For a country so steeped in cycling history and culture, it seems astonishing that Italy currently has no UCI World Tour team.
It is seen so much as a crisis for the Italians that there have even been calls for fans to crowdfund a new WT team.
Sure, there’s plenty of Italian riders still in the pro ranks and Vincenzo Nibali is probably the most likely of the homegrown talent to win the Giro this year… but even after a decent start, the chances are still relatively slim.
Italy has lacked a presence in cycling’s top flight since the demise of old Liquigas team and while the current UAE Team Emirates still bears their hallmarks, it’s just not the same is it?
There’s no doubt that the powers within cycling have changed in the last decade – teams now hail from Bahrain and Kazakhstan – but it is sad indictment of where we’re at.
So what are the Tifosi to do when the Giro rolls around?
Well, there are three Italian teams taking part in this year’s first Grand Tour of the season and even the casual armchair viewer can’t fail to have noticed them already this Giro.Embed from Getty Images
All three teams have had riders off the front since the Giro rolled out of Bologna last Saturday, clocking up hours of TV time in the breakaway.
And on stage six yesterday the country got it’s first win thanks to Androni’s Fausto Masnada.
So, with that in mind, here’s our guide to the Italian teams hoping to light up the rest of the Giro…
Probably the most recognisable of the three Italian pro-conti teams, and not just because of their red jerseys blazoned with more sponsors’ logos than it seems possible to squeeze on.
The team, managed by the wily old fox Gianni Savio, grabbed the first Italian victory of the 2019 Giro yesterday with Masnada ‘pipping’ UAE’s Valerio Conti to the line, although it looked like the pair had cut a deal having had their noses in front for much of the last 30km.Embed from Getty Images
Getting up the road is the modus operandi for Androni.
They had a man or more in pretty much every breakaway of the 2018 race and despite Savio saying that wouldn’t be the plan this year, they’ve already had plenty of airtime this time out.
As a manager, Savio specialises in identifying talent, giving them their first footings in the pro peloton and then shipping them on to the World Tour, making a pretty euro or two in the process.
Team INEOS have already benefited from Savio’s keen eye for young prospects with Egan Bernal – who’s missing this year’s Giro through injury – and Ivan Sosa signing up with the British team on long-term contracts.
It’s fair to say though that teams managed by Savio – and the manager himself – have had a ‘colourful’ past when it comes to doping.
In 2001 Savio was caught up in the Selle-Italia investigation which led to the sacking of team doctor Alberto Beltran and José “Chepe” Gonzalez Pico after doping products were found.
A decade later, Savio found himself in the dock – and was later cleared – after former Selle-Italia rider Luca De Angeli accused him of dealing doping products. De Angeli tested positive after the first stage of the 2005 Settimana Internazionale Coppi-Bartali.
And four years ago, Savio’s Androni team were given a 30-day suspension from competition after two positive tests in the same year. An appeal against the suspension was rejected by the UCI.Embed from Getty Images
Savio’s squad for this year’s race is packed with experience but it was the 25-year-old Masnada who claimed the team’s first victory at the Giro in seven years when he crossed the line first in San Giovanni Rotondo yesterday.
He was continuing his good early season form which saw him snatch two stage victories at the Tour of the Alps and finish on the podium of the inaugural Giro di Sicilia.
Having got a taste for victory again in the Corsa Rosa, don’t bet against them trying to add a second stage victory from the break this year to repeat their 2012 feat.
The oldest of the three Italian teams taking part in this year’s Giro having started life back in 1982 as Termolan.
Team boss Bruno Reverberi has been there since the beginning and he has also had his fair share of doping controversies over the last few years.Embed from Getty Images
In 2017, on the eve of the Giro, two of Reverberi’s riders Stefano Pirazzi and Nicola Ruffoni tested positive
Later that same year, Michael Bresciani tested positive at the Italian National Championships – his first professional race – for the diuretic furosemide, which can be used as a masking agent for other products.
Bresciani, who was brought in to replace Ruffoni and Pirazzi, blamed the positive test on contamination from a drug his mother took. He served a two-month suspension after authorities accepted his version of events.
Their squad for this year’s Giro is, as ever, an all Italian affair with a mix of youth and experience.
Wins this season have been few and far between although of the Giro squad, Mirco Maestri did win the points classification at Tirreno-Adriatico and picked up a GC win at the International Tour of Rhodes last year and the mountains classification at the Tour of Turkey in 2017.
The 23-year-old Giovanni Carboni has racked up top 30 spots on the GC at the Tour of the Alps, the Vuelta a Andalucia and the Settimana Internazionale di Coppi e Bartali and has been the team’s first to finish on most of the stages so far, including an impressive fifth-placed finish on stage six yesterday.Embed from Getty Images
He currently tops the young rider classification and is almost 30 seconds ahead of AG2R’s Nans Peters in the battle for the white jersey.
Bardiani’s last victory in the Giro was back in 2016 when Giulio Ciccone – who was then just a neo-pro – rode to a solo win on stage 10 into Sestola.
Ciccone moved to Trek-Segafredo in the off-season and is the current leader of the mountains classification in this year’s Corsa Rosa.
Nippo Vini Fantini Faizanè
It has to be said it’s been an eventful opening few days at the Giro for Nippo Vini Fantini.
The Italo-Japanese team have tasted the highs and lows that the first Grand Tour of the year has to offer… and we’re only six stages!
During the opening day time trial Hiroki Nishimura became the first rider to miss the time cut of the 2019 Giro, finishing more than four minutes down on TT winner Primoz Roglic.Embed from Getty Images
The team said he’d paid the price for a bad night’s sleep having been nervous on the eve of the Grande Partenza.
Two days later his fellow Japanese rider Sho Hatsuyama rode for 144 of the 220km of the stage in a solo break, giving not just his team but Japanese cycling in general plenty of time in front of the cameras.
There is some kudos for the team, Damiano Cima is the current leader in the intermediate sprint classification although there’s no special jersey for that particular ranking.
The Nippo Vini Fantini ‘project’ is an interesting one. Since 2015 – when it became an Italian registered team having had previous incarnations registered in Serbia and Japan – it has been run as a programme to try and develop riders from Japan with a view to improving performances and qualification at next year’s home Olympics in Tokyo.Embed from Getty Images
Success has been pretty difficult to come by in terms of wins and those victories have tended to be in Asian races
General manager Francesco Pelosi is – at 35 – less than half the age of Messrs Savio and Reverberi and his background is very much in marketing and communications as opposed to a lifetime spent around the bike.
That perhaps accounts for a more forward-thinking approach to promotion and the attempts to tap into a market that is relatively untapped but one in which the cycling authorities are trying to break into with events such as the end-of-season Saitama Criterium which drags the big names from the Tour de France all the way across the globe for a ‘race’ in which those most decorated tend to win.
Pelosi’s Sun-TIMES media agency, whose clients also include Giro organisers RCS as well as a host of food, lifestyle and beauty brands, looks after all aspects of the team and proudly boasts on it’s website that Nippo Vini Fantini are the youngest of the Italian teams but also the most-followed on social media!
Whether success on Twitter will translate to success on the road remains to be seen…
Main picture courtesy of Eurosport Player.