Saturday, April 20, 2013

Italian Amateur Cycling v. The Credit Crunch: Will the Kids Be Alright?

Last week, the UCI Nations Cup calendar had both the La Côte Picarde and ZLM Tour events, with two great wins by Caleb Ewan and Yoeri Havik. Also last weekend was the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 event, won by Michael Valgren, which featured 33 teams, including many foreign squads. In all three events, there was only one Italian present. Many in the Italian amateur and U23 system called foul for this vast oversight. If we look above, we can see Team GeneralStore, based out of Mantova, tweeting about how no Italians were present at the ZLM Tour while there was an Algerian national team on the start line. lamented in a piece about how Italy hasn't won a big international U23 event in a long while (2011 with Salvatore Puccio at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, if I'm not mistaken). The Toscana Terra di Ciclismo Nations Cup stage race has been cancelled and the GiroBio is on the brink of being cancelled. What the hell is going on in Italy and is it a problem that people should actually be worried about?

The UCI Nations Cup should be about highlighting the best young talent that countries have to offer but it should also be more than that. Notice I say should because rarely does this happen when it comes to the UCI. Italy, as a nation, finished 5th overall in the 2012 rankings and because of this, they receive automatic invitations from organizers  of Nations Cup races. Yet the only Nations Cup race Italy attended this spring was the Ronde van Vlaanderen, where Alberto Bettiol finished 10th and Ignazio Moser played a key role in a final kilometer attack. The same weekend saw the biggest Italian teams (along with some foreign squads) take place in the Trofeo Piva Banca. With this UCI 1.2U event running concurrently with the RvV, guys like Andrea Zordan and Davide Villella were not given the opportunity to try their hand at the Nations Cup event.

To put it simply, the federation is lacking money. Instead of riding Nations Cup races, Ignazio Moser was forced to ride local races so his racing legs could stay fresh. From what I gather, many are upset because the federation (and other teams, organizers, etc.) were spending a lot of money on pretty lavish things but come this year, they have had to tighten their belts significantly. This could come back to bite them if the Italians are not careful. After Toscana Terra di Ciclismo, organized by the same people that do the GiroBio, was postponed, the Italians have slipped down the Nations Cup rankings and will have to target the European Championships and the Tour de l'Avenir if they want to be able to get invited to Nations Cup races next year.

This issue goes a bit deeper than this though. Giancarlo Brocci, the head of the GiroBio and Toscana Terra di Ciclismo Nations Cup, has tried to get backing for his races but has seemingly failed and is having to take more drastic measures. Brocci tried to have teams chip in to keep the GiroBio running but with many of them strapped for cash and still waiting for prize money from the 2012 event, the majority of teams refused. Out of 13 amateur squads, only three (as of now unnamed) have given their unconditional support to the the GiroBio while some others have agreed to back the race's new motto of "transparency, ethics and romance". With a divide falling between Brocci and Italian teams, Brocci has been looking outside of Italy for help with the GiroBio. In the above linked interview, Brocci states that he has had 18 foreign teams express interest in participating in the now 10-stage race. This is quite new for the GiroBio as it is usually dominated by Italian amateur squads and their stars of the future. Brocci also stated that since he now has enough teams to participate, he is now focusing on the course and organization and if needed, will shorten the race down to eight days. He had previously set a April 15th deadline for whether the race would happen or not but that date has gone and passed with Brocci still working on keeping the race alive.

With the GiroBio looking towards the outside for help, should anyone be worried about Italian amateur cycling? Not really. As bleak as the news might sound at times, I still think that Italy has one of the strongest amateur scenes going and while they are definitely strapped for cash right now, there is an abundance of quality racing. There are certainly problems that need to be addressed.

 Firstly, the Italian calendar situation needs to be fixed so big UCI 1.2U races are not held on the same weekend as other big international races. This dilutes the international fields in these Italian races and also denies some riders the chance of headed to different parts of the continent to try their hand at racing.

Secondly, I wouldn't be surprised if there is a changing of the guard in the Italian federation and race organizers. Many seem unhappy about the current situation and while it is very hard for organizers to put on big races because of very stingy sponsors, it seems that is there was some new blood, there would be more thrifty ways of putting on and keeping races going for a long period.  If this means that there are a few less training camps so that riders can go attend big races such as Nations Cup events or others, then that should be happening. It could also mean that some smaller one-day events are shuttered. While that might be sad, there is a plethora of racing and the Federation should be trying to become less insular and put their riders out their against the best competition.

Lastly, big races like the GiroBio shouldn't be over promising and under-delivering. If the race isn't going to be 10-days long, let the public, teams and sponsors know that in December instead of March, when teams have already set their schedules and sponsors have allocated all of their money. It is a shame that this happens to great events such as the GiroBio but when you wait until a couple months before your event to tell everyone you might not make it happen, it makes me think that something is wrong with the management. There are back payments from 2012 that are still outstanding so if it means the race has to be cut down to 6 days, that is fine by me as long as everything can be paid for in full.

It is a shame to see Italians miss big Nations Cup events because in the past they have been very prominent and how shown off guys such as Jacopo Guarnieri, Elia Viviani and Salvatore Puccio among many others. The Italian Feds need to get their shit together and focus on this talent (and other youths in every other discipline) because they are going to be the face of Italian cycling in the future. Organizers need to stop being so dramatic about their problems and be more pragmatic about their situations. I, for one, hope that everything works out for the better but when those in charge are shuffling their feet and not helping the problem, there needs to be some changes.

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