By Gregor Brown
Team NetApp-Endura came just one vote short of returning to race the Giro d'Italia with a wildcard invite. After the near-miss for Giro selection, the newly British-backed, German-based team must now look ahead to the rest of the season.
"The goal of the team is to have a solid year and to ride a Grand Tour again. The team is disappointed not to get a ride, but we did get invited to Tirreno-Adriatico and Lombardy. We will shift focus and put it all into the other races," NetApp-Endura rider Russell Downing told Cycling Weekly. "You never know, bike racing is a crazy sport, it might work out for the best."
The 18 top ranked ProTeams receive guarantee starts in all WorldTour races, including the Giro d'Italia. Second division teams, like NetApp, must battle for wildcard spots. This year, 10 teams applied for the three wildcards.
Italian team Androni Giocattoli already earned the first of four wildcard spots for winning its country's series last year.
Giro organiser RCS Sport went with a local recipe yesterday by inviting home teams Vini Fantini-Selle Italia and Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox, and a Colombian team with an Italian flavour, Colombia-Coldeportes. NetApp stood just outside the door ahead of Katusha.
The five panel members each voted for three teams, here are the totals for each:
Vini Fantini: 5 votes
Colombia: 4 votes
Bardiani Valvole: 3 votes
NetApp-Endura: 2 votes
Katusha: 1 votes
"RCS [Sport] informed us personally about the decision shortly after their meeting," Team Manager Ralph Denk told Cycling Weekly. "[Giro Director] Michele Acquarone explained the voting process and that the majority of the commission focused on Italian roots this year. He confirmed that our application was very convincing and that just a single vote was crucial. We were close but not close enough."
With a British backer, it looked like a successful sell to RCS Sport who wants to reach out globally. In fact, the Endura merger and last year's results might have helped it place ahead of former first division team Katusha.
Joaquím Rodríguez placed second overall for Katusha in last year's Giro behind winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp). He wants to skip the race this year to focus on the Tour de France. To ensure his chance of racing, he indicated he will leave Katusha after it failed to receive a WorldTour licence. The team has appealled against the UCI's licence decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
"We had a great showing at last year's Giro," Denk continued. "We left our mark not only with those two podium spots and several top 10 results, but also with a very visible and active riding. This year, we even strengthened the squad. We kept all key riders, signed great riders from Endura Racing and convinced new talents of our approach. We are sure that this team could fight for a stage win in any Grand Tour."
RCS Sport invited NetApp-Endura to its Tirreno-Adriatico stage race this March and the Tour of Lombardy one-day classic in September.
Downing explained the team will try to race the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, saying the latter is possible. He begins his season in the Tour of Qatar, February 3 to 8, while the rest of the team starts its season in the Tour de San Luis, January 21 to 27.
"My big wish in the first half of the year is to get some form in Qatar and in [the Tour of] Oman, and then move on to the classics. That's a big focus of mine," Downing said. "I was looking forward to the Giro, but it's been announced that we're not going. So onwards and upwards, putting everything into the rest of the season."
He added that he will race Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and other Belgian one-day races. He is waiting to hear if the team's application is accepted for the bigger races, such as the Tour of Flanders.
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