Neri Sottoli hoping for Giro invite amid doping concerns

Second division Italian team may sign Petacchi in hopes of improving sprint prospects and also appealing to RCS Sport

Photo: RS

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MILAN (VN) — Italian second-division team, Neri Sottoli may sign Alessandro Petacchi for 2015, but it races into the new season with uncertainties linked to past doping cases.

The team fans love to hate may be back, and maybe with Petacchi, if all goes well for general manager Angelo Citracca. If not, he explained that the team has enough sponsorship and is not dependent on a Giro d’Italia invite to continue.

“Petacchi’s got experience, he’s a big name and he could help our new young under-23 sprinter who’s turning pro, Jakub Mareczko,” Citracca told VeloNews.

“Whether or not he’d help for the Giro d’Italia, that’s for the organizer to answer, but he’d help with any race invitation, not just the Giro, given his palmarès.”

Petacchi won the green jersey at the 2010 Tour de France. He joined Omega Pharma-Quick Step to help Mark Cavendish in 2013 and was not renewed at the end of this season. The Tuscan team could be the perfect landing spot for the 40-year-old Italian as his career winds down, but there are some issues for Citracca.

Citracca acknowledged that the team faces pressure from the Movement for a Credible Cycling (MPCC) and the unknown when it comes to a Giro d’Italia wildcard invitation.

As a second-division team, it must ask for invitations to the big races like the Giro. The organizer automatically gives the first-division teams the right to race and hands out four (or possibly five in 2015) wildcard invitations to lower ranking professional continental teams.

Neri Sottoli — or Vini Fantini and Yellow Fluo as it was called — raced its home grand tour the last four years with success. However, its neon colors never looked as dark as when the 2013 edition saw two of its cyclists, Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio, test positive for EPO.

It received an invitation to race again in 2014 from organizer RCS Sport who was making a nod to its Italian teams. This year, it won the Coppa Italia series of races, which gives it the front of the line spot to participate in the 2015 Giro, but doubts linger over its inclusion after Matteo Rabottini, the Italian who won a stage and the mountains jersey in 2012, tested positive for EPO in August.

“We don’t have any right to race the Giro. We won the cup, OK, but it all depends on RCS Sport. That cup win was great for us and our sponsors, but it does not give us the right to force our Giro participation,” Citracca continued.

“If the organizer says that we can’t race given our past doping cases, we’ll accept that and move forward because in 2014 they already invited us given everything that happened before and when everyone thought they wouldn’t do so. We’d accept it without making a fuss.”

Giro race director Mauro Vegni explained to Tutto Bici website this month that it is true the Coppa Italia-winning team gets the nod, but that only comes after it has checked all of the boxes.

“The team,” Vegni said, “is subject to the usual economic and ethics criteria and that gives us the ability to accept or to reject it despite winning the cup.”

RCS Sport is due to hand out the wildcard invitations sometime in January. It is expected to offer five — one more than normal — since only 17 and not 18 first-division teams are due to race the 2015 WorldTour.

Boiling in the background is the MPCC. The movement said in a press release this week that it did not appreciate how the team responded to Rabottini’s doping positive and warned a punishment could follow.

Citracca disagreed with its stance and said that he is pushing cycling’s governing body to unify the rules for all teams instead of having separate voluntary rules that some teams adhere to and others do not.

The rule change may come because UCI President Brian Cookson said last month that he wants to streamline the rules to avoid confusion for fans, which occurred for example when Lampre-Merida stopped Chris Horner from racing the Vuelta a España due to low cortisol levels.

“There’s no help with being a MPCC member, there are just requirements and no rights that come along with such membership. The rules are not clear, not respected equally.

“We joined because we are a pro team, if we are not in the MPCC, then we’ll have problems racing in certain races. You’re obliged in a sense to join. The UCI needs to look at that, if it is correct that the organizers are obliging teams to be part of an association to race. We are already paying a lot of money to the UCI for the passport and following strict financial guidelines, but then an association like MPCC decides if you can race?”

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