Michele Acquarone interview part I: Overlooking MTN Qhubeka was a major missed opportunity for the Giro d’Italia
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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Michele Acquarone interview part I: Overlooking MTN Qhubeka was a major missed opportunity for the Giro d’Italia

by Shane Stokes at 4:53 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Giro d'Italia
Former race director says Yellow Fluo team should have had to sit out the race after 2013 doping positives

Michele AcquaronePrevious Giro d’Italia race director Michele Acquarone has questioned the logic of the wildcard selections made by race organiser RCS Sport, saying that he believes that the MTN Qhubeka team fully merited selection and that the Yellow Fluo team should have had to sit out a year.

The latter had two positive tests in 2013 with Danilo Di Luca and Mauro Santambrogio, with the-then titled Vini Fantini Selle Italia team causing considerable embarrassment to the race after it gave it a wildcard selection.

Neither rider is part of the setup this year and the team has been rebranded, with the owners claiming it is a fully clean outfit. Nevertheless, it was expected by many to miss out on selection in 2014.

Instead, Yello Fluo was given an invite on January 16th, along with Bardiani Valvole-CSF and the South American registered, Italian managed Team Colombia. The Italian-registered Androni Giocattoli Venezuela also gained a place thanks to its victory in the 2013 Italian Cup series.

MTN Qhubeka, which had been seen as a very strong contender for a place in the race, was left on the sidelines, as were other international teams such as IAM Cycling.

“I was not just surprised, I was shocked. It was like everything we did in the last years was erased in one blink,” Acquarone told VeloNation this week. “I really cannot understand what they did. In my personal opinion, the Giro d’Italia is already very good in Italy…you need to develop the international markets.”

Acquarone took over at the top after the 2011 edition, and immediately set about modernising the Giro. In addition to working hard to develop the social media aspect of the race and thus increasing its social media interactions with teams and fans, the Giro under Acquarone also made progress in terms of media exposure and coverage.

He emphasised internationalisation as being crucial and was part of the selection commission which gave the nod to NetApp in 2012. Acquarone told VeloNation that he pushed for another international team to be given a place in that same edition, but the others voted to give the other invites to Italian squads.

Last year Colombia was the overseas selection, although the team has an Italian flavour due to its management structure. Acquarone said that he pushed for the inclusion of Katusha and NetApp; both were outvoted by the others on the selection committee, although Katusha later got back in after CAS ruled that the UCI’s refusal to give it a WorldTour licence was not valid.

MTN QhubekaBoth MTN Qhubeka and IAM Cycling had originally hoped to be part of the race, although the latter later accepted that it needed more time. “IAM and MTN were in their first year. MTN didn’t ask for the Giro. IAM…we said we don’t know if they were ready,” said Acquarone, explaining why the teams did not gain access to last year’s race. “We just invited them to the Classics, , we felt it was fine for the first year. You need to grow step by step.

“This year you had so many good opportunities in the international market. You have Colombia…although last year I didn’t [personally] vote for Colombia, they went on to be a big success, so I am happy we gave them a place. With them, you have a whole continent that is following you…not just Colombia, it is South America.

“So that is fine. But you cannot leave MTN out of the Giro. You had the chance to have, for the first time, an African team in a Grand Tour. And you miss that?

“For the MTN people I am really sorry, and for the African fans too, because we…sorry, they [RCS Sport]…missed a huge opportunity. I am really sorry for MTN and I hope they can ride a Grand Tour this year.”

Says not inviting Yellow Fluo would have sent an important signal:

Acquarone was expected to be part of the wildcard allocation process again this year but was first sidelined and then fired from RCS Sport last year after an alleged multimillion euro fraud was uncovered. He was working with RCS Sport for fourteen years and insists on his innocence in the matter; RCS Sport has not said that he was directly involved, and has not yet clarified why he lost his job.

Aquarone says that RCS Sport’s refusal to clarify the reasons for his dismissal have caused serious harm to his public image and he has consequently started legal action against the company.

Michele AcquaroneHe told VeloNation this week that he was confident that he would be fully vindicated by the ongoing fraud investigation, and that he felt he will also win the defamation action he has brought.

While the matter means that he was unable to be part of the selection process for the 2014 event, his opinion is nevertheless an interesting one due to his previous position within the race plus his drive to expand the event.

As regards the Yellow Fluo team’s selection, he said that he is ‘definitely’ surprised that the squad got the nod after the Di Luca and Santambrogio cases. “I think [Angelo] Citracca, [Luca] Scinto are good guys,” he said, speaking of the team management. “But it should be one year out of the race, then they start again.

“If they don’t ride the Giro, they can still ride many other races around the world. They don’t have to ride such an important Grand Tour. In my opinion, one year outside the Giro would be good for them, good for RCS and for everybody. So I was really surprised that the team was picked.

“I can understand Bardiani…last year they won the Maglia Azzurra, they had a very good race. It is a good opportunity. As regards Yellow Fluo, I believe that if a team has two positives, the UCI should say that it cannot ride WorldTour races the next year. I think that would be good, that would mean that everyone is more involved in controlling doping on teams.

“But if the UCI doesn’t do that, I think organisers should themselves start to do something more. Not inviting the team would have been a good chance to say something to the cycling world, like ‘you embarrassed the race last year and this year you stay far from the race.’ I repeat – Citracca and Scinto are good friends, but I think it is correct like that. That they will ride in the second division and they will wait for the WorldTour races next year. Instead, they have been selected.”

Acquarone makes an interesting point that the race’s practice of giving a place in the event to the winner of the Italian Cup encourages Italian teams to take part in that series of races. However if the Giro selects a predominantly Italian list of wildcards, he argues it devalues the importance of that Italian Cup-linked invite, and thus diminishes the incentive for home teams to fight to win the series.

“In my opinion, you have to give a good prize to the Italian team, to the winner of the Italian Cup. That encourages all those teams to take part in those races. Then you should try to invite the best teams around the world. Maybe this year the best teams were IAM, MTN and Colombia,” he said.

Asked if he believed there was a danger that the Giro d’Italia’s stated decision to favour Italian squads could cause the race to lose ground in terms of its internationalisation, he said that he feared this was the case.

“It’s not nice to be speaking about my former colleagues,” he said, acknowledging that expressing his opinion could seem like criticism, particularly in light of his sacking. “They will do the best they can. But I am sure that I did a good job and I feel that there is unfinished business. You need at least five years to do something good for something like the Giro. Three years is nothing.

“I am really sorry [to say this], but we had a strategy, we had a mission. Now I am without a job. I wish my former colleagues will carry on, will do the best they can for the Giro that I love so much. But this first choice, the wildcards, is not so good. So it is not a good start.”

Acquarone is clear in his assertion that MTN Qhubeka would have been a worthy inclusion. “It is a serious project, it is a charity project. They have a great mission, and they have a whole continent behind them. What more do you want? Really? I think that these guys [the team] have done a great job….and remember last year they won Milan-Sanremo. That’s not just any old race.

“I think a project like this is the future of cycling. This is the type of cycling that I love – big teams, serious teams with a charity project, and very linked with the territory. It is perfect. Every way you look at it, you cannot miss a team like that in a big race like the Giro.

“That is why I was shocked when I read about the wildcards. I mean, come on. Are you joking?”

Also see: Michele Acquarone Interview Part II: “The judge will decide who is right or wrong, but I am sure that I am right


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