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LIÈGE, Belgium (VN) — Team Colombia’s cyclists will start Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, but that is all they are sure about. Due to United Kingdom visa problems, they do not have their passports for the Tour of Turkey and risk missing the Giro d’Italia.
“We asked for the five-day rush service. It’s not right that the UK embassy can hold our riders’ visas for so long,” general manager Claudio Corti told VeloNews. “We’ve never had this problem before. We’ve raced in the USA, Turkey, Malaysia. … We’ve always received our visas in time.”
Corti’s nine cyclists risk not racing the Giro d’Italia, which starts May 9 — in 13 days’ time — in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Giro this year includes three stages abroad, the third from Northern Ireland to Dublin in Ireland, before returning to its homeland.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, which required that Corti’s Escarabajos go to its embassies abroad. At the time, he asked 12 cyclists to request visas because he was unsure which nine would race the Giro. Eight did so from Rome, one from Paris and three from home in Bogotá.
“In Rome, it was hard to even make an appointment. The agency that handles the visas was closed for all of March because the embassy was changing the company it works with. So we had to wait until April 1,” Corti said.
“I had to arrange for my guys to get there between races. We had one appointment April 10 and one April 14. I paid for the visas, paid the agency to help with the documents, I paid for a rush visa, and I paid for DHL return shipping. Even with all of that, two weeks have passed and I haven’t received anything. I was already supposed to have a response after five days.”
Leonardo Duque, who lives in France, received his from Paris on time. The others are without passports, leaving Corti short of enough men to field a team for the Tour of Turkey this week.
“Because it was so far out, I had to apply with 12 riders. Due to that, I couldn’t get together five to send to Turkey,” Corti said. “The Tour of Turkey organizer understood and even postponed our flights one day later in hopes that the passports would be returned, but we’re empty-handed.”
The Giro is Colombia’s biggest race of the year. Corti received one of only four wild-card invitations awarded to second-division teams. Given the chance, his small climbers should light up the high-mountain stages in the Alps. However, as with Turkey, the team may have to turn down its invitation to the “Corsa Rosa.”
“My poor boys are losing sleep over this. I don’t think it’s right that the embassy can hold on the visas like that,” Corti said.
“They’ve done all that they needed to do: going to Rome, leaving fingerprints and documents. These guys are already part of the system in Italy, part of the Schengen Area, because they are employees of my company. It shouldn’t be that hard.”
The situation is harder yet because Corti’s cyclists, unlike the Europeans, not only need visas for the UK but also for Ireland. For Ireland, they were able to request visas from the nearby Irish embassy in Milan and could do so without leaving their passports.
Corti last heard that the cyclists’ passports are in London. He is optimistic that his men will have them back this coming week.
“Thanks to the journalists who’ve helped bring this to the attention of the public — and I hope they keep doing it — I hope we’ll have our passports with the visas in time for the Giro d’Italia,” he said.