Giro d'Italia
Peter Kennaugh was a late scratch for Friday's...

Rash of last-minute roster changes hits Giro peloton

Visa problems and health issues have led to a spate of late roster changes ahead of Friday's start of the Giro d'Italia

BELFAST (VN) — The season’s first grand tour begins Friday and a rash of roster changes have hit the peloton ahead of the 97th Giro d’Italia.

Riders were flying into Dublin and Belfast on Wednesday — the Katusha squad was spotted at the Dublin airport while Orica-GreenEdge officials were waiting for their riders to de-plane — but more than a few won’t be making the trip.

A handful of riders were denied UK visas to travel to Northern Ireland and others were late scratches due to a variety of health issues.

The biggest aggravation for teams ahead of Friday’s team time trial was chasing down visas for non-Europeans to enter the United Kingdom. The problems did not appear to stem from officials in Northern Ireland, but rather with embassy officials around the globe. Some teams left applications too late. Others were caught up in bureaucratic bungling.

Astana could not secure visas for Maxim Iglinsky and Alexey Lutsenko, who the team is replacing with Janez Brajkovic and Borut Bozic. Team officials said their passports were presented to the British embassy in Paris on April 17, but they have not received any official response, and without their passports, cannot travel to either the Giro or back to Kazakhstan.

“We are disappointed to leave two of Kazakhstan’s brightest cycling federation riders off the WorldTour Giro roster,” said Astana general manager Alexander Vinokurov in a team release. “And find silence and the non-response of the British Embassy in Paris such a contrast to the efficient work done by their colleagues in Germany for our processed and registered Kazakh rider, Andrey Zeits.”

Less than two weeks ago, Team Colombia faced similar hassles for three of its riders — Carlos Quintero, Jarlinson Pantano and national champion Miguel Rubiano — but all three got their papers sorted out, and are expected to race Friday. The team, however, was forced to pull out of the recent Presidential Tour of Turkey because their passports were being held by the British Embassy in Rome.

Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) also confronted complications when he applied for his visa in Colombia. After waiting in vain, he was forced to travel to Europe to apply for the UK visa, which he received and is expected to start Friday.

A few other riders succumbed to health issues. Top among them was Peter Kennaugh (Sky), who was slated to lead the British outfit following the withdrawal of Richie Porte as a pink jersey candidate last month.

Kennaugh fell ill in April, forcing him to miss Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Sprinter Chris Sutton replaces him in the team’s roster, meaning the squad that once hoped to race for the maglia rosa with the talented Porte — who also dealt with illness in March — is now without a GC hope.

Other riders missing the Giro include American Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) and Spanish veteran Pablo Lastras (Movistar).

Horner crashed heavily last month while training and suffered a punctured lung and several broken ribs. The Vuelta a España champion hopes to return for the Tour de France after missing his shot at leading his new Italian team at the Giro.

Lastras cited physical exhaustion in his withdrawal from Nairo Quintana’s supporting cast. Taking his place is Spanish sprinter Fran Ventoso.

For the riders who have made it to Belfast, they’ve been welcomed with cool temperatures and cloudy skies. Forecasters are calling for showers throughout the weekend.

Final rosters for all teams will be set following the team manager’s meeting Thursday in Belfast. The Giro begins Friday with the 21.7-kilometer team time trial on the streets of Belfast.