Team Colombia's 2014 season has been handed a boost after being named on the long-list for a wildcard place in next year's Giro d'Italia. General manager, Claudio Corti, is also looking to sign new riders to bolster the team's roster if he can secure the funding.
The squad is also hoping to get a ride in the 2014 Tour de France. "It's like having two beautiful girls in front of you, you must decide between the French and the Italian," Corti told Cycling Weekly before flying from Milan to Bogotá to meet with the sports minister who sponsors the team. "Instead of the Tour de France, right now, we want to put our energy towards racing the Giro d'Italia again."
Colombians Rigoberto Urán (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) made the headlines this season. They each won a stage and placed second overall in the Giro and Tour, respectively. Corti, however, played his part in the nation's re-birth.
The Italian, who managed Saeco and Barloworld, put together a team of 18 Colombians in 2012. The 'Escarabajos' took one-day race wins in Italy - GP Camaiore and Coppa Sabatini - and a stage in the Giro del Trentino. Their efforts paved the way for a Giro berth this year.
The small Colombians in their black kits fought though the snowy conditions. Fabio Duarte placed fifth on the Galibier stage and second to overall winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo stage. Duarte was one of three Colombians in the top four when the race reached 2304 metres, in the blizzard-like conditions at the top of Tre Cime.
The Giro d'Italia organisers and fans seem to want more from the South Americans. On Wednesday, it listed team Colombia among its eight potential wildcard teams and asked its Twitter followers to help decide which three to select. Many followers replied and said they want Colombia back.
Eyes on the Italian Grand Tour
Corti said that he would also like to take his team to the Tour but for now, he has eyes on the Italian Grand Tour.
"It's another level at the Tour. Last year, my guys already proved comfortable and capable at the Giro d'Italia. We know the roads well. The course usually features many high-altitude climbs and suits our climbers," Corti added. "We made a good image last year with our young riders. The Giro is giving us another chance to race and I want to concentrate on that."
BMC Racing snapped up Darwin Atapuma from Corti's stable. He said if he is able to return, he would support Duarte in the mountains and Edwin Avila in the sprints.
"Duarte needs to mature still but he has huge potential, maybe even more than Atapuma. He was second and fifth in a stage this year, he can win next year," Corti continued. "We can win a stage or two. With Barloworld, we won two stages at the Tour with Robbie Hunter and Mauricio Soler."
Corti flew to Colombia. He met with the sports minister and spoke about hiring Spaniards Samuel Sanchez and Igor Antón. He has space but his focus remains on helping the Colombians improve and getting them to the Giro again.
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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