By Nigel Wynn
Former Giro d'Italia race director Michele Acquarone has criticised the selection of wildcard teams for the top professional cycle races, saying that the system does not make sense in modern cycling.
On Thursday, Giro organiser RCS Sport unveiled the names of the four teams selected to race alongside the 18 WorldTour squads at this year's race. Controversially, Italian team Yellow Fluo were selected alongside Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani CSF and Colombia. Although RCS had asked fans to vote for wildcards teams based on a shortlist of eight squads, the actual selection procedure or criteria have not been broadcast.
Yellow Fluo raced under the name Vini Fantini-Selle Italia in last year's race. Two of its riders - Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio - tested positive for banned blood booster EPO in anti-doping tests related to the event. The team's surprise inclusion, at the detriment of other squads such as MTN-Qhubeka, caused many fans to contact Acquarone directly to ask his thoughts on the wildcard selection.
"Do wildcards still make sense in modern cycling?" said Acquarone. "I don't think so. I believe wildcard and invitations are anachronistic and not coherent with modern cycling. If you still have invitations everything in cycling looks like an 'exhibition'. Sport should be different. Sport is performance, rankings and statistics."
"In my two years as director of the Giro I did not choose the wildcards by myself, I wanted them to be selected by a five-people commission (within RCS: the CEO at RCS Sport, the head of the sport and technical cycling, the head of the marketing cycling, a journalist from La Gazzetta dello Sport and myself), all with equal voting power," he continued.
"I thought and I still think this is the proper procedure to limit arbitrariness and be sure that a single person can no suffer and succumb to pressures (including economic pressure and corruption).
"About the wild card dedicated to the best Italian team [Androni Giocattoli] I have no regrets. I'm glad I signed that agreement with the Italian Cycling Federation to give the right prize to the best Italian team along the Italian season.
"I believe It's good to help reviving the Italian Cup and it's good because it respects the sports values. Easy and simple. I win and I'm rewarded. In football the team that wins the Serie A, the year after it plays the Champions League. In cycling the team that wins the Coppa Italia, the year after it rides the Giro. No arbitrariness."
Acquarone then goes on to suggest that a league system should be put in place, with teams promoted or relegated from the first (WorldTour) and second (Professional Continental) divisions based on performance. It's a system that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) itself has mooted in recent months as part of an overhaul of the WorldTour, including revamping the calendar of events.
"Cycling looks like a jumble of events with just four essential events along the season: Tour de France, Roubaix, Flanders and Sanremo. Everything else is unnecessary, training, exhibition," said Acquarone.
"Do you like that? I don't. Cycling and cycling fans deserve much more."
Acquarone lost his job as Giro race director at the end of 2013 as a result of an investigation at RCS Sport relating to €13million fraud. Several other members of staff were also sacked, but no clear reason was ever publish of Acquarone's involvement. He has always maintained his innocence.
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