTeam. Their title sponsor, after all, also offers financial backing to RCS Sport’s slate of races, including Tirreno-Adriatico and Strade Bianche.
“I understand that an organisation tries to balance its sporting and commercial exigencies. Eolo is an economic power, it’s a Giro sponsor and it invests in the Giro, so in giving it a wildcard the organiser is privileging the commercial standpoint and that’s ok with me, I understand that,” Savio told Cyclingnews.
“Bardiani invests in the Giro too, and they also signed two valid riders this season in Giovanni Visconti and Enrico Battaglin. But if the organiser has three wildcards, then at least one of them should be awarded on merit. And that’s the crux of the matter.”
While Savio could appreciate the realpolitik that saw Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador’s Eolo-Kometa earn their passage to the Giro, he declared himself to be at a loss as to how Vini Zabù had been selected ahead of his squad. Angel Citracca and Luca Scinto’s team haven’t won a stage of the Giro since 2012, while Vini Zabù rider Matteo Spreafico – previously of Androni – tested positive for ostarine at last year’s race.
“Vini Zabù is a team that for four years has always finished behind us in every classification – world, European and national. It’s a team where all the best riders have left. All of them,” said Savio. “This year, they’ve signed Jakub Mareczko, who is a second-tier sprinter. With all due respect, Mareczko is a sprinter I would compare with our own Matteo Malucelli. He’s slightly better than Malucelli, but they are both second-tier sprinters.
“It’s not possible that they finish behind us in every classification for four years and then get rewarded with a spot at the Giro d’Italia just for signing Mareczko. Can you remember Marezko’s previous performances on the Giro? He hasn’t done anything… If Arkéa had been invited, with Nairo Quintana, I wouldn’t have said anything. I’d have been disappointed, but I wouldn’t have complained. But here, I can’t not raise my voice.
“In recent years, we have sent Davide Ballerini, Andrea Vendrame, Mattia Cattaneo, Fausto Masnada, Iván Sosa and Egan Bernal into the WorldTour. We have a project, unlike Vini Zabù, who have no project.”
That view was echoed in an editorial on Tuttobici on Thursday afternoon, though refuted in a letter to the same site from Vini Zabù backer Valentino Sciotti, who pointed to his 13 years of sponsorship in professional cycling and attempts to sign Fabio Aru this past winter.
The future for Savio
Like most ProTeams in Italy and beyond, Savio’s team stood to receive additional funding from their main sponsors if they earned selection for a Grand Tour, though he stressed that there would be no shortfall in their 2021 budget for missing out on the exposure of the Giro.
“We have contracts where the amount increases in the event of participation in the Giro, but we can’t ever be certain of getting a place, so there’s no problem for this year,” said Savio, who downplayed the idea that the disappointment was increased by missing out on a Grande Partenza in his home city of Turin.
“That’s a marginal aspect. Above all, there’s this sporting infamy, this annihilation of sporting principles.”
Savio has been bringing teams to the Giro since 1986, and before that, he was long a fixture in Italian cycling in his role as head of Galli components. He was unsure, however, if he would remain in the game beyond the end of the current season.
“In this moment, if you asked me would I continue next year, I’d have to say, after more than 30 years, that I don’t know. I’m not saying I’m leaving, but I’m also not saying I’ll definitely continue. I don’t know,” Savio said. “I’ll need time to reflect and think, because I find myself in a world that is, to my mind, too unjust and too hypocritical.”
Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec began their 2021 season at the Vuelta al Tachira in Venezuela, where they won stages with Pellaud and Malucelli, and where 18-year-old neo-professional Santiago Umba’s climbing caught the eye. On Thursday evening, meanwhile, Savio’s team will assemble in Alassio for a training camp before the start of the European campaign whose dimensions are rather different to what they had anticipated.
“I’ll talk with them this evening,” Savio said. “I’ve always managed to motivate my riders by outlining to them that, in cycling as in life, you have to know how to respond to adversity.”