By Gregor Brown
Italian star Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) says that cycling is suffering at home amid pushes for a crowdfunded WorldTour team to put the country back in the top ranks.
Italy has lacked a team in the top ranks since Cannondale-Liquigas folded in 2014 - of the 18 WorldTour teams, none come from cycling's heartland.
"At this moment, Italian cycling is suffering," Nibali told Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"For a rider to join the highest ranks is more difficult compared to before. Every team has more than one captain and he works for them. But the main reason remains globalisation."
Teams now come from the Middle East, the U.S. and Australia. Some reports suggest a top team from China could launch soon. Nibali, the 34-year-old winner of all three Grand Tours, has taken note.
"For example, Australia, Norway, Poland never had won the Milan-San Remo before Goss, Gerrans, Kristoff, Kwiatkowski. Or think of the Slovakia before Sagan.
"Anyway Italy has not started the season badly. The victories have come and the UAE Tour showed a young rider born in 1996 like Moschetti, who seems very interesting," Nibali said.
"Of course, but at the same time you have to make important investments. The costs have risen and if there is no tax relief or concrete help then it is difficult to start a high-level team.
"In fact, Italy has found itself without teams in the WorldTour, despite our DSs and riders being very much at the top of the market. I believe that in Italy, the potential to re-launch exists, both from a technical point of view and economic."
Italy's top sports newspaper ran a series of articles with people like Mario Cipollini and Luca Guercilena in the last months to highlight the crisis and to promote a solution.
Yesterday, it interviewed the head of Italy's top think tank, Valerio De Molli. He suggested the Italian fans could support a top a team via crowd funding.
"There was certainly a lack of real projects, and investors need to see signs and projects. We need involvement of the great sports leaders because they give concreteness and project competence, like what Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador are doing," said De Molli.
"Where to start? With crowdfunding, mobilise the noblest portion of the sport. There 5.5 million fans in Italy: if everyone put in €10, we would have €50 million, the funds for a great team.
"And we need a public policy to lead the way, starting from the cycling-rich regions like Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna, they must invest in the lower/junior levels and in the basic structures."
Nibali underlined that the talent exists to support a team. He and Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) lead the way in Grand Tours and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) in the sprints.
"And the young riders? Filippo Ganna impressed me on the track. I don't know him very well, but if Team Sky has invested in him that says a lot, that they believe in him and the margins of improvement can be huge," continued Nibali.
"Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) took a beautiful victory in France this month, ahead of Pinot and Bardet. He had already won at a very young age  at the 2016 Giro d'Italia, then he had some problems physically, but it's amazing that he is still just 24."
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