By Gregor Brown
The Giro d'Italia may have to welcome back team Neri Sottoli for its 2015 edition, in favour of teams like MTN-Qhubeka and Colombia, despite a series of doping cases and controversy.
The Italian second division team leads the Coppa Italia rankings, the winner of which receives an automatic wildcard invitation to the Giro d'Italia. It maintains the first spot with 499 points, 57 points over Bardiani-CSF with 442. Three more races remain in the cup, ending with the GP Beghelli on 12 October.
The Giro d'Italia organiser typically awards four wildcard invitations to second division teams in addition to the 18 WorldTour teams with rights to participate. Team Androni won the 2013 Coppa Italia – a series of .HC and .1 races – and received the first of four invitations. The Giro awarded the other three to Colombia, Bardiani and Neri Sottoli.
Neri Sottoli stands first in line this year, but carries a heavy burden with three major doping cases. Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio tested positive at the 2013 Giro, when the team raced as Vini Fantini, and Matteo Rabottini failed an EPO test this August.
Despite the first two cases and protests from within cycling, organiser RCS Sport invited Neri Sottoli to its 2014 race because the team made changes and became more Italian. RCS Sport may decide in favour of other teams, like Africa's MTN or Cofidis with sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, for 2015 even if Neri Sottoli wins the cup.
"The team that wins the cup has the right to race next year in the Giro d'Italia," race director, Mauro Vegni told website Tutto Bici.
"The team, however, is subject to the usual economic and ethics criteria and that gives us the ability to accept or to reject it despite winning the cup."
Bardiani, who is racing Sonny Colbrelli and Enrico Battaglin, could win the Coppa Italia and end the discussion. If not, Neri Sottoli could cast a dark shadow over the Corsa Rosa by insisting and putting the weight of its sponsors behind its right to race in 2015.
Italian Matteo Rabottini found positive for banned blood-booster EPO in out-of-competition test on August 17
Italian Danilo Di Luca is handed a lifetime ban from competition for a third doping infringement
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